Top athletes become charity mentors but it’s not all about improving others at sport
With research showing that those who take part in sport do better in school, the Winning Scotland Foundation is hoping to inspire a generation
Walking in to a room filled with some of the country’s best sports stars including Olympic and Commonwealth Games medallists is a little intimidating for a mere mortal.
But that was the situation I found myself in when Winning Scotland Foundation invited me to Edinburgh’s Murrayfield Stadium.
In the room, in the belly of the national rugby stadium, were 16 of Scotland’s top athletes including 2012 Olympic 200m breaststroke silver medallist Michael Jamieson; Jen McIntosh, the most decorated female medal winner in Scottish Commonwealth Games history; and sisters Louise and Kimberley Renicks, who both won judo at the 2014 Commonwealth Games to name but a few.
To say I felt a little out of place – with my only sporting achievement being having once won my high school’s triple jump competition – would be an understatement.
But I needn’t have worried as the foundation is more about improving people's lives through learning life skills in sport rather than sporting prowess.
Launched 10 years ago by Scotland international rugby player turned businessman Sir Bill Gammell, the foundation invited me along to sit in on one of its Positive Coaching Scotland (PCS) athlete training sessions.
One of two main programmes run by the charity, the other is Champions in Scotland, PCS involves current and former sportsmen and women being trained up (pictured below) to go in to schools and sports clubs to deliver coaching sessions.
The difference with PCS compared to other programmes is that instead of focussing solely on teaching technique the athletes also work with coaches, parents, teachers and club leaders to attempt to create a culture in clubs and schools that focusses more on postitive attitudes, involvement and learning transferable life skills rather than winning at all costs.
It is hoped that by doing this more young people will stay in sport and in turn learn the skills to do better in school and help close Scotland's much publicised attainment gap.
“It’s very difficult to say what the true impact of sport is,” Grant Small, PCS programme manager tells me after the athlete’s session has finished.
“But recent research tells us unequivocally that young people involved in sport do better at school.
Recent research tells us unequivocally that young people involved in sport do better at school.
“The lessons that young people learn in sport can be used elsewhere in life – such as communication, teamwork and resilience.
“We know there is a big drop out, particularly in transition stages between the ages of 13 and 16 though.
“A lot of the time it’s the coaches or the parents who have a negative impact on the young people.
“What we try to do is educate coaches, parents and club leaders, school teachers to try and create a positive environment to stop that.”
Developed from the American coaching model Positive Coaching Alliance, PCS was adapted and launched by the Winning Scotland Foundation in 2011.
Since then it has delivered 2,000 workshops across the country, attended by over 14,500 coaches, 950 teachers and over 3600 players.
The session I listened in on taught the athletes the importance of ensuring that everyone involved in a child’s sporting endeavours delivers a consistent message centred around the child having fun.
Simple things like not asking a child if they won or scored after sport and instead asking if they enjoyed it, what they learned or if they improved from the last time.
As well as learning from Small, each of the athletes learned from each others stories, including tales of good and bad role models and how they have dealt with certain situations.
At 33, Team GB, Scotland and Glasgow Rocks basketball player Kieron Achara (pictured above) told me afterwards he is thinking about what he will do once he quits playing – but that coaching and mentoring is a big part of his ambitions.
“The Winning Scotland Foundation has really helped with seeing how to apply what I have learned in sport in other parts of my life,” he said.
“I’ve achieved a lot through sport but I actually feel I have more purpose now and satisfaction through mentoring, being a role model and trying to inspire a generation.
“London 2012 and Commonwealth Games in Glasgow created a buzz that we need to seize. I believe that people are talking about sport this now but that is not enough we need to follow-up and make people stay engaged and the Winning Scotland Foundation can be part of that.”
At the other end of the scale is Jade Konkel.
In becoming the first female professional rugby player in Scotland at the age of just 22 last year, you can see why Winning Scotland want her involved in the programme.
She told me she joined as being a role model was one of the things that drives her to succeed at her sport.
“The fact that you can learn so much from sport to me is fantastic,” she said, “being able to share it with kids is important to me.
“For me there has been so much I have learned in this programme that I can take away and pass it on as a coach and as an athlete.
“I’ve been coaching rugby teams and doing a lot of school visits and I always use the stuff I have learned.
“From a personal point of view, sitting in the presentation today made me want to go out and train and do everything that will help me become the best I can be.”
Like all mentoring initiatives the success of the programme is down to the quality of its mentors.
Considering that last year Winning Scotland Foundation worked with 80 athletes made up of Olympians, international performers and those breaking down barriers in their own fields it’s probably safe to assume the Foundation has that covered.