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Racket sport courts young players

In a bid to bring on the game at primary level, Badminton Scotland devised a sports challenge for schools, writes Roddy Mackenzie.

Badminton has found a new way to net younger children into the sport. Russell Hogg, a former Scotland international player and now national development officer for the sport, has devised a Primary Schools'

Sports Hall Challenge that is aimed at P3-P5 level.

Badminton Scotland, the game's governing body, has had tremendous success in introducing children to the game with its "carnival" format in recent years.

"We felt there were already enough things for P6-P7 pupils, so we decided to go to P3-P5 level," says Mr Hogg.

After consultation with teachers, he realised that children need a competitive element in their sport even at an early age. He set about devising a sports hall game loosely based on badminton skills with six workstations.

Crucially, children do not compete on an individual basis but in teams of 10 and at least half of any team must be girls. Mr Hogg emphasises there is no need for a badminton court and pupils are not required to use badminton equipment.

The early signs are encouraging with teachers, pupils and active schools co-ordinators greeting the game enthusiastically. While it has not yet spread to all parts of the country, the intention is to have the first Scottish finals in Perth in June.

"The feedback we had from teachers and schools was that the children wanted something that was a bit more competitive," Mr Hogg explains.

"Children are naturally competitive and I think we now have the right balance: there is a sense of competitiveness but we are not putting the children in direct competition with each other.

"We've had a tremendous response in the areas where it has been piloted. We started with 24 schools in the north-east of Fife and we also had six schools in the Dunfermline High cluster.

"I've since been up to Elgin to train teachers and active schools co-ordinators and also down to Dumfries and Greenock, and we are just launching in the south side of Glasgow.

"The teachers feel that the skills can easily be transferred into a PE lesson and schools will already have most of the equipment."

"The challenges promote the skills generic to any sport - running, jumping, balancing, throwing and catching - which will give children a good grounding, should they wish to take up another sport," he says.

"The work stations are so simple that they could even be understood by P1 pupils."

To illustrate this, Freaky Frisbee - one of the six work stations - involves no more than throwing a Frisbee past a goalkeeper. The backhand motion is identical to that used in a badminton backhand stroke.

It is the subtle elements that Mr Hogg hopes will help pupils, should they go on and choose badminton. However, he appreciates there is much competition from other sports for the same youngsters, with many having similar sports hall-based games.

The emphasis is on fun, but there is a serious side. Badminton Scotland sees it as the first rung on the ladder for its long-term player development pathway, which ends with possible participation in the Commonwealth and Olympic Games.

"Obviously, we are hoping that children will continue to play badminton and that it will break down some of the barriers that teachers feel about the sport when they progress," Mr Hogg says.

"I think the preconception is that having 30 children in a small gym hall with rackets and shuttlecocks is a recipe for disaster. Hopefully, we can show them that this is not the case.

"Badminton is a sport where you don't even need to have a court with lines, although the majority of schools will already have courts.

"It is not difficult for primary teachers and classroom assistants to teach the basic skills and it can be done in a safe environment."

Mr Hogg is working closely with schools to increase the playing base in Scotland and has also launched an Active Badminton course for primary in-service training.

It is not just aimed at teachers and active schools co-ordinators.

Volunteers and more than 120 coaches have come through the training in recent months, which means increased participation in after-school clubs.

Badminton Scotland has trained 35 tutors to run the course and they will be spreading the word over the next year.

At secondary level, manuals are available for teachers in Higher PE skills and technique as well as Higher PE structure and strategies, which deal with singles and doubles play.

Higher grade sessions have been held at Glasgow's Cockburn Centre, home of Badminton Scotland, and around 600 pupils have taken part in recent months.

Badminton is healthy in Scottish schools but the demands on young players who want to pursue the sport at international level have never been greater.

Dan Travers, higher performance badminton coach at the Scottish Institute of Sport, has recently warned of the sacrifices that have to be made if world-class status is to be achieved.

"To push yourself the way top sports people do is beyond normal comprehension and the people who do it are very special," he warned in an article in Scottish Badminton magazine.

"The kids need to know they must do it for themselves and not for their parents. As a coach, you can want it badly for your athletes, but if they do not want it, they will never achieve."

Only a select few will reach international level in Scotland but, even at P3 level, there is now a route to the top for the talented committed player.

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