Glasgow: A Sporting Legacy for Wales?

8 Aug

One of the big issues in our schools is how education, and educators, can play a role in tackling the obesity crisis. We know that getting children involved with sport at a young age is crucial to their long-term physical development.  If children have a healthy relationship with sporting endeavours throughout their school lives they are far more likely to remain physically active after they leave.  This investment in sport not only helps in terms of reducing obesity related illnesses but it develops the often hard to measure personal skills that most teachers are very focused on, and that are crucial for life after leaving school.  These include leadership qualities, team-work, problem solving and communication skills amongst other benefits.  None of this should start or end at the school gate of course, but the is undoubtably a real opportunity to maximize the engagement levels during the school day.

Most people in Wales have been pretty engrossed in the Commonwealth Games over the past few weeks.  Any major championship usually, in the short-term at least, acts as a catalyst to increased participation in sports.  The fact that we were actually looking at distinctly Welsh branded athletes will have helped even more in capturing the imagination.  What is more, that some of the Welsh medals came in sports you would not usually see given prime-time exposure is a real bonus.  Often where teachers have often found difficulty in engaging students it has been due to “traditional” sports not appeal to them.  These games, through the likes of Frankie Jones in Rhythmic Gymnastics, Natalie Powell in Judo and Craig Pilling in Wrestling, have exposed a generation of individuals to the idea of taking up sports they may never previously have considered.  The very fact that so many Welsh athletes, winners or not, have reached a high competitive level across the range of events is inspirational alone.

However, If we expect Glasgow to deliver a lasting legacy perhaps we need to think again.  While Geraint Thomas, Jazz Carlin, Georgia Davies et all continue to be, or will go on to be, household names, at a grassroots level we do have to face up to the future.  Austerity measures are cutting our local services.  Public leisure centres are being downgraded, privatised or shut completely.  The upkeep of playing fields are being neglected while the cost to hire for them is being increased.  Access to the sort of facilities we need to ensure remain commonplace if we are to entice the next generation of medalists to take up sports is becoming increasingly constrictive.

We can, and should, of course be more creative.  Less money doesn’t always mean there are no options.  I have previously blogged on how we can utilise our school buildings in different ways to try to create community spaces where they do not currently exist.  Still, there can be no underestimating what the cuts to provisions at a local level will mean to participation figures.

No one is suggesting that any services are completely off-limits.  Let’s be realistic, it is hard to say we do not want slashing cuts to our education and/or health services while expecting all the local authorities libraries, sport centres or parks to remain untouched.  That being said there is an invest to save argument.  What impact will reducing the ability of engaging children in sport, and the lifelong passion for health and nutrition that goes with it, have on our education and health services in the longer term?

At a school level sporting facilities have always been squeezed but that is only going to be more and more difficult.  The intensive drive towards a focus of literacy and numeracy does have an impact on other areas of education.  That isn’t to underestimate the absolute need to ensure that literacy and numeracy is a priority in our schools. They are and should be.  However, we have reached a point in Wales where they are slowly becoming the only thing that matter.  Resources for schools in general are sparse and very often, rightly or indeed wrongly, it is the creative arts that suffer.  Those subjects that are not part of the core curriculum are marginalised.  Drama, music and sport are the casualties of the PISA approach to education.

We can also look at the issue of workload for teachers.  The ever-increasing pressures placed on practitioners make it more and more difficult for them to give up what free time they already have.  Given a large proportion of those running after school sports clubs are teachers this does cause a lot of problems in ensuring such community activities can continue to be offered.

Sport Wales have two clear and ambitious objectives.

1. To create a Nation of Champions

2. To ensure that every child is hooked on sport for life.

It is fair to say that in respect of the first objective the organisation is well on its way to establishing Wales as relative powerhouse.  Per head of population Wales was the best performing nation in the UK competing at the Commonwealth games and its sporting performance in general terms far outweighs the expectations a nation of just 3 million individuals could expect.  However, Sport Wales cannot expect to achieve the second ambition unless we all recognise the barriers that are being placed in front of development at a grassroots level.

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