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Another gold medal for Team GB in ‘Knee Jerk Responses’

Posted by: Joyce Matthews   |   No Comments   |  Posted on: Aug 05, 2012

Who remembers Olga Korbut? I was inspired by her performance in the 1972 Olympics to become a gymnast, and for those of you who know anything about me, the word on your lips at the moment is probably an astonished ‘What?’
I’m not a gymnast and never managed to make any progress along the gymnastic pathway. Not because I wasn’t inspired or determined or willing to work hard, but because I couldn’t find a local club or coach who had the capacity in 1972 to take me on. And although one club offered me a space in their table tennis training programme instead (?), I clung on to the hope that I would one day be the British Olga Korbut. Sadly that was not to be.
Yesterday was Super Saturday at the London 2012 Olympics as we all watched Team GB bring home medal after medal in the rowing, athletics and cycling. We felt a surge of national pride in our sportsmen and women and today we’ve moved on to Knee Jerk Sunday.
Everyone is talking about how we ‘need’ to invest in school sport, how we ‘must’ make sure that our children are inspired at school to take up sport, how the government ‘has’ to find the money to invest in facilities and resources – we need to keep this momentum going and the ‘legacy’ is the future of school sport. It all sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it?
I remember in 2005 when we were awarded the Olympics, and as a Partnership Development Manager of a School Sport Partnership, I rejoiced with everyone else at the thought of guaranteed funding until 2012, and dreamt of what we could do, of the young lives we could change. And that became our strap line, ‘Sport Changes Lives’. As a team, we believed it, and did our best to make sure it changed the lives of some school children in Newcastle. But the funding wasn’t to last until 2012, and the system we created became fractured. No wonder really, because throwing money at a problem to solve it never works – it’s a short term sticking plaster rather than a long term, sustainable solution.
So what is the solution? Is it to pour money into the school system? I had great PE teachers, and great experiences of a range of sports in school, but it was the clubs and the coaches outside of school that ultimately decided whether I made it as a top sportsperson or not. I couldn’t get into a gymnastics club, so I never became a gymnast. But I did get into a hockey clubs and 35 years later am still playing.
So who has the greatest effect on the development of our sporting talent? Schools? PE Teachers? Clubs? Coaches? And is there a relationship at all between school PE and Olympic sporting success? How many of our sports people got into sport because of school or despite of it? How many of our aspiring Olympians take part in sports that our schools and PE teachers know nothing about?
Isn’t it too quick for a knee jerk call to increase funding to school sport? Isn’t it time we stood back, took a long hard look at what we are good at and how we do it, and then make a strategic long term decision rather than a politically popular pronouncement? And more importantly isn’t it time we looked at the purpose of school PE and school age sport – because they are not the same.
Times have changed since I wanted to be Olga Korbut, but there will be 7 year olds who woke up today wanting to be Jessica Ennis or Katherine Copeland or Laura Trott.
So after Super Saturday, maybe its time for Strategic Sunday – time to step back, look at the big picture, and ask how we can provide the right chances, the right coaching and the right clubs for these kids to reach for their dreams.

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