Fit for a new generation

26th November 2004 at 00:00
Getting kids away from their PlayStations and onto the sports field may seem like a daunting task, but Ian Taylor, the new head of SportScotland, is encouraged by recent initiatives. Roddy Mackenzie reports

Who better to be a safe pair of hands than a goalkeeper? Ian Taylor, the new chief executive of SportScotland, is now the custodian of the nation's sporting hopes.

Mr Taylor retired from hockey after winning a gold medal for Great Britain at the Seoul Olympic Games in 1988 and has since held a range of senior management roles in the commercial leisure industry. He will now use his experience to help mould Scotland's sporting future.

A few days into his job, he exudes enthusiasm for the challenge and, as a former PE and biology teacher, he has school sport circled in bold ink on his timetable.

The Active Schools initiative, with pound;24 million from the Scottish Executive, will be high on his agenda, as SportScotland seeks to prise youthful fingers from the controls of PlayStations and get them actively involved in sport.

The minimum of two hours a week of PE for every child by 2007, as recommended by the Scottish Executive, is only a start. The Active Schools programme, first piloted in just two schools in 1996, has been rolled out across Scotland. By the end of this month, 29 of the 32 local authorities will have Active Schools managers in place, 342 out of 360 secondary schools sports co-ordinators will be in place and 194 out of 260 primary schools co-ordinators.

The face of school sport has changed dramatically since the days when Ian Taylor attended Queen Elizabeth's Grammar in Worcester and went on to play at English county level, national level and then on to the Great Britain squad.

"I suppose I came from a traditional school sport background with hockey one term, football another term and cricket yet another," he recalls. "The drive for me to become involved came through PE teachers and teachers of other academic subjects who coached teams. It was their enthusiasm and commitment that encouraged me. The art teacher was a member of the local hockey club and he used to pick me up and drive me to the club and introduce me to the club system.

"That for many people of my age was an automatic pathway. I didn't even go through any thought processes; I just fell into the club system."

But the system was such that both his predecessor as England hockey goalkeeper and his successor attended the same school as he did. They didn't have particularly marvellous facilities, or a massive playing base, he says, because they were a small school. What they did have was "the commitment of teachers who took us through from 11-18 and made us something special".

While it is easy to believe those were the halcyon days of school sport, Mr Taylor is determined to leave them behind. It would be old-fashioned, he says, to go back to the previous system. "We have to invent another system and I think Active Schools is a typical example of someone thinking out of the box. We can't expect to go back and get teachers to volunteer like before. It's just not going to happen.

"But now we have Active Schools mainstream funded, and can produce opportunities for youngsters to get involved, we can give them the opportunity to taste and create a pathway where they can take it further if they want to.

"It's a different generation now. Would I have been as enthusiastic about playing hockey if I had had a PlayStation or more interesting television? Maybe it was easier for my generation to fall into sport because there were not so many other things. But now we have to compete with the commercial entertainment industry. We have to accept that's the world we're in and that the market will become ever more competitive."

He would like people to be far more creative in terms of coaching and development, and that's where he sees the governing bodies coming in, to create programmes that are enticing. He believes PE has never had such an important role to play in the shaping of Scotland's sporting future.

"The Active Schools programme is vital," he says. "I think it will be underestimated by the general public, but I think, for the world of PE in schools, it is the kick-start that was needed. That's been identified by the Scottish Executive, in taking it out of Lottery funding and putting it into mainstream funding. That's them saying it is really important to us.

And they have followed it up, saying children should now get two hours of PE per week.

"The world of PE has now to make sure they grab that opportunity. They can make a difference to the levels of participation which will then produce the pathways. We have to make sure that is utilised and go back to the wider world in the future and say that we now have greater participation, thriving clubs and, somewhere down the line, winning teams.

"This takes PE into the top level of the debate. Sport has moved up the political agenda in Scotland in recent years."

School sport co-ordinators have to set up their own network in schools, and draw "umbilical cords" between schools and clubs, says Mr Taylor.

"It's been a huge challenge to find the right people to do these jobs and some are from education backgrounds, some from sports backgrounds. But now we have the opportunity to make a difference. How else are we going to do it, if not through schools?"

But there is, he warns, the issue of facilities. "There is a job for the governing bodies and there's a job for SportScotland, but there's particularly a job for the professionals within education to say we need a certain level of facility to provide this programme."

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