Renfrewshire is nurturing young sporting talent with school clubs and progressive reward programmes, writes Roddy Mackenzie
Former Scotland international badminton player Russell Hogg, who has been appointed as national development manager for Badminton Scotland, is emphasising the importance of using schools to nurture players.
Many senior clubs in Scotland do not have the administrative structure to support a junior arm, and by developing junior clubs in the schools which can, in time, feed into the senior clubs, the future of the sport could be safeguarded.
Renfrewshire is this month piloting an awards scheme for school players based around five centres - Paisley, Renfrew, Johnstone, Erskine and Linwood - after securing monies from the New Opportunities Fund for PE and sport initiatives.
More than 1,000 children took part in badminton in Renfrewshire last year at after-school or lunch-time clubs, and Badminton Scotland is keen to build on that number. Mr Hogg believes it is critical to provide children with a progressive programme that has rewards built in.
The new bronze, silver and gold awards scheme is designed to take children from P1 level through to S5-S6, with the more talented players progressing to development or performance squads.
"The bronze award is very basic," explains Mr Hogg. "The minimum age for starting it is four, but we are really looking at P1-P3 level right up to P7. It deals with basic moves as well as sidestepping, avoiding other players on court, balancing a shuttlecock on a racket, star jumps and catching a minimum of five shuttlecocks hit by a coach. On the technical side, children have to be aware of underarm and overhead shots, and there is an emphasis on sportsmanship. It is a quick rewards programme and children will see progress within two months of taking it up. That is a key to keeping them interested.
"For the silver award, the minimum age is eight or nine but it is also open to talented children at six or seven, as we would not want to hold anyone back. It is simply a progression of the bronze award, developing the skills and taking them to a higher level. Children would be doing it in the final years of primary school and early years of secondary.
"The gold award is more advanced again, and children will be expected to do a small training programme. There may be bleep tests and speed work as they develop the physical side of the game. We also hope they would become more involved in the sport at this stage and we could set them tasks like 'name three current Scottish international players', which may involve some research and looking on websites. It would be a good programme for pupils who are doing their Standard grade or Higher grade PE and want to focus on badminton."
The new scheme comes at an opportune time with the pound;17.5 million St Benedict's High in Linwood opening last month. The Linwood branch of the Renfrewshire initiative will be based there.
Mr Hogg intends to provide a high standard of coaching and he has lined up Scottish junior squad players David Kirwan and Jamie Neill to help out.
"It is largely teachers who have been taking after-school clubs in Renfrewshire and we hope to give them as much support as possible," says Mr Hogg. "We also hope students will come in to help everything run smoothly.
We have had a similar, smaller-scale, version in Fife out of Beath High in Cowdenbeath and players can go on to join a squad at Queen Anne High in Dunfermline."
One of the spin-off benefits of the new awards scheme is that tournament organisers will be able to grade entries by their levels. This means a smaller chance of mismatches in tournaments when some children develop more quickly than others of the same age. It also means a tournament could be graded by level and not just age, thus cutting out the danger of youngsters being put off by being outclassed in their first competition.
"We know we have to offer children a progression. They have to believe they are achieving standards to keep them interested in playing," says Mr Hogg.
We're hoping to have a development squad up and running by October. It's a really good opportunity to work with the Renfrewshire After Schools'
"It's so difficult for clubs, and schools provide the perfect base. You have a captive audience, and Renfrewshire has a system that hall lets are set aside for junior clubs at certain times: they are not all just given up to five-a-side football.
"It allows sports like badminton to get a fairer use of the facilities and gives youngsters more opportunity.
"Badminton is particularly successful in Renfrewshire and we're finding that our structures are now being copied by hockey, rugby and tennis in the area."