Winners and losers

Not all children enjoy competition, so their first experience of sporting activities needs to be positive, writes Fiona MacLeod

Competition alone isn't enough to encourage children to become sporty, healthy adults, say PE professionals.

Despite sporting personalities, such as swimmer David Wilkie and runner Liz McColgan, calling for more competition in school sport, teachers claim non-competitive activities are also essential.

Jack McConnell, the First Minister, has led calls for schools to foster a more competitive spirit in sport.

But education experts have warned that children turned off by bad experiences in sport are at most risk of being alienated by a competitive environment.

Stuart Forsyth, co-ordinator of the professional graduate programme in PE at Strathclyde University, said: "To back competition exclusively, or no competition, would be wrong because some kids get a lot out of just participating, where others might need competition to thrive. Kids have to cope with being unsuccessful and with being successful. If it is too easy, they think it will always be like that."

A new competitive ethos has emerged from the Scottish Executive after Mr McConnell and Patricia Ferguson, the Sports Minister, said schools were central to producing Scottish sports stars of the future. Both attended a sport summit in Stirling and said they were encouraged by the success of the UK School Games in Glasgow.

An executive spokesperson said: "Schools are key to developing a healthy and active young population. A number of delegates attending the sport summit suggested that, while there is a need for good quality competition for young people, it is also important to ensure that their first experience of sporting activities is a positive one.

Dancing and non-competitive sport was also backed by the executive as equally important in encouraging youngsters to get active.

Greg Dempster of the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland backed a mix in school sport. "There needs to be a balance between the competitive and the non-competitive to encourage as many people as possible into sport and into physical activity throughout their lives," he said.

"Children need to learn how to win and lose. If we protect them from losing, we are not preparing them for the real world."

Local authorities dismissed claims that some councils had scrapped competitive sports days and replaced them with group events designed to increase participation. A spokesman for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities said he was confident no local authority in Scotland had imposed such a ban.

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