A new approach to athletics development could revolutionise track and field sports teaching in schools, Roddy Mackenzie writes
The Scottish Athletics Federation is hoping that a new UK-wide initiative which advocates a child-centred approach to teaching athletics in primary and secondary schools will lead to the sport becoming a compulsory part of the curriculum.
A pilot development programme in 50 schools throughout Britain over the past few months has been encouraging. The intention now is to extend it across the rest of the country as part of a five-year implementation plan.
Elevating Athletics is designed in two stages, for primary and secondary pupils, from 5-11 years and 11-16 years, and offers teachers comprehensive training packs, with DVDs, which are said to be developmental, progressive and inclusive. A supporting website provides advice on such things as different styles of teaching and how to plan lessons on a daily and termly basis.
For primary children, the project develops the core athletics skills of running, jumping and throwing and involves simple games. The programme uses beanbags, skipping ropes, hoops and coloured bibs, which are all likely to be in schools already.
The secondary school programme involves more insight into athletics as a sport and offers speciality coaching in such things as discus and endurance running, and the tactics involved.
Elevating Athletics is designed for maximum inclusion and participation, regardless of ability, so that children are not left watching on the sidelines. The focus is on pupils improving their personal performance.
They fill in cards on their progress. The activity cards included in the training packs look at healthy eating and exercise at home and are simple for children to follow.
The SAF is keen to raise awareness of what it believes is a cutting-edge programme. Jamie McDonald, its youth development manager, is certainly excited at the potential of Elevating Athletics. He has met with Roly Hill, president of the Scottish Schools' Athletic Association , and Vincent Collins, the development officer with Learning and Teaching Scotland. Now it is a case of teaching the teachers.
The SAF will hold its first tutors' course in Elevating Athletics at the Larkhall sports centre, in South Lanarkshire, on November 18. This will provide instruction to 25-30 participants, who will initially be handed the task of promoting it as the way forward in teaching athletics. The SAF then will seek to deliver the initiative to all schools across Scotland.
Mr McDonald accepts that teachers have been instrumental in the success of other junior initiatives, such as Sportshall athletics and the Norwich Union Shine awards, but points out that Elevating Athletics is fundamentally different.
The Shine awards, he says, have been extremely popular - Scotland is still top of the league when it comes to orders of certificates and medals - but are more of a measurement tool, in that children receive certificates and medals for reaching different standards. Elevating Athletics is more about coaching and focuses on developing core skills.
"We hope to raise the awareness significantly over the next few months and that will involve attending conferences, writing to every school in the country as well as local education departments, and visiting the Scottish Parliament," he explains. The SAF also intends to address next September's SETT conference.
By emphasising the health benefits of the project, the SAF hopes the Scottish Executive will look at the merits, as it seeks to create a fitter, healthier Scotland, and make athletics part of the curriculum.
The core skills are fundamental to most sports and some children will inevitably use the training as a basis for other sports. Mr McDonald accepts this but hopes that the more specific nature of the secondary programme -"proper athletics" - will encourage more teenagers to stay with the sport.
"The good thing is that all of the equipment is already in a school environment and in gym cupboards," he says. "Schools don't have to go out and buy expensive items like hurdles, shot putts or high jump beds.
"It can be done indoors and outdoors and throughout the year.
The teaching packs - and three hours of training - are expected to cost schools about pound;50. But Mr McDonald emphasises: "It's not a case of just selling packs to schools and letting them get on with it. We will be staging roadshows in different areas, so that teachers can come along and see what it is all about and learn to use the resource."
He concludes: "It's an exciting time for the sport as this gives us the chance to get into schools and engage the teachers."
www.elevatingathletics.comScottish Athletics Federation, tel 0131 317 7320