Coaches and facilities are key

7th November 2008 at 00:00
Do pupils take part in adequate levels of physical activity in school? Are poor facilities in schools `compromising' sports education? Have active schools co-ordinators made a difference? Emma Seith reports on the advice offered to MSPs who are asking these very questions

MSPS have launched a "pathway into sport" inquiry, which will examine why Scots are dropping out of sport and why young people are failing to participate.

As Scotland begins its preparations to host the Commonwealth Games in 2014, the Parliament's health and sport committee has asked Scottish sporting champions, including Olympic medallists Liz McColgan and Rhona Martin, how they became involved in sport.

The sports stars have also offered their advice on how schools should be breaking down barriers to participation in sport - from offering basic fitness programmes to improving the sports facilities.

For many of the high achievers who have given evidence, access to a motivational teacher was the key issue. In the case of runner Liz McColgan, it was her PE teacher - a "mad marathon runner" - who noticed she was always first back from cross-country runs in the winter.

Now in the second phase of its inquiry, the committee is calling for written evidence about the early barriers that Scots face. The closing date for submissions is November 21.




The Scottish Olympic medallist would be on the dole, smoking and drinking if it had not been for her PE teacher. But it should not be left to teachers to identify sporting prowess, she feels.

Giving evidence to the Parliament's health and sport committee earlier this year, Ms McColgan described her PE teacher, Phil Kearns, as a "great guy" and a "mad marathon runner". His pupils at St Saviour's High in Dundee did cross-country running in the winter months. "My parents were unemployed and we did not have a lot of money. If Phil had not driven me to races when I was young, I would not have run."

Asked where she would be without him, Ms McColgan, who won two Commonwealth golds and a silver medal at the 1988 Olympics for running 10,000m races, said: "Probably be on the dole; smoking and drinking. That is the lifestyle that I came from, and I still have family members with that lifestyle."

All children should be offered a "basic fitness programme" at school, she said, but identifying the stars of the future should not be left to teachers.

"With the back-up that we have, professional club coaches should be linked into schools."


According to the Olympic gold medallist, kids are "desperate" to take up curling, thanks to the sports school programme, but a shortage of coaches and facilities means they are being robbed of the opportunity.

Ms Martin said the lack of facilities was "definitely a barrier to encouraging more people into the sport", due to the travelling involved. "The governing body employs some development officers, but each ice rink needs someone who can coach full-time or part-time. A handful coach the elite athletes, but we need to nurture the kids below."


She won two Olympic gold medals in 2000 and 2004 for sailing but still comes out in a cold sweat when she thinks about primary PE, which was "a blur of disappointment. I was lucky if I hit the rounders ball", she told the health and sport committee.

By secondary, things got better and Ms Robertson took up hockey, swimming and skiing. But these ended when the teachers went on strike. Unable to pursue other interests, she turned to sailing, to which she was introduced by her father. Ms Robertson would like Scotland to emulate France and make sailing part of the curriculum. "I am not suggesting that pupils do it every week, but they should get the opportunity to have a go."


Teachers taking part in after-school activities with pupils should have more flexible timetables and be given time off in lieu, argued the rugby player, who won 82 caps for Scotland.

"There needs to be recognition that such work is an important part of the teacher's role," he said.

Mr Townsend's school, Galashiels Academy in the Borders, produced two Scottish rugby captains in five years - Mr Townsend and Chris Paterson - but the PE teacher who ran the sessions left. "Since then, the school has not had a team that plays week in, week out - only a team that plays in the Scottish Schools Cup."

Sport in schools should be more competitive, and he argued that the positive aspects of rugby need to be promoted, as opposed to its aggression and danger.

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