By the age of 13, between 70 and 80 per cent of children in Scotland drop out of sports. Once they have lost interest, getting them back is very difficult. The key is to ensure they never leave in the first place.
This is the thinking behind Positive Coaching Scotland, a "cultural change" programme based on the American Positive Coaching Alliance, being piloted in five Scottish local authorities (TESS, October 10, 2008). The aim is to change the culture of sports from one where winning is the only aim, to one where participation is the focus; a change from half the players being losers, to the winners being defined as those who gave the game 100 per cent.
Last week, teachers from the Woodfarm primary cluster in East Renfrewshire attended a continuing professional development session where speakers included Tommy Boyle, who has coached Scottish athletes such as Tom McKean and Yvonne Murray.
"We need to redefine what coaching is," says Mr Boyle, "and what winning is. The parameters of measuring sports need to be adjusted. The big change happened when we began being bombarded by television sports. But youth sports have nothing to do with the professionals; this only adds to the pressure."
My Boyle is aware of the wider implications. "Sport at school helped me develop my character and become the person I am. Most business people I speak to have said the same. It provides that spark."
Ian Pye, quality improvement officer at East Renfrewshire, agrees. "This is a tremendous vehicle for teaching life lessons. We are not talking about the Andy Murrays of the world. There are many people who could gain benefits from sports but who are dropping out.
"Youth sport has taken the philosophy of professional sports - league structures, competitions, a win-at-all-costs mentality. Clubs are not about social and emotional developments; they are about winning the league, and this is a pale reflection of club sports."
The thinking behind Positive Coaching Scotland strongly supports A Curriculum for Excellence and, in particular, the four capacities. "It is about the social and emotional development of children," says Mr Pye. "Teachers see that it is about developing pupils into the kind of adults they are aiming for."
Despite most people being able to relate at least one story of children being put off by parents shouting abuse and attempting to take over the refereeing from the crowd, the response has been positive, with sessions being run for parents, coaches and teachers.
The CPD session provided ideas and resources for dealing with such parents, including green cards which can be handed to them, explaining why interfering from the sidelines can be damaging.
Pauline Ferguson, depute head at Robslee Primary, needed little persuading. "It is a culture which we are used to encouraging. But today's session has given me a clearer picture of how we can apply it, and it will be interesting to apply what we do in academic subjects to exercise."
Pamela Bell is a child development officer in East Renfrewshire. She says: "In 10 years' time, if it works, we will have a nice society. I dislike the negative side to sports. We have to instil the idea (of a positive culture) from a young age."
With support from the Scottish Football Association and other sports bodies, Positive Coaching Scotland is keen to extend this throughout Scotland once the two-year trial is finished.
"We want to help leaders throughout Scotland change the culture," says Mr Pye. "Parents need guidelines and we need a family-friendly environment or else tomorrow, there will be no referees."