The ball is in your court
Erik Milowski wants to engender a sporting philosophy in Scottish children as young as three.
The Frenchman, who is volleyball development officer with Edinburgh City Council, hosted a Baby Volley clinic at Meadowbank Sports Centre this month. The game, which is played extensively in France, teaches children aged from three to six basic sports skills, with the emphasis on volleyball.
Mr Milowski originally piloted a project in Aberd-eenshire but now, after successful initiatives at Echline and Kirkliston primaries in Edinburgh, he hopes to extend it to all of Scotland.
The Echline project, in partnership with City of Edinburgh Volleyball Club, has been hugely successful. The club boasts almost 100 junior members, and is believed to be the biggest in the UK.
"City of Edinburgh Volleyball has always been built on its youth programmes, so the Baby Volley is an exciting and logical development for us," says Ian Brownlee, the club coach. "We are the first volleyball club in Scotland to have a pathway from Baby Volley through to first division and national team."
The project does not involve any teachers at the school, but Mel Coutts, the active schools co-ordinator, has worked closely with parent helper Heather Darling, who is a coach at the City of Edinburgh club, and Mr Milowski is grateful to headteacher Jim McColgan for offering a decent time slot for after-school sessions.
Parent helpers have been crucial to the programme with 10 volunteers for 20 children, and a new project was set up at Queensferry Primary in January, which will see at least one teacher involved.
Mr Milowski believes it is essential to get youngsters on the sporting ladder as early as possible, as much for health reasons as for achieving any sporting excellence.
"By P5 you can see which children are active and which show signs of obesity," he says. "It interests me to link it with the culture of parent and child. In sport in the UK, there are not enough volunteers. At the P1-P2 age, parents work closely with their children so it is good to get them involved and keep them at sessions.
"Then, it will maybe create more volunteers who are actively involved in sport, whether it be in coaching or in administration.
"But it's not just about volleyball, although there is a strong link to the sport. We use different balls in the sessions," says Mr Milowski.
"It's about basic moves, improving motor skills and developing a relationship with a ball, which will give a good grounding for whatever sport they choose to pursue.
"I'd be delighted if they continued with volleyball, but the important thing is that children develop a sporting philosophy at an early age.
Ideally, you need one coach for every four or five children. It is an intensive session when you are dealing with P1 and P2 children.
"Not only are you working on skills but you are working on developing relationships and teaching them co-operation and the value of working together."
His youngest recruit is four-year-old Henryk Peplinski, who is still at nursery school, but is part of the Kirkliston Primary scheme. He wants to see Baby Volley moving beyond being a club sport and becoming part of the PE curriculum. P1 teachers are looking for something to keep children active, he notes, and this would fit the bill perfectly. "The French Volleyball Federation has taken the game on board and I'm hoping the Scottish Volleyball Association will do the same here," says Mr Milowski.