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 268.


    For a balanced diet you need (roughly): water, carbs, vitamins & minerals, proteins and fats. You do not have to spend extensively to meet these requirements.

    Frozen ready meals are not cheaper. Frozen veg might be a bit cheaper (though fresh veg is still cheap) but you needn't lose too many of the vitamins/minerals.

    I'm sorry but saying healthy food is expensive is not true.

  • rate this

    Comment number 267.

    When I was growing up there was plenty of enthusiasm for sports, if only a kick-around in the street. The only proper facilities were in schools & only available during school hours. Now we have better facilities and better access. But we also have computers, video games, the internet, iPods, iPhones and dozens of TV channels. And parents afraid to let kids out of their sight. It's no contest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 266.

    1) my parents couldn't afford the state school proper kit. Having money does help.
    2) I never saw, and my freinds and their children have never been to a school with 'prizes for all'. Did this ever exist in more than say 1% of schools?

  • rate this

    Comment number 265.

    Sport should be enjoyed and encouraged.

    Our schools are being pushed from pillar to post and its their fault for Lardies being lazy? Well how about some of these youngsters just not finding what suits them sport wise? No excuses please!

    We have a golden opportunity for a huge change here and what do we get? Claptrap, whining and navel-gazing!

    Typical - lets make a crises out of triumph!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 264.

    @253, I am talking about for a family on low income - it is much easier/cheaper to feed a family on frozen food from a well known store, than fresh produce, for a balanced diet red meats and poultry are quite expensive.
    I myself try to eat a reasonable diest with fresh fruit & veg but i can understand how some people struggle to do the same

  • rate this

    Comment number 263.

    1 Minute Ago

    @253. ravenmorpheus2k

    £20 per lesson? Really?

    Martial arts classes can be pretty cheap if you find a club that teaches for the love of it rather than profit - and plenty do!

    Yes. And yes I'm sure you probably can now, but even so, many families still cannot afford the fees. And my example was myself in the 80's, when martial arts teaching was not widespread.

  • rate this

    Comment number 262.

    @253. ravenmorpheus2k

    £20 per lesson? Really?

    Martial arts classes can be pretty cheap if you find a club that teaches for the love of it rather than profit - and plenty do!

    @247. joe606

    Where does this nonsense come from that healthy food is expensive? Organic perhaps but fruit, veg, bread, eggs, milk etc hardly - especially compared to a ready meal.

    Availability is a different matter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 261.

    At my school (private) competitive sports were banned, seen as divisive and encouraging individualism rather than cooperation and mutual understanding. Physical activity was, however, highly promoted and encouraged, with activities ranging from sailing, dancing, rock climbing, scuba diving, trekking, mountaineering. There are other ways, you know.

  • rate this

    Comment number 260.

    I like outside sports, hated the gym (this is back in the 60's). The sports teachers concentrated on those who were good, and left the fat/clumsy/etc to themselves.
    The playing fields i used to play on have been sold off and not replaced.
    I worry that Cameron will talk big, but do little or nothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 259.

    We need to look at what others do to encourage participation. In New Zealand the range of sports offered is far wider. Children are encouraged to participate in sports that interest them. The UK Mantra of Soccer, Rugby, Cricket, Netball or Cross Country as the mainstay of school sport needs to cease.
    I can't see this Govt maintaining Labour's sport spending from 1997 unless it's at Eton or Harrow.

  • rate this

    Comment number 258.

    @255 Nick

    I see you've decided to ignore that all the playing fields were "sold-off" for common sense reasons rather than some elitist conspiracy and that all the money goes into improving other facilities.
    LOL, never claimed elitist conspiracies, just that Cameron only cares about Soundbites.

    As for all proceeeds being used to improve facilties, even the Pro-Tory Daily Mail didnt claim that!

  • rate this

    Comment number 257.

    Can people please stop quoting Juvenal as if they read him at breakfast. So you read a quote that mentioned bread and circuses, yipee, stop ramming it down our throats like you are some modern day satirist enlightening us plebs, its boorish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 256.


    "I remember in the sixties running round the park in PT kit in freezing conditions."

    I think the element of coercion puts children off. We had a compulsory sports afternoon, but as a perk in the higher years we could do community volunteering instead. I chose the community volunteering because I'd hated school sport so much in previous years, but then also went running by myself for fun.

  • rate this

    Comment number 255.

    @252. laughingman

    I see you've decided to ignore that all the playing fields were "sold-off" for common sense reasons rather than some elitist conspiracy and that all the money goes into improving other facilities.

    Afraid "school sells small patch of land to improve changing facilities" doesn't make good headlines in either The Guardian or The Mail.

  • rate this

    Comment number 254.

    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.
    I think you will find Physical Education can go a long way towards obesity levels coming down in this country, it is however necessary that it is taught correctly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 253.

    236.Good Egg - Encourage kids to make the most of whatever opportunity they have.

    During my childhood (in the 80's) I had the opportunity to take up Karate. My parents tried to encourage me to do so. Until they found out that they couldn't afford to pay £20 per lesson and £25 up front for what are basically pyjamas.

    Encouragement only goes so far, the rest is achieved by having money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 252.

    @233 Nick
    '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.
    Does the Daily Mail suit you better then?


    Wouldn't use if for toilet paper myself, but this time it agrees with the Guardian!

  • rate this

    Comment number 251.

    Many of the right age for this years Olympics will have gone to state primary schools with "prizes for all" or even abandoned sports days. Hopefully the idiots who devised those policies are hanging their heads in shame and we will not make that mistake again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 250.

    How to get children into sport is only part of the problem. Keeping them there is a far larger part. Parents play a huge role in the success stories of Team GB's athletes. Commitment, time, encouragement, and money is their contribution. Add to that the contribution of the wider community in the form of facilities, coaches, clubs and sponsorship and there is a chance of a fitter, healthier nation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 249.

    @238. Lucaslabrador

    Actually, statistics show that those who have no interest in sports in any way are in the small minority.

    But many children have an interest but do not take an active part - even if they want to. So giving them both the opportunity and the inspiration to get up and get going is really, really important.


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