The key to getting girls interested in sport? Hairdryers

29th August 2014 at 01:00
Give the `customers' what they want, says Sebastian Coe's coach

The way to encourage girls to be more physically active at school is to ask them what they want - whether the answer is Zumba classes or hairdryers in the changing rooms - according to one of Britain's most successful athletics coaches.

Frank Dick, who oversaw the careers of Olympic gold medallists Daley Thompson, Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett, said that low levels of physical activity among teenage girls in Scotland would be tackled only by doing PE on their terms.

"If you're trying to sell something and your customers aren't buying, what's the first thing you do? Speak to the customers," said Mr Dick, president of the European Athletic Coaches Association and a keynote speaker at next month's Scottish Learning Festival.

He highlighted one school in England where girls were far less active than boys until teachers asked what was putting them off PE. The girls wanted hairdryers in the changing rooms and 15 minutes to wash and dry their hair; individual cubicles with lockable doors; to wear jogging bottoms rather than short skirts; and Zumba dance classes to replace traditional activities such as rope-climbing.

Mr Dick, who has also worked with golfer Justin Rose, tennis player Boris Becker and figure skater Katarina Witt, said that teachers should learn more from trends in elite sport.

"It may seem strange to the person on the street, but I know quite a few high-level sports people who meditate," he said, adding that he believed teachers should encourage pupils to apply similar techniques. "In the stressful world we're in we should be putting out that image of these top people who are under pressure, and this is how they cope with it," he said.

Mr Dick, who hails from Scotland but lives in Wiltshire, also touched on next month's independence referendum and how it could affect young Scots' chances of sporting success.

"[Country] size is not a huge factor," he said, adding that Jamaica dominated sprinting events with a population about half that of Scotland. "I think being small can actually be pretty beautiful in sport, because it concentrates a passion to achieve."

Research had shown that high-quality coaching and opportunities to train were more important to success than the amount of money available, Mr Dick said.

He added that national sports agency SportScotland had put a "huge amount of energy" into raising performance levels among talented young Scots, which he hoped would "prepare us for Olympic success whether we're wearing a Great Britain vest or a Scottish vest".

The former coach also praised Curriculum for Excellence, describing it as "visionary" because it moved away from teachers as "the fount of all wisdom" and instead focused on helping children navigate all the digital information available to them.

Iain Stanger, president of the Scottish Association of Teachers of Physical Education and a PE teacher at Aberdeen Grammar School, backed up Mr Dick's views, saying that girls were requesting spin, body pump, aqua aerobics and dance classes.

"I believe there is a move away from the traditional games within PE," he said, adding that many new teachers were adept at providing such opportunities, although the picture across Scotland remained patchy.

However, Mr Stanger stressed it was a common misconception that girls did not like competitive sport. The PE teacher said that at his school, volleyball took off after it was introduced as a fun, relaxed activity - but in time the female students decided that they wanted a competitive element.

Yoga, breathing exercises and relaxation techniques were already being used in some schools, he added, and that trend looked set to continue as National 4 and 5 qualifications placed more emphasis on social, emotional and mental well-being.

The Scottish Learning Festival takes place in Glasgow on 24-25 September. See

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