The UK School Games will give many their first taste of an experience like the Olympics. Roddy Mackenzie gets on the starting blocks for the event
Glasgow schoolchildren are being urged to seize the opportunity to experience a multi-sport event and mix with athletes from a range of sports when the inaugural UK School Games are played out in the city next month.
Kay Cherrie, Active Schools manager with Glasgow City Council, believes the event - which will be staged on September 7-10 - represent a unique chance to set new sporting benchmarks for the city.
The Millennium Commission has put up pound;1.5 million to stage the inaugural event and a further pound;6 million has been earmarked for the games up until 2011, the year before London stages the Olympic Games.
Minister for Sport Richard Caborn said at the launch earlier this year:
"The UK School Games will become the pinnacle of the school sport competitive calendar. This sporting event will build on the Government's plans for putting competitive sport back into schools, so that kids across the country, regardless of background, have the chance to go for gold on their own school sport stage.
"Significant Government investment has been made in recent years to improve the position and profile of PE and school sport. Young people competing in this event will have come through this system."
The UK School Games will initially involve five sports - athletics, swimming, gymnastics, table tennis and fencing - and events will take place at the Kelvin Hall, Scotstoun and Tollcross.
Around 1,200 athletes from Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales will take part although, in some events, there will be regional English teams involved.
In addition to raising the profile of school sport and giving talented athletes the chance to experience top-level competition, it is anticipated that some of those displaying their talents will eventually make it all the way to the Olympic stage in 2012.
Cherrie, who has worked in teaching and sports education for 30 years, is aware the event will throw up challenges for every individual athlete across the five sports.
Most will not have performed in front of crowds or in such top-class facilities but she argues that it could be the making of some of them:
"Talking from an athletics perspective, there is a lot of talent in the schools but this is taking it to a whole higher level," says Cherrie, a past president of the Scottish Schools' Athletic Association (SSAA).
"There is no question there will be pressure on the athletes and we'll see how they react under that pressure," she continues.
"Even some of our senior athletes have collapsed under pressure at a major Games and maybe giving our young athletes experience of this sort of thing at an early age will help.
"We have to be there to make it as easy as we can for them and ease some of that pressure.
"All we are asking is that they do their best and if they can give us personal bests then that would be great. Reaching finals and winning medals would be a bonus.
"We have to remember that it is an Under-17 squad and most of the athletes will be 16 or even 15, so there is a lot on their shoulders.
"It is a chance for most of the athletes to experience a multi-sport event and all that it entails.
"They will be staying away from home in student halls of residence - many for the first time - and even keeping 1,000 children occupied in the evenings will be an issue.
"There is talk of Steve Redgrave and Kelly Holmes coming up to give talks and that would be fantastic as these are the role models that children look to.
"This event will stretch our volunteer resources but should be very rewarding and one of the benefits could be that more volunteers come on board.
"Next year, there will be new things to consider as we will have to take a team away from home for the first time, although the date and venue next year have still to be announced.
"Again, there will be different pressures for athletes to cope with but it is better to learn at this stage than to go into a major competition at senior level without that experience."
Cherrie does not believe the event will lead to any change in the PE curriculum in schools but is confident that awareness of sport in the city will be raised.
"It will not all be about the elite and I know there is talk of 'come and try' sessions for children throughout the Glasgow schools," she continues.
"I know 17 of the 29 secondary schools have so far applied for tickets for the different sports and hopefully that will encourage more children in the city to take up one of the sports.
"Some sports like table tennis and fencing are played in pockets of the city and it would nice to think that something like the UK School Games will bring those to other areas of the city.
"I'm sure some headteachers will not be pleased with the timing of the event especially as many of the athletes will just be starting their higher work.
"It's not such an issue for the Glasgow schools but we have one girl in our team from Shetland and she will probably need to have five days off.
"But, if you look at the calendars for the five different sports, it's difficult to find an ideal time.
"Some of those involved will go on to become elite athletes and will then know about sacrifices.
"Hopefully, the Games will be the start; the first rung on the ladder. They will see what it requires to compete at the top level and decide that this is what they want to do.
"Of course, the Olympics in 2012 is the ultimate target but only a small percentage will make it, probably only about five per cent," Cherrie concludes.