Diane Spencer talks to the director ofthe Youth Sport Trust, who believes inpractising what she preaches
I was a C-stream kid, but sport gave me an avenue into my career, my standing in the world," says Sue Campbell, director of the Youth Sport Trust, who exudes enthusiasm for sport. Only her dog, an eight-year-old Weimaraner, vies for top place in her affections.
"Ben's my surrogate child," she says with a grin. "He's an important part of my life as he pulls me away from work: it's a vocation and I've always had to be careful that work doesn't consume me."
Sport led her from athletics, playing netball for England, coaching (which she still does), to her current post at the trust that she was instrumental in creating nearly four years ago.
Dr Campbell trained as a PE teacher at the Cambridge Institute of Education, taught in a Manchester school, and at Leicester and Loughborough universities. Her administrative career started with four years in the East Midlands Sports Council office, then 11 years as chief executive of the National Coaching Foundation.
The Loughborough University-based trust, originally funded by property millionaire John Beckwith, has developed TOP sports programmes for toddlers up to 18-year olds, and aims to reach every child in the country by 2000.
Dr Campbell devised TOP, with the help of PE specialists,to complement the curriculum. The scheme's success might be attributed to the gift of a big bag full of equipment and a resource pack for parents or teachers which introduces children to playing games, from absolute basics to "going for gold". But it is underpinned by serious teacher training, with around 70,000 teachers taking part in free in-service days.
The trust has succeeded in raising money from sponsors and is supported by the Sports Council, which delivers part of the scheme under its National Junior Sports Programme.
Sue Campbell is known as a "make it happen" person. She is impatient with bureaucracy and committees, preferring to connect with a formidable network of people and politicians in the world of sport. (The trust's patrons and trustees read like the Who's Who of sport.) Nevertheless she is constantly at meetings, travelling often to London to the departments of education and employment and culture, media and sport, the Sports Council and the Central Council of Physical Recreation.
"I like Banksy (Tony Banks, the Sports Minister). He's a terrific enthusiast, he loves sport and I recognise that kind of zeal. He's given fantastic support for the YST-he's never failed to turn up to high or low profile events. "
Recently she was mooted by The Times' sports columnist, John Goodbody, as a contender for the chairmanship of the UK Sports Council. But he reckoned she was more valuable in her present post, developing the future of sport at the grass roots.
Behind a formidable public facade (she wasn't head girl for nothing) is a warm and funny person - and a fit one. She either plays squash, runs or swims about four times a week.
"I don't think you can be in a job in sport or PE and not be fit. It would be like leading an anti-smoking campaign and smoking 20 a day," she says.
Sue's idea of a holiday is to be outdoors almost from the moment of waking: cross-country skiing, kayaking and backpacking, preferably in Maine, New England, where she has friends.
"I love the feeling of physical effort - I suppose it comes from being an athlete - then in the evening I have a really nice meal and a drink of good wine. Maine is the perfect place as I like adventure, but I don't likedanger. "
Although well-travelled in her job, she has not moved far from her Midlands' roots and still lives in a small village near Nottingham. She attributes her self-confidence and self-possession to her parents, saying "I don't know how they did it."
Both left school as soon as they could. He father managed a local co-op and her mother started as a hairdresser's apprentice and ended up owning several shops, later managed by her father.
Dr Campbell is well aware of her role as a leader in "battling for the cause of sport. It's like being on stage: I give the show, but did the audience believe the plot? I'm conscious that people look to me to show them a new direction. "
The trust is taking a new turn. It is spreading its wings and developing international links for itself and the new Institute of Youth Sport funded by Mr Beckwith. The search is on worldwide for the best researcher in the field for the Beckwith chair of youth sport, she said.
The idea for the institute arose out of her work developing the TOP programme. "I became aware of the questions it raised: for example, was there a real link between literacy and numeracy and movement skills? How do we identify talent? How do we get children to progress to a higher level?" Loughborough was the obvious place for the institute, with its reputation for sport and research, she said. The vice-chancellor was enthusiastic and a US sports publishing company, Human Kinetics "has thrown its weight" behind the initiative.
Hence Dr Campbell will be travelling again from September, leaving her deputy, Steve Grainger, in charge. "I have good staff. If I were Mr Hoddle I'd have to say I've got my dream team."
For details about the TOP programmes, contact the Youth Sport Trust, Rutland Building, Loughborough University, Loughborough LE11 3TU. Telephone:01509 228293.