Monday 23 July 2012

London 2012: Schools have to get more kids playing sport

With the Olympics starting this Friday, they'll be an opportunity for millions of young people to be inspired by the exploits of Britain's athletes.

I read an interesting and slightly worrying statistic yesterday that said 40% of British medal winners at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing were privately educated.

Only 7% of the UK's population are privately educated, yet private schools are producing a disproportionate amount of our Olympians. Are we meant to believe that being privately educated makes you a better athlete?

I don't think so - but it suggests that the success of Britain's athletes in the next couple of weeks won't make much difference to many young people. Their chances of emulating our Olympic athletes will be down to the type of school they go to rather than sporting talent.

If you go to private school, sport plays a bigger part in your education. If you do have some sporting talent, there's a greater chance it will be identified and developed. This is no longer the case in many of our state schools.

As soon as the Olympics end next month, the talk of Olympic legacies will begin. How will the Olympics encourage more young people to participate in sports when so many schools don't seem to care about sport anymore?

Last week it was reported that two thirds of Britons don't take enough exercise to stay fit.

I think keeping fit and playing sports is a lifestyle choice, and it begins quite early in childhood. If you play a lot of sport growing up, you're more likely to keep it up during adulthood.

The fact that so many of our Olympic athletes are privately educated tells you that private schools still value and encourage sport in a way that state schools don't.

There's two negative effects to this. Firstly many kids at state schools miss out on the joys of taking up sport; and secondly it's not great for the health of the nation as less people grow up with habit of keeping fit which can lead to all kinds of health issues later in life.

Looking back at my own school days in the late in the late 1980s and early 90s, sport was a big part of my education. I was lucky to have the chance to play football, rugby, cricket, basketball, and athletics. Outside of school I did Karate and played badminton.

I didn't think that was anything special but I've started to realise that many school kids don't have the chance to play such a range of sports at school.

Critics of school sport fail to understand that sport is character building, and helps people in different areas of their lives.

You learn self discipline, new skills and techniques. How to work in teams, dealing with pressure, disappointment and achievement. I don't understand how others don't get this!

There's loads of different things which we hope the Olympics can encourage and inspire and I hope one of those things is that it get more kids playing sport as part of their school education.

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