What are the potential benefits to young people and how are schools preparing? Richard Bailey looks into the future

Addressing the International Olympic Committee before the announcement of the city that would host the 2012 Olympic Games, Lord Coe said:

Today, London is ready to join you in facing a new challenge, and to provide another enduring sporting legacy. Today’s challenge is tough. It’s more complex. We can no longer take it for granted that young people will choose sport. Some may lack the facilities, or the coaches and role models to teach them. Others, in an age of 24-hour entertainment and instant fame, may simply lack the desire.

We are determined that a London Games will address that challenge. So London’s vision is to reach young people all around the world: to connect them with the inspirational power of the Games, so they are inspired to choose sport. 

The Olympics (and, of course, the Paralympics) are to return to the UK for the first time since 1948. Many commentators attributed the success of the London bid to Lord Coe’s eloquent and moving speech and, especially, to his association of the UK bid with potential benefits for young people. For Coe, the Olympics represented much more than an elite sporting event; it was a symbol of opportunity and promise.

In many ways, the message of the London Olympic bid reflects the philosophy of the founder of the modern Olympic movement, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who was inspired by his visits to British public schools during the nineteenth century to use sport as a vehicle for the improvement of what he believed to be the morally and physically degenerate youth of his day. The Olympics, for its founder, were primarily an educational activity. Whilst the four-yearly Games, themselves, might be the most visible facet of the Olympic philosophy, the ‘real’ success, for de Coubertin, would be the effect they had on the hearts and minds of young people, an aspiration captured by his stated aim:

To contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practised without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.

Assuming that there will be a strong social and educational agenda associated with the build-up to the London Games, we might expect an increasing expectation upon schools to promote the Olympics, and to draw upon their particular power to help engage their young people through sport.

Schools are already being asked to play a central role in promoting sport among the young. The Olympics might best be understood as offering a special focus to a programme of initiatives through which the UK government seeks to bring about a remarkable change in our attitudes to and successes in sport. At the heart of this programme is the Physical Education, School Sport and Club Links (PESSCL) strategy.

Physical education, school sport and club links

Launched in October 2002, PESSCL was associated with a committed investment of more than £1bn. By 2008, it is expected that 75% of 5-16 year olds in England will be spending a minimum of two hours each week on high quality PE and school sport within and beyond the curriculum. An integral part of the strategy is the infrastructure built around the sports college and school sport partnerships, each of which is made up of a family of schools who work in partnership to increase and enhance sport and physical activity opportunities for all pupils. An average partnership is made up of a sports college, acting as the hub, about eight secondary schools and about 40 primary schools.

Each school sport partnership receives a grant to deliver this work. A key part of this funding is the provision of a partnership development manager for each partnership. This person is dedicated to managing and developing the programme. In many areas, secondary schools also have a school sport coordinator, who is released from teaching for part of each week to contribute to programmes and initiatives to meet the targets identified below:

  • Raise standards of pupils’ achievement in all aspects of school life.
  • Provide training and leadership opportunities for pupils, teachers and adults other than teachers.
  • Improve programmes by establishing and developing links between schools, especially around the KS2/3 interface.
  • Provide and enhance out-of-school-hours learning opportunities.
  • Increase participation of young people in community sport through creating and strengthening partnerships with community providers.
  • Develop and implement a partnership strategy aimed at meeting the government target.

PESSCL aims to raise levels of participation and performance in sport for all young people. It also seeks to provide the necessary foundation for some of these young people to go on to the very highest levels, specifically, of course, the 2012 Olympics. And because all of our future champions currently attend school, there is a recognition that schools need to play a leading role in the development of talented young players.

Long-term Athlete Development

Running parallel with the school-based PESSCL strategy is the sports-based Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) plan. LTAD is based on findings from research in a number of areas that one of the most important ingredients of elite performance is practice. Consequently, the originator of LTAD, the Hungarian-Canadian coach Istvan Balyi, constructed a framework that aimed to progressively develop talent over a period of years. LTAD forms the heart of the UK’s strategic approach to helping talented young players to become elite performers.

The multi-skills approach

One of the more recent manifestations of school-based strategies is called the ‘multi-skills’ approach, which builds explicitly on the first two stages of LTAD. Multi-skills programmes provide a wide range of activities to children, focusing particularly on Key Stages 2 and 3, and act as an important bridge between PE/school sport and club sport.

The Competition Framework and the School Games

Two other key elements complete the UK’s strategy for linking schools to elite sporting success. Part of the PESSCL scheme, but complementing both LTAD and multi-skills, the Schools Competition Framework seeks to offer consistency of pathways for talented young sports people, so that all are able to experience challenging, progressive, developmentally suitable competition, as they develop in their sports:

  • KS3/4 (12-16) inter-school leagues and cup competitions
  • KS3 (11-12) multi-sport competition central venue leagues
  • KS2 (9-11) multi-sport competition central
    venue leagues
  • KS2 (7-9) termly multi-skill festivals
  • KS1 annual multi-skill festivals (off-site).

This process will be managed by newly appointed competition managers, who will coordinate the planning and implementation of the National Schools Competition Framework through a programme of inter-school competition within school sport partnerships.

The UK School Games can be seen as the next step within the Competition Framework, although it is a big step, since it aims to replicate the feel of major events such as the Olympic and Paralympic Games. By launching a high-profile national event, the goal is to force modernisation at all levels of competition, both within schools and clubs.

The first of these events took place in Glasgow (7-10 September 2006) with just five sports: athletics, swimming, gymnastics, table tennis and fencing, plus disability events in athletics and swimming. Other sports will be included in the years to come.

Seven key themes have been created to ensure the School Games bring about systematic change in the way in which competitive opportunities are developed for young people and that a lasting legacy is created:

  • Planning and delivery of a UK-level sports event showcasing talented young sports people.
  • Using the event to bring about a step change in the content, structure and presentation of competitive sporting opportunities for young people.
  • Developing a themed branding programme for local and regional level competitive activity managed by the sports engaged in the main event.
  • Integrating an Olympic and Paralympic theme into the event and ensuring that the Olympic and Paralympic values are promoted through the event, including volunteer training, opening and closing ceremonies and an athletes’ village.
  • Using the event to profile, at a local and regional level, young people taking part and, through this, to promote the work undertaken in each nation to improve PE and school sport.
  • Using the event to create opportunities for young people to become engaged in volunteering at major sports events.
  • Ensuring that the event advocates and demonstrates the highest level of child protection and welfare systems.

These are very exciting times in terms of sporting opportunities, especially for talented players. There is a danger, too, that in our enthusiasm to support our most able young sports people, we forget the wider message of the Olympics. Baron de Coubertin was quite clear that elite sport was only half of the equation; it was also vital to remember the role that sport can play in children’s healthy, positive development. Indeed, his stated aims for the Olympic movement have much more to do with education than sport:

  • the balanced development of the body, will and mind
  • the joy found in effort#
  • the educational value of being a good role model
  • respect for universal ethics including tolerance, generosity, unity, friendship, non-discrimination and respect for others.

These values ought to apply to all young people (well, all of us), and there is no reason why the Olympics of 2012 cannot engage, inspire and educate all young people in schools.

Richard Bailey is professor of pedagogy at Froebel College, Roehampton University, London. He was, until recently, the director of the national Talent Development in Physical Education project, and is currently researching the development of outstanding performance in a number of areas, including music and dance.