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‘It’s not tech that is forcing children out of sport…’

By 27 November 2019January 7th, 2020No Comments

Scotland as a nation has yet to wake up and recognise the value that community levels of all kinds of sport activity can have in improving physical and mental health and wellbeing across Scotland.

That was perhaps the overriding sentiment to emerge among many viewpoints expressed in discussions involving over 260 delegates on 25 and 26 November at Tynecastle park, the home of Heart of Midlothian FC. People came from across the UK and Europe to join with people involved in sport and health in Scotland at the first Observatory for Sport in Scotland National Sport Summit.

Two days of serious, insightful, emotional, impassioned and fun discussions started with a challenge from teenager Rhys McCole to sportscotland Chief Executive Stewart Harris and the wider audience in the opening panel session, in the form of the heavily loaded question: ‘If we accept that the world is changing quickly, do we think sport in Scotland is changing as quickly?’ The Summit ended with a pledge from the Scottish Government’s new Director of Population Health Richard Foggo to use sport more effectively as a tool to improve physical & mental health & wellbeing.

Rhys was among a number of teenage speakers who dismissed suggestions that the serious drop-out of children from sport from the age of 12/13 in Scotland was the result of new technology or poor commitment in youngsters, and instead pointed the finger firmly at over-priced and regularly closed and locked-up facilities, poor accessibility, failure to take account of poverty and social inequalities and the fact that modern-day children are surrounded by 24/7 constantly changing entertainment, and so their brains struggle with PE and sport coaching lessons “that are the same as they were 30 and 40 years ago, and have no fun”. “We need to change how we do sport,” said Rhys, “if you want children to take part again, and I don’t think we are quickly enough.”

Among challenges laid bare through recent research, we heard that:

  • Scotland is now ‘A Divided Nation’ where those from poorer backgrounds and education are no longer accessing sport & physical activity
  • The model of local authority/leisure trust management & provision of services is “broken” – trusts will close more community facilities in 2020, and some fear going bust in 2-3 years;
  • The health of some of our workforce is in perilous trouble, private & public, with rising obesity & physical & mental health problems.

Esport was termed a ‘Trojan Horse’ by British Esports Association CEO Chester King, that can be used to encourage children to improve their mental and physical health, and visiting speakers André de Jeu, Remco Hoekman, Henrik Brandt and Kirstine Langagergaard provided fascinating insight to the sport cultures of the Netherlands and Denmark, and how they had changed to adapt to new trends and invest in sport more effectively to improve the lives of all ages in communities.

We also heard wonderful examples of inspirational work & thinking across Scotland in tackling those challenges from a wide range of innovative organisations, groups and individuals, from Scottish Sports Futures to Street Soccer Scotland, and people involved with both delivered among the most emotional and inspirational speeches around the value of sport over the two days, reducing some delegates to tears.

The OSS would like to thank to all delegates, speakers, chairs & supporters – and welcomes all feedback on the first Summit. A full Summit report will be published soon.