Olympics legacy: How can we encourage kids into sport?

Top L:R Helen Glover, rowing (gold); Morgyn Peters, paralympic swimming; James Disney-May, swimming; Middle L:R Christina Schütze, hockey (Germany); Sophie Williams, fencing; Arthur Lanigan O'Keefe, modern pentathlon (Ireland) Bottom L:R Carl Myerscough, shotput; Ian Haley, hockey (South Africa); Peter Wilson, shooting (gold) Millfield School has nine current and former pupils competing at the London 2012 Olympics, including Helen Glover, top left, who won rowing gold, and Peter Wilson, bottom right, who took top honours in the shooting

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With Team GB celebrating their most successful Olympics for 100 years, a debate is growing about how best to build on the legacy and inspire the next generation into sport.

The message from David Cameron was clear - there needs to be "a big cultural change" towards sport in schools with a return to the "competitive ethos" in school sports.

The prime minister said the problem was not money and suggested some teachers were not "playing their part" but what do those in grassroots sport believe are the key ingredients for success?


Graeme Maw, director of sport at Millfield School, in Somerset, says every pupil at the school does a minimum of three hours of scheduled sport per week.

However, many pupils at the private school, which has nine former and current pupils competing at the London Games - more than any other school - do up to 22 hours of training. There are also more than 30 different sports on offer.

Mr Maw says the word "opportunity" is key.

"Sport and physical activity are the heartbeat of our community," says Mr Maw.

The Youth Sport Trust (YST) says it is important schools engage everyone, for example by involving young people in the selection and planning of sport and activities.

Schools also need to broaden the range of lunchtime and after-hours clubs to increase opportunities for young people to take part, it says.

It is an ethos Mr Maw agrees with. "Dance might not be an Olympic sport but it's something that young girls really enjoy - it's about finding and discovering individual talent in a child," he adds.


Mr Cameron spoke on Wednesday of "some teachers not wanting to join in and play their part" when it came to school sports.

But Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), says his comments were "ill informed, unfair and fail to recognise the huge contribution that many teachers make to sports in schools".

"Many teachers, not just PE staff, willingly give up their time to motivate and coach young people in a wide range of sports," he says.

The YST says there must be teachers and coaches on the ground ready to support young people who show an interest in sport at primary and secondary level.


Mr Cameron has said the government is investing £1bn in school sports over the next four years, but "the problem isn't money".

David Mansfield, headteacher at Coopers' Company and Coborn School, in Essex, says investment is key. The state school was named the most sports-minded school in Europe in 2005 and Mr Mansfield says it is one of few that competes with public schools in national sport.

Prime Minister David Cameron meets children at a sports camp during a visit to the Scotstoun Stadium in Glasgow David Cameron has said the 2012 London Olympics will bring "a massive legacy" to Britain

Mr Mansfield says the school's success is down to putting extra money into sports, for example, the school employs a professional hockey coach. He describes funding as "the bottom line" and says there is a "straight-line correlation between outcomes and incomes".

"If schools are not on the front foot to identify talent then we're going to see a real fall away from the fantastic job that has been done (in the past)," he says.

Mr Trobe is critical of the removal of funding for the Schools Sports Partnership (SSP), a network of sports colleges in England - including the Coopers' school - that put specialist PE teachers to work with primary school pupils, linked schools with local sports clubs, brought high quality coaches into schools and promoted competitive matches.

Experts say it is too early to say how this will affect school sport participation.

But Mr Trobe says: "If the prime minister is serious about wanting to enhance sport in schools the funding will need to be put in place to support those very willing teachers and coaches to deliver a lasting sporting legacy."

Playing fields and facilities

The Fields in Trust (FIT), a UK charity that protects recreational spaces, says funding is essential - but it is important not to forget about the fields themselves.

"It is important to look beyond the funding when considering sporting legacy for a golden future," said Alison Moore-Gwyn, chief executive.

Chad Le Clos's father Bert is overcome with pride after his win

"David Cameron has initiated this process but it is vital that other elements which nurture sporting ability are not overlooked. A fundamental one is the provision of space for people to discover and hone their talent."

The charity's Queen Elizabeth II Fields Challenge focuses on this, says Ms Moore-Gwyn. The scheme works with landowners to protect their outdoor recreational spaces, aiming for 2,012 of them by the end of this year.

The YTS says school and council facilities should also be opened up after hours.

On Tuesday, it was revealed that Education Secretary Michael Gove has approved the sale of more than 20 school sports fields in the past two years.

But FIT said more concerning was the situation for academies and new free schools, which are exempt from government regulations that govern mainstream schools' freedom to sell off their playing fields. There could be an unknown number of other sports pitches that have been lost, it said.

"This could have serious implications for our sporting legacy," a spokeswoman said.

Competitive spirit

The prime minister has called for a return to the "competitive ethos" and "getting rid of the idea all must win prizes and you can't have competitive sports days".

But British Olympic Association chairman Colin Moynihan says many children do not want to play competitive sport, nor should they have to.

"The key thing is to make sure that where they do want to there's the facility and the opportunity for them to do so and that's our emphasis and has been our emphasis throughout," he says.

The YST adds that the first experience young people have of sport needs to be as positive as possible to encourage them to go further.

Role models

This week a survey of 2,000 people by Freeview found that seven out of 10 thought Team GB athletes had replaced music stars and footballers as role models.

During the Games so far many stars have served to inspire young athletes.

Alan Davis, head coach at the Maindy Flyers club in Cardiff, where gold medal-winning cyclist Geraint Thomas trained until he was 16, said Thomas was "the perfect role model".

"He's humble and takes his success and occasional setbacks equally well. What better example to give nine-year-old kids," he said.

While Jessica Ennis's former PE teacher has said she is inspiring a new generation of athletes.

Chris Eccles, who taught Miss Ennis at King Ecgbert School, Sheffield, said: "They are inspired by her because they can see someone from their own town being so successful."

Committed parents

They have been on show throughout the Games, none more so than Chad Le Clos's father Bert who paid tribute to his "beautiful boy" after winning a swimming gold, but parents are often key to many Olympic successes.

John Steele, chief executive officer at the YST, says: "For every gold medal and Olympic athlete we have had the pleasure to watch performing at the Games, there is a teacher, coach or parent that inspired them to start the journey to be their personal best."

The YST says parents should encourage their children to lead active lifestyles and get them involved in sport, but parents themselves also need to be encouraged into volunteering roles in sports clubs and school sports activity.


Mr Maw says it is important to find ways to celebrate sport and make it fun.

Last year 2,000 of Millfield's pupils and 450 members of staff ran a total of 2,755 miles, raising £21,000 for Sport Relief.

He says it is about "everybody having fun in the name of sport".


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  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    Mercifully, all this will be forgotten soon. I remember in the sixties running round the park in PT kit in freezing conditions. Absolutely awful and it put me off sport for life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    #217 its easy to see why parents feed their children rubbish, its much cheaper than fresh home made foods. Govt to subsidise healthy foods would help

    #239 clubs are encouraged to get involved with schools, see "club mark", with grants available

    How about paid coaches that take sports between the time school finished and parents finish work? (instead of child minders etc)

  • rate this

    Comment number 246.

    Camerons telling everyone they should be more proactive in pushing sports,yet the government is hell bent on selling off the play fields.
    Cameron and his cronies are clearly out of their depth in running the country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    It's so amazing how quickly so many people can be driven into thinking one part of the curriculum is so important that it has become a priority for the nation.

    Everything else in life has become secondary to sports.

    Just shows the power of the media when it chooses to shove propaganda down people's throats.

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    I can't believe Cameron seriously criticised the teachers... the very people who give up their free time (with no financial rewards) to take sports teams, teach and encourage. I'm not sporty or competitive by nature so I was never great at sports. However, I still remember going along to lunchtime and after school sports activities that dedicated teachers gave up their time for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    So sport (games, PE whatever) is in school for 'health reasons'!

    It wouldn't of course be so that sport teachers can give all their attention to the ones that like it and excel in it and ignore the others?

    Sport is a leisure activity, so logically has no place in education. Stop wasting money in having it schools. Those that want it will go and find it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    Bestwood, Nottingham. They didn't just sell the playing fields, they closed a whole secondary school and built a housing estate.
    Existing and future pupils transferred to another school where over crowding and bigger classes lead to falling achievement.
    You can't blame that failure on the kids, parents or teachers. Just a dumb council.

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    School sports can be pretty boring for those who aren't naturally good at them. The worst example for me was cricket, which usually consisted of getting out quickly when batting, and then being made to field on the boundary where I couldn't throw the ball far enough to return it. Walking trips did far more to get me to enjoy healthy activity than sports ever did.

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.


    I was being tongue in cheek. Of course everyone should be able to play football if they want to, my point was it shouldn't been seen as the be all & end all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    Getting kids into sport?

    1. STOP calling it PE!
    2. Separate sports and school work. Having sports on Saturdays where you actually get time to have fun is much better.
    3. Dont keep saying it is a health thing - makes it sound boring
    4. Get LOCAL sports clubs attached to schools so kids have got something to aspire to locally
    5. Make it competitive but multi level so anyone can achieve something.

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    This is nuts! Please, let those who are religious about sport remember that most people have little or no interest in it. By all means provide opportunity for those who might like to partake of this or that sport, but remember that most could not care less, and for sports minded people to visit their love/relgiious affections for sport of those who do not share them is gross imposition.

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    227. laughingman

    In future when you leave a link to the Guardian, please begin your contribution with the link, then we will know we need not bother with the rest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    Opportunity may come easy to some but fulfilling potential is an achievement by any standard. Here in the UK, even those outside the 7% by your calculation have incredible privilege and opportunity in an international context. Encourage kids to make the most of whatever opportunity they have and not to excusatorily begrudge the possibility of the grass somewhere being greener.

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    Schools need to do something to tackle the terrible bullying that occurs during many PE lessons.
    In my school days (I'm now 24), I was mercilessly bullied during PE, mainly for being 'rubbish at everything'. I was far from alone, and this is still going on in schools today. Teachers often do nothing to stop this kind of behavior, as such cruelty is seemingly viewed as part of the game.

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    The 20 fields sold off is sensationalist - 14 were from schools which had closed! There needs to be REAL competition, none of this "we're all winners" PC b*ll*x. Some kids are good at sports, others not but kids need to be told it's as important to be competitive and proud to play for the 4th team as the 1st.

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    @227. laughingman


    I'm not a Tory voter but, as many others have commented, The Guardian is also a fan of the odd bit of rhetoric.

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    @228 It's been 15 years since I left school but I can't imagine it being massively different now in that school PE was something to be endured rather than enjoyed. I liked badminton & cricket but hated rugby & cross country - you had to do everything under the PE umbrella. I'd split the compulsory PE lessons & tell kids they have to do four disciplines (for example) & incorporate other lessons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    223.Alf Written Down
    To get more children involved in sport they should sell off more school playing fields specifically, the football pitches. Football rules over sport in this country like some sort of disease"

    Sports fascism - just because you dont like football doesnt mean kids/adults shouldnt have anywhere to play it if thats what they want. Surely the 'disease' would be the lazy sods?

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    I have relations involved in School Sports as P.E. teachers and with Sports camps. All very disappointed when the School Sports Co-ordinators lost their funding, they promoted sport between primary and senior schools.I know the money didn't leave the education budget, but it was left to schools distribute as they chose. If you were a headteacher on a tight budget would you choose books or sport?

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    Despite hating netball, dance, gymnastics and tennis at my comprehensive school in 1980s, I enjoyed swimming, trampolining, volleyball at school and did lifesaving, canoeing, kayaking, sailing, rowing, hill walking, navigation challenges etc with youth groups. As an adult, I teach orienteering and run activity birthday parties for children & marshal on AR, MM & tri. Key is to offer choices.


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