Netball heroines court young fans
Scotland's national netball team is hosting roadshows for primary and secondary children as part of its fund-raising for next summer's trip to the world championships in Fiji.
At the roadshows - in Edinburgh last month, Glasgow last weekend and Aberdeen - school teams can adopt a national player to coach them and pass on tips about how to improve their game. The day finishes off with schools facing each other.
The novel approach is one of a number of initiatives by Netball Scotland this season to elevate the sport's profile in schools.
"The roadshows are part of our fund-raising programme and we have had a good response," explains Lesley MacDonald, the Scotland captain, who plays goal attack for Scotstoun.
"The concept works well, as it gives schools the chance to see Scotland players close up. We had 150 schoolchildren at our roadshow in Edinburgh."
Scotland is currently 15th in the world netball ranks. The team has to raise pound;40,000 to go to Fiji. The children pay pound;10 each to attend the roadshows. In addition to coaching, they receive a Netball Scotland goody bag and T-shirt.
It is easy for the national team to go to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, Ms MacDonald says, because the players from those cities have contacts for setting up sessions, but she would like to give children in other areas the chance to rub shoulders with them.
In an ideal world, Ms MacDonald concedes, the Scottish players would be able to go to individual primary schools on a weekly basis to keep up the link and take regular coaching sessions, but the players have full-time jobs and only play netball part-time.
They have a full programme and squad training has to be slotted in. They will play in the Four Nations Cup in Singapore in December, against the hosts, Canada and Papua New Guinea, all of whom have qualified for the world championships.
A Scottish National League has been set up this season, which will give the players a structured competitive environment to keep them sharp for the world championships. It will also provide a new opportunity for junior players to push for places in senior teams.
Scotland has squads at under-19 and under-17 levels as well as two under-17 regional development squads: East for players from Orkney, Shetland, Aberdeen, Fife, Perth and Edinburgh, and West for players from Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire, Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire.
Netball Scotland is seeking to increase the number of schools affiliated to it and is offering primary schools the chance to register for just pound;1.
Glasgow has a strong tradition of playing netball, and has schools leagues from S1-S4 level, as well as youth leagues. There are also regular schools festivals.
"The situation has changed considerably since I started playing primary school netball in Kirkcaldy," says Ms MacDonald. "There is just so much on offer for children these days, not just in terms of sporting opportunities but with computer games.
"The children that do show some sporting potential are much in demand.
Every sport is competing for them.
"It is great to see children taking part in team sports like netball.
"My own club, Scotstoun, has a number of primary schools that feed into it, and all of the top clubs in Scotland have strong junior set-ups. It's just a case of giving schools a helping hand when necessary. But Netball Scotland is keen to expand the game into the areas of the country where it has not been traditionally strong."
The governing body is also keen to recruit more coaches and recently had former New Zealand and England coach Lyn Gunson take a two-day coaches'
Netball Scotland is aware that if Glasgow succeeds in its bid to host the Commonwealth Games in 2014, then the game will feature prominently and Scotland will be looking to build a squad capable of competing for a medal.
Many of that squad are at school now. So, getting the junior development programme right is a priority.
If the roadshows can unearth one or two talented youngsters who will go on to play for Scotland, the benefits for the national team will be more than monetary.