Talent slipping through the net;Sports extra

29th May 1998 at 01:00

Football is unlikely to return to the halcyon days of the early 1980s when, the Scottish Schools Football Association estimates, as many as 40,000 boys were playing in the national age-group competitions.

At present the association estimates there are at best 30,000 children playing in the competitions.

John Watson, SSFA secretary, explained: "Whereas the number of schools entering the competitions is still healthy, schools are not entering as many teams. Schools that entered five or six teams in the past are now maybe only entering three. More schools are participating in the younger age-groups but we're also finding that there are not as many teachers taking teams."

The SSFA organises more competitions than ever with five age groups for boys (under-12, under-13, under-14, under-15 and senior) and two for girls (under-13 and under-15). Mr Watson believes the standards have been maintained but thinks there are fewer outstanding players. "The strongest team at schools' level is not necessarily the team with the best players," he pointed out. "It's the team with the fewest weak ones."

The biggest change in school football has been the small-sided game, encouraged by the Scottish Football Association.

Football festivals are being promoted where a number of school teams go to one venue. But that places a huge burden on the organising teacher. In the past, teachers could simply turn up at a school to play a match, now some have to set aside the whole day.

"There are still pockets of the country where football is not being played in schools," Mr Watson continued. "We have a problem with pitches in Glasgow at present, yet in Fife the small-sided game has really taken off."


Swimming has recovered its numbers. This year's national schools' championships hosted 3,000 swimmers and that number can be multiplied tenfold to include regional qualifying meets.

Morag Vennar, outgoing chair of the Scottish Schools' Swimming Association, is encouraged by the numbers but believes some talent is slipping through the net.

As in football, there are areas of strength such as Lothians and Fife and areas where swimming could do better such as Aberdeen, the Borders and Renfrewshire.

With some local authorities using their own sports development officers in the sport, teachers are not having the same pull. "We have to battle all the way to keep what we have," Mrs Vennar explained.

"When the championships in Glasgow did not take place, the committee kept going and that was important. It is easier to maintain structures than start them up again from scratch and we have to keep what we have. Our facilities haven't been hit too badly. A lot of new school pools are being built, like the superb one at St Margaret's in Liingston.

"We're also quite heartened at the elite side of the sport as there are some promising young people in our 15 to 18-year-old group."


The Scottish Schools Rugby Union is working more closely with the game's governing body, the Scottish Rugby Union to broaden the base of adults and children playing.

At 14,000, Scotland is some way behind the other Triple Crown countries in numbers playing the game (England: 350,000, Ireland: 40,000 and Wales: 25,000).

The new schools' accreditation scheme offers financial incentives for schools to work more closely with their local clubs and will offer grants between pound;300-pound;1,800.

"Schools will fill in application forms which ask them such things as how much after-school rugby they play, how many SRU accredited coaches they have and how many referees," David Allan, SSRU president, said. "It will all count towards how much money they receive. The game must develop through the community."

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