Next summer's Commonwealth Games are likely to boost interest in judo but the sport's governing body is already targeting schools for recruits, writes Roddy Mackenzie
The Scottish Judo Federation is not short of interest in the sport from school children: about 3,500 of its 5,000 members are under the age of 16. However, most of these young members are recruited through clubs and now judo's governing body is determined to gain a stronger foothold in schools.
It will start by tempting them to its first Scottish Schools Championships at Meadowbank Sports Centre in Edinburgh on December 9. Around 300 entries are expected as the SJF circulates entry forms to clubs and specific schools.
The body's development officer, Derek Scott, says: "A lot of private schools have active judo clubs but we find difficulties in the state sector as schools do not permit non-teaching staff to take curriculum classes.
"There are a few projects with judo at after-school clubs and a few clubs use schools as bases.
"We hope to use the schools championships to kick start the sport in schools. If it is successful, we'll look at team championships as well as individual events, schools festivals and come-and-try sessions."
The SJF aims to recruit children as young as five. There is an introductory version of the sport which simplifies the basic moves.
"It is a sport that is popular with both boys and girls but we need to work on the schools," continues Mr Scott. "With the advent of more government assistance for schools sports and primary school sports co-ordinators, the climate has changed and that is why we have decided to hold a schools championships to gauge what interest there is."
The championships, which the SJF hopes will be the first of many, will have four age bands, with the youngest event being for P5-P7 and the others at S1-S2, S3-S4 and S5-S6. The competitors will also be divided into weight categories to save mismatches.
In addition to recruiting, the SJF hopes to be able to identify and encourage early talent. "Like many sports, there can be a high drop-off rate after the first six months," says Mr Scott.
"We are reasonably fortunate in terms of the number of coaches we have," he says. "Our only problem is that most of our coaches work full-time in other jobs and have difficulty getting into schools on a regular basis."
The SJF points out that judo is relatively cheap to take up, requiring no specialised equipment. Most clubs have judo suits that can be borrowed at first and will let beginners start in loose-fitting clothing.
There are judo clubs in most areas of Scotland and fees for individual classes can be as little as pound;2. Membership of the SJF costs pound;8 a year for under-eights and pound;13 for juniors (under-16), but there can be no contests between children under the age of eight as they are not insured for injuries.
"Of the 3,500 under-16 members we have, maybe only about 1,000 are competitive judokas and we'd like to see that increase," says Mr Scott. "It is a major Olympic sport."
Judo has recently been accepted into the Scottish Institute of Sport and the leading judokas can take advantage of the elite level support programme for athletes. Scotland has a track record for producing world-class judo competitors and has high hopes of medals at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester.
"Scottish Judo has been very successful over the past few years with world medals from players such as Graham Randall, John Buchanan and Joyce Heron," says Richard Kenney, chairman of the SJF.
"The Commonwealth Games are less than a year away and the support of the institute will be crucial in ensuring that our judo players are able to win medals at this important event."
Meanwhile, the SJF is hoping to recruit a new generation of talent.
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