Why 2012 is our best shot at filling sports coach void
International rugby coaching great Sir Ian McGeechan is spearheading a drive to address a "huge" shortage of sports coaches in England's schools.
Sir Ian, who has led the British Lions on four separate occasions, warned that schools must capitalise on the "tremendous opportunity" that will come with the 2012 London Olympics.
His comments come after Schools Secretary Ed Balls announced in March that he would be cutting at least #163;100 million from after-school clubs as part of wider #163;500 million spending cuts to his department.
Recent figures also suggest that just half of 15 and 16-year-olds are meeting the Government's minimum target of two hours' physical activity a week.
But Sir Ian, a former PE and geography teacher, said schools are best placed to help children and the wider community to become interested in sport, and that more coaches are needed to get people engaged.
"We have never had as big an opportunity as the Olympics to get sport so high on the agenda and in the national psyche, and it would be hugely disappointing if we didn't develop that enthusiasm and interest around it," Sir Ian said.
"There are huge reactions to major sporting events, huge spikes of interest. Rugby experienced it when England won the World Cup in 2003, and cricket witnessed it when England won the Ashes in 2005 and last year."
When it comes to the Olympics, Sir Ian said, there will be even greater demand for a whole variety of sports. He will be leading a campaign for better coaching on behalf of specialist sports colleges.
"There will be huge demand for coaches in schools after the Olympics," he said. "Schools will have to look at what they have in place immediately after the Games. We are saying that the first four months after the Olympics will be the most important to capture the interest among schoolchildren."
To do this, Sir Ian said he wanted to encourage young people to get involved in sport at all levels, playing as well as coaching, but added that more needed to be done to train up members of the school workforce to get involved in coaching.
"No one goes into a sport as a professional - everyone begins as an amateur," he said.
"But as a teacher you are in the best position to place sport around the curriculum and really drive a pupil's interest in sport. It doesn't matter what sport it is: it's about having that ability to energise your pupils."
Margaret Talbot, president of the International Council of Sport Science and Physical Education, said Sir Ian's actions were welcome, but that there was still insufficient training among teachers when it came to sport.
"Our biggest concern is that primary school teachers do not have the training to deploy such coaches properly. They don't have the knowledge. If we could sort that, then we could have a massive impact on child health," she said.
Sir Ian's comments echo the sentiment set out in the Youth Sport Trust's manifesto that was launched ahead of the general election.
The sport charity spelt out that there is "significant demand" for sports coaches in schools and that a future government will need to prioritise the recruitment and training of more coaches in Olympic and Paralympic sports, particularly from September 2012.