Talkback

5th January 2001 at 00:00
I've become used to spending Saturday mornings, bleary eyed on the Piccadilly line, accompanying my three sons and various friends from Ealing to Ladbroke Grove. From there it's through Portobello market (a rich environment, especially when setting up) and under the Westway to a skateboard and roller-skate park.

At first sight, it's unprepossessing. Appropriate graffiti covers the walls and discarded cans lie uncollected on the floor.

But for my sons and their friends it's "magic". The area is divided into ramps and slopes, including the awesome "vert" (for only the most able) and a street course, which combines an abundance of gravity and momentum opportunities for the moving wheel.

I've been eight weeks on the trot. I constantly marvel that in spite of up to 200 boys (there are a few girls, who approach the task in a different, although equally successful way) taking part in any session each week, I've never seen one jot of aggression. Swearing is minimal. Any collisions are generally resolved with a quick apology, then everyone gets on. The supervision is minimal.

Put a group of boys in your average playground and get them playing a game of football, and it won't be 15 minutes before a full-scale fight is in progress. How is it the same boys in another environment react so differently? The behaviour is so altered. There are echoes of a time when children could play in the street on their own.

The answer lies within the activity. Skating and skateboarding is an individual sport, like golf. The tribal aspects of football ar eliminated.

The competition is found within the individual, and everyone can improve. So the individual works on "dropping in" or "hand plants". In this respect, everyone's a winner.

Other aspects help, too. It's important what blades you use, the baggy jeans with the rips, the T-shirt, the hoody (hooded sweatshirt), the stickers and the belt.

The skate park shop is always worth a visit. The sport is "cool". It is also physically demanding, hence the cans of drink to prevent dehydration and to give energy.

It has all the ingredients for solving the problem of boys and what to do with them, especially as it costs only pound;2 a session.

How sad to find that there is a lack of such facilities locally. At home, my sons are limited to a small flat path by the green and a kerbstone on which to "grind".

If we are to alter radically our perception of teenage boys and, more importantly, their perception of themselves, we need to provide physically demanding opportunities in an urban environment - opportunities to foster independence and a sense of respect for others.

If teenage boys were given the chance to visit places such as this, it is likely that violence and crime levels would fall drastically. In the UK, we are so slow to provide solutions. As a result, many boys become alienated and disenchanted, sitting for hour after passive hour in front of computer games, physically, socially and imaginatively unchallenged.

Bob Fletcher

Bob Fletcher is head of Hobbayne school, Hanwell, London borough of Ealing.


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