This week in the Holyrood chamber I spoke about the importance of helping our young people develop a passion for sport. Here’s what I had to say…
It was an Austrian industrial manager, Johann Rosenzopf, who suggested that we should have a youth Olympics. That was a response to growing global concerns about childhood obesity and falling youth participation in sport. I will not repeat the many comments that colleagues have made about the health benefits of being active and about preventative spend. It is sheer common sense to invest in sport at this time.
It is important that we encourage a passion for sport among our young people, so we have to do all that we can to ensure that they have opportunities to find the sport that is right for them. If someone is passionate about a sport, it is more likely that they will exercise. They will want to practise and play the games that will make them better at their sport. They will be moving rather than sitting. Some sports require more running than others, but all require some level of activity.
Involvement in sport also encourages social interaction. Young people spend time developing relationships with team mates. They might meet people from different schools, different workplaces and different areas—people they might not come across otherwise. Young people learn to work together. Sport is fun, yet they have a goal. It stops our young people constantly telling us that they are bored. It gets them away from screens and gives them something positive to do. It teaches many life skills, too: time management; getting something such as their kit ready; and goal-oriented thinking. It lets them see that if they work and practise, they can achieve something. Those transferable skills can be applied to exams, learning skills in trades and so on.
Sport helps young people to de-stress. They can forget about school and the pressure of exams and they become mindful of what they are doing in the moment. If someone is learning the high jump, for example, they cannot be thinking about their homework or the other pressures in their life. That is healthy for our young people. Their self-esteem develops, too, through encouragement of and praise for their efforts. Whether they are experts or not, they learn that, if they strive, they can improve. That empowers them and develops a positive, healthy attitude.
As I have said before, it is important that we give children every opportunity to try out a wide variety of sports, whether that is free running, BMX or mountain biking—it might be something away from the main stream. I would like the Scottish Government to ask young people what they would like to see in the youth sport strategy and what the barriers and incentives are. Bob Doris spoke about the costs to families. Accessing an athletics track, buying some spikes and so on may be beyond some people’s incomes—although I know that my local club has a second-hand policy whereby people hand in gear, and we should encourage that. However, there are opportunities in our daily lives to encourage young people to be active. The bikeability scheme whereby every child in Scotland should learn to cycle is important, but we are still relying on volunteers to come forward; we are relying on parents. It is the same with coaching.
Last week, Edinburgh hosted its traditional annual interscholastics, but not every school in the city had a team. I would like to know why, because young people are being deprived of an opportunity. If schools are relying on one teacher who is simply unavailable on that day, we have to ensure that there is a fall-back. I would like a basic commitment from local authorities that all schools will compete in the interschool competitions in their area, and if they do not, we should ask why.
It is fair to say that we are a sports-mad country, but I would like to see more people move from spectator to participator. This year, we are sandwiched between the Olympics last year and the Commonwealth games next year. We have the world athletics championships in August, and I am sure that we will see some of our excellent young Scottish athletes, such as Eilidh Child, who has already won a gold and a silver medal at the European indoor championships earlier this year, and Lynsey Sharp, the European gold medallist. They will have a chance to develop and become household names before we all have an opportunity to see them in Glasgow next year. That will have an impact. Positive role models are part of the picture of encouraging more people to take part in sport.
I welcome Glasgow’s bid for the youth Olympics. It has certainly been well received in the press, and rightly so. I state also my support for Edinburgh’s bid to become the site of the national performance centre. The bid has much to commend it: the site would be close to some of the less affluent city sights, which would be very welcome.
I also support Bob Doris’s call for Glasgow to host the 2021 world masters games. If the bid is successful, I will ensure that I am fit to participate—no pressure there!
The amendments have much to commend them. Two hours of PE in primary school is the bare minimum that we should be considering; and high school pupils need more than two periods. High school is the point at which PE traditionally loses young people, particularly young women. I would like there to be a focus on having much more time than that. I believe that the minister realises that two periods is not sufficient.
I welcome the minister’s comments on play. If we encourage play, we encourage physical literacy and self-confidence and we make it more likely that our young people will go into sport.
On the youth sports strategy, I would like us to ensure that Government bodies have funding for coaches. We are still too short of them. There should be a voucher system to enable young people to try different sports—I recommend that members consider the club golf model and the work that Triathlon Scotland is doing. I would like the Government to make a commitment to ensure that every child in Scotland learns to swim by a certain age—I am not an expert, so I will not suggest an age, but we should find out the optimal age by which a child should learn to swim. We would not want our children to leave school without being able to read and write; let us make it the same for swimming.
I suggest that we organise a cross-sports coaching conference at which we can hear from the people—volunteers, largely—who support our athletes. Finally, there should also be a basic commitment from local authorities.