Switch on to theory

31st March 2006 at 01:00
Crispin Andrews reports on how visits to national centres can interest pupils in a career in the sporting industry

Most students' interest in sport is confined to playing and watching - take a theoretical approach and they soon switch off. To them the world of suits, tracksuits, targets and quotas can seem as irrelevant as it is boring.

On the other hand, show them how their own experiences as participants and spectators are fundamentally linked to the ideas, attitudes and policies of sports organisers and suddenly a dry, abstract subject begins to develop some meaning.

At Ashton on Mersey School in Sale, the sports industry part of the BTEC First in Sport course is taught around a series of field trips to some of Manchester's impressive Commonwealth Games stadiums.

Ashton's director of specialism, Aidan Moloney, explains how, through visits to the National Squash Centre, the Velodrome and the Aquatics Centre, his students can begin to appreciate the wider world of sport, as well as seeing the potential of the sports industry as a route to future employment.

"Looking at familiar facilities and talking to the people who work there is a great way of comparing sport at national, regional and local level," he says. "Many people who work in the sports industry started off as players and spectators when they were younger, and it's good for students to see it could be possible for them to follow a similar career path."

For Ashton on Mersey students the local swimming pool might be old and run-down, but for a few pence more a gleaming new centre with an Olympic size pool is just a short tram ride away.

Comparing the basic squash courts on offer locally with the plush viewing galleries of the National Squash Centre and the glass walls that allow TV coverage of national and international events gives students an insight into the similarities and differences between the types of provision on offer. An interview with the centre's manager then reinforces their interest.

Ashton on Mersey is only a short distance from Old Trafford. The rise of local stars such as Andrew Flintoff and Gary Neville from junior grass-roots sport through talent identification programmes, demonstrates that the various levels of sport are not isolated from each other but part of a continuous pathway. Although it can be accessed by all, it's an individual's aptitude and interest that usually determine how far along this pathway they get.

Closer to home, ex-pupil Daniel Fearneheagh, who is part of the national cycling talent-development squad, is on course for the 2018 Olympics, while sister Katy, still in Year 10, is following in his footsteps. Some pupils at the school are also Manchester United trainees.

"Having elite athletes around allows students to draw on the experiences of people they know well when learning about new and unfamiliar concepts,"

says Aidan Moloney.

"Katy, who is actually doing the First in Sport course, can talk about how she was chosen for her squad and the intensive training programmes she undergoes at the Velodrome as well as the restrictions which being an elite athlete places on eating habits and social life."

"If we want to look at sponsorship," he continues, "why not start off by looking at the two pound;200 bikes Daniel has been provided with by his own private sponsors before going on to examine the mass-marketing potential of someone like David Beckham or the negative impact Rio Ferdinand's missed drugs test might have had on his own marketability."

Ashton on Mersey's headteacher, Tarun Kapur, believes that relating learning to the interests and experiences of students is a key aspect of personalising that learning. "Rather than being something that is simply happening," he says, "the sports industry becomes something that is affecting what is happening around them, something they themselves are involved in."

* Ashton on Mersey School Tel: 0161 973 1179 Email: office@aom.trafford.sch.uk

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