Sponsors keep sport alive

IT IS the most difficult transition period for schoolchildren. The change from primary to secondary can be traumatic, but not just in terms of academic leaps.

On the football field, S1 pupils who had previously been "star" players in their primary school can be overwhelmed when it comes to going in with the mix and trying out for the first XI.

For some, it can mean facing the fact that maybe they are not the finished article and perhaps there is still more to learn.

Others, who do not enjoy the same status they had in the primary school team, can soon fall out of love with the game.

The Coca-Cola 7s tournament - now in its seventh year - has sought to fill the void. Aimed specifically at 12-year-old boys and 12 to 13-year-old girls, the participation figures in the past six years have been impressive.

Almost 37,000 children have taken part, filling 200,000 hours of physical activity. Seventy-five per cent of Scottish secondaries now take part, making it the biggest tournament in Scotland.

Most of Scotland's current professionals will have started out playing seven-a-side football. Attending the launch of the 2007 Coca-Cola 7s last week, at Soccer Circus in Braehead, were Dundee Football Club's Kevin McDonald, who captained Carnoustie High to the first title in 2001, and Hibernian WFC's Kim Little, who captained Mintlaw Academy to the girls'

title in 2003 and 2004. Former England manager Kevin Keegan and former Scotland manager Craig Brown also helped out.

While some have misgivings about companies like Coca-Cola and McDonalds sponsoring grassroots football when the Scottish Executive is promoting a healthy diet, the opportunities for youngsters to stay involved in sport have increased dramatically with the money they have invested.

Schools can enter as many teams as they like, so those who are maybe on the sidelines of the S1 first XI can become involved. And this year will see expansion to the islands, with Stornoway hosting a heat.

Competing teams have the chance to play at Hampden Park if they win through to finals day, and the ultimate winners this year will be flown to London to train with Arsenal.

Danny Stevenson, principal teacher of PE at Renfrew High, certainly believes the format has proved a winner. His school entered four teams last year.

"Every year, the competition takes a step forward. It's a great day out,"

he says. "Having astroturf at the school helps enormously, as the players all try to pass the ball. There are no slide tackles with players diving in, and the small-sided game means the children get more touches on the ball."

It can be blowing a gale in January or February but the children just love getting out there, he says, as the surface will still be true.

Renfrew High has primary children coming in on Thursdays to use the astroturf. Mr Stevenson would like to encourage Coca-Cola to support mini-leagues as there is so much interest at this level. He finds that by the time the children come to secondary school they are ready and the girls are as keen as the boys, with high skill levels.

Natalie Durrant, the niece of Ian Durrant at Rangers, is a former pupil and comes back every Thursday to coach the girls.

"We have 18 or 19 this year being put through their SFA level 1 coaching award. We also have a lot of parent helpers," she says.

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