Primary athletes avoid a rat race

10th May 1996 at 01:00
The success of the competitions being staged by the Scottish Schools' Athletics Association for primary schools is beginning to pose problems.

The association's 10th anniversary primary schools cross-country championships were staged at Kirkcaldy recently and attracted more than 1,500 competitors, but there are many who feel that exposure to the competitive side of sport at such an early age is a turn-off for later.

Alex Jack, the association's secretary, says: "We keep the elitism down to a minimum by splitting the field alphabetically and having two races each for girls and boys under 12 and two each for the under-11s. But the more you provide the more that is expected."

Jack adds: "I must admit that you also still see coaches going round talent-spotting and, before they know it, kids who were running once a week are in clubs and running three times a week."

There are plans to publish a book of lesson plans to counter what was once unthinkable: the PE teacher with little knowledge of athletics.

Development officer Graeme Ross has taken the "Road to the Isles" and many other outlying parts of Scotland in the cause of introducing children to the sport through fun schemes such as the Magic Mac Awards and Startrack. Sportshall athletics has also been a great success.

But national coach Andy Vince says: "We have not yet realised how to keep the athlete excited." Based on research in Scandinavia, Vince points out that children between the ages of nine and 13 can have four years difference in physical maturity and should not be matched on a one-to-one basis. The first approach should be the motivation to compete against themselves but our structures do not reflect that," he says.

The SSAA, which opens its summer track programme with multi-events and relay championships at Pitreavie on June 8, concedes the need to keep everyone on board.

A representative match for over-17s introduced three years ago has been an important bridge between schools and adult athletics. "It has allowed those who matured later to catch up and win vests which they were unable to at under-17 and under-15 level," Jack says

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