Team talk for key players
"Do not wait to be asked, please go and speak to the local headteacher and school governors about the help you can give," he told delegates at the Central Council of Physical Recreation's annual conference in Market Bosworth last week.
Sports bodies could offer coaching, open their clubs to young people and give them fee concessions, tours of grounds, or the opportunity to meet players, the minister said. The National Lottery money for sport presented an opportunity to target young people.
Also, the restructuring of the Sports Council meant that the new English council would have a sharper focus on youth. "Rather than school sport running in parallel with sporting activity in the outside world, I want to see strong links forged between the two," the minister said. "It was with this in mind that I approached the restructuring.
"This is certainly not, as some have seen it, a stepping back from the encouragement of popular participation. But I feel the Sports Council can make its budget work most effectively by concentrating its efforts on young people and schools, complementing what local authorities already do for the wider general public." The Sports Council's budget is only about 5 per cent of councils' spending on leisure and recreation, he pointed out.
Mr Sproat reiterated his commitment to putting "traditional team games" at the "core" of physical education, saying: "They teach young people things which so many of them would learn so vividly in no other way: the value of discipline - particularly self-discipline - teamwork and team spirit; operating within a framework of rules and laws; good sportsmanship; fair play; commitment; dedication; courage; winning modestly; losing gracefully - in short, the development of good character.
"Team sport is a socially valuable way to channel and direct youthful high spirits, energy and aggression. And although it is not a matter easily susceptible to specific proof, I have no doubt that the decrease in team games and sports within schools has links with the increase in youthful boredom and ensuing antisocial behaviour."
He acknowledged that not everyone enjoyed team games and competitive sport, or learned lessons from them. "But neither of those undoubted truths invalidates, or contradicts, the greater truth that most children do learn deeply important lessons. This is just as important for those who are good at games as it is for those who are not.
"My department and the Department for Education, with the wholehearted support of the Prime Minister, are working together to put traditional team games back at the heart of school life."
Mr Sproat added that he wanted to see greater concentration on performance rather than on theory in the physical education aspect of teacher training, and more students should be given "a proper grounding" in PE.
Steve Allatt, general secretary of the Schools' Association Football International Board, welcomed the Government's enthusiasm for school sport, but sounded some warning notes. He pointed to the lack of local authority advisers, the inroads of local management on time and resources, and the low level of teachers' morale "which has taken a tremendous buffeting".
Mr Allatt, a former headteacher, coach and referee, reminded his audience that they were the successful sports people. "For some [pupils], it's a traumatic experience." He recalled one school rugby match in which "an intellectual lad, six stone wet through, [when] faced with a mighty opponent, simply stood like a policeman on point duty and waved him through to the touchline, an example of inspiration in adversity."
But some children who dreaded PE were not so resilient, he said. "If you are talking about the health of the nation, you want to involve those who would otherwise switch off." He appealed for an emphasis on the education aspect of PE. "Let us not think only of the gifted children in sport, as they will get there anyway; we want the mass of children to thrive, to be keen and motivated, so that we sow the seed of a lifelong love of physical activity."
Ray Carter, deputy chairman of the CCPR, called on the Sports Minister to ringfence some Sports Council and lottery money for extra-curricular sport, guarantee the survival of playing fields and PE advisers, give rate relief to sports clubs which make links with schools and help fund volunteer games teachers, equipment and transport through tax concessions.
Duncan Goodhew, the Olympic swimmer, announced a new venture, the Youth Sports Trust, which will be launched in the spring to "bring sport to life for young people". It will provide teaching packs and other resources to encourage sports governing bodies and schools to work together on promoting sporting skills at all levels.