How fast?

I just saw this on Spinning Around and thought that it really is a brilliant idea – a 60ft screen that has an elite marathoner (in this case Ryan Hall) running along at race pace, while members of the public try to keep up with him. For many people who only see marathon races on TV, it is difficult to understand what 4:45 min/mile pace looks like and this is a great visual way to make it tangible. I’d love to see ASICS roll that out at other events or the other sponsors doing something similar.

Anyway here it is:

IAAF performs marathon u-turn

In my experience of running marathons, if you are going in the right direction then performing a u-turn is generally a bad idea – you will find yourself running against the tide of people. However if you find yourself running the wrong way then a u-turn might be the best course of action. In the case of the IAAF they made a decision that Paula Radcliffe’s world record for the marathon of 2 hours 15.25 minutes achieved at the London Marathon in 2003 would be down-graded to a ‘world best’ (you can read all about that here) and found themselves running head-on against the tide of public opinion. Now it appears that they have performed a tactical u-turn and might now be able to focus on tackling all the more important issues that affect our sport.

This is how ESPN reported the news released by Associated Press:

The IAAF has decided to let Paula Radcliffe keep her marathon world record from 2003, after previously saying it would reduce one of athletics’ outstanding performances to a world best because the English runner set the mark in a race with men.

IAAF Council member Helmut Digel told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the governing body will keep the mark in the books, despite an August decision to only recognize records achieved in all-women races from now on.

You can read the full text here.

The Mental Muscle with Rasmus Ankersen

I recently attended a one day seminar called the Mental Muscle, presented by Rasmus Ankersen, the High Performance Anthropologist. The seminar was billed as an exploration of the factors that create environments where high performance becomes the norm, and that is exactly what it delivered.

The Gold Mine Effect - out soon!

To begin Rasmus Ankersen offered the delegates a brief background to his life and how he ended up starting a project that would take him around the world trying to find common links between ‘gold mines’ of high performance. Having harboured ambitions of being a top-flight footballer, Rasmus’ career was shortened by injury and so he found himself coaching. He was part of the coaching team in charge of an academy in a rural part of Denmark.

At one point Rasmus was coaching a player called Simon Kjaer, who at the time was considered to be disruptive, lacking discipline and low on talent. He was not one of the players picked by any of the coaching staff when they were asked to nominate the five players they thought would ‘make it’ in the game. Several years later, Simon Kjaer is now considered to be a world class footballer.

Simon Kjaer - hidden talent

This inability to spot Simon Kyaer’s talent by a team of highly qualified and experienced coaches, forced Ankersen to ask what it was about talent that was so elusive. What Rasmus found is pretty exciting.

Genetics vs application

Ankersen said that in many cases there is a temptation to assume that dominence in a particular sporting field by a national or even regional group, must be down to genetics. Or in the case of individual prodigious exponents of a particular field, down to natural talent. But Rasmus told us that he was doubtful that this was the answer to the question of why these groups or people were so much better at whatever it was they did than everyone else.

He pointed out that in the case of Moses Kiptanui – the 3,000m and 5,000m world record holder as well as steeplechase world record holder and World Championship and Olympic medal winner – none of his extended family of 500 showed any ‘talent’ in running, despite obviously being closely genetically linked.

And when it comes to individual prodigies, such as Mozart or Tiger Woods, they were the products of environments where their fathers introduced them to the field they would become renowned in, at preposterously early ages.

The key in all these cases, was starting early and working continuously and as hard as possible.

Talent as the entry ticket

Who's holding the entry ticket here?

Rasmus acknowledges that a certain degree of ‘talent’ is the entry ticket required to put individuals with potential in a position to become exceptional. Much like basketball players who need to be tall to start with or sprinters who need to be blessed with a high proportion of fast twitch muscle fibres, only those who work the hardest actually excel.  Tall people or people with a high proportion of fast twitch muscle fibres are actually pretty universally evenly spread. But the will to turn that initial advantage into excellence, is not.

Rasmus went on to introduce us to a theory proposed by James Flynn, Emeritus Professor of Political Studies at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, who has suggested that in fact the existence of pockets of excellence is less to go with the distribution of talented people and more to do with how good any particular society is at capturing and nurturing a talent.

Capturing and nurturing talent

For example, Rasmus believes that the east African dominence of middle and long distance running is less to do with an uneven distribution of genetics and more to do with an uneven distribution of self belief and the desire to work hard.

This uneven distribution of the desire for hardwork – what could be commonly called ‘hunger’ – is key to Rasmus’ argument and to the concept of the Gold Mine Effect. After the seminar Rasmus was kind enough to allow me to publish a section from his up-coming book, which explains the important of hunger:

Hunger factor 4: Spartan and simple facilities

I still remember my meeting in Iten, Kenya with one of the world’s absolute best 1500 m runners, Augustine Choge, as though it were yesterday. I’m watching his training on a running track a couple of kilometres outside Iten. Choge has just launched into the last of his merciless interval runs which he has been forcing his body to endure for the last 45 minutes. Stony-faced, he rounds his last corner and accelerates towards the finishing line, where I’m sitting in the baking hot sun watching them train.

Mr. Choge is the very man I have come to meet. He was the fastest man in the world in the 1500 m in 2009. After training we sit for a while in his big white Land Rover, the only sign of his success, and trundled back towards his home. Twenty minutes later, Augustine Choge turns in onto a grass field between two trees and parks in front of two dilapidated shacks.

Somewhat taken aback, I ask him: “Is this where you live?”

He nods. By Western standards it looks more like a chicken shack than somewhere people would live. And certainly not the world’s fastest 1500 m runner. The rusty hinges let out a high-pitched squeak as he opens the wonky wooden door into his living room. Here, an old massage couch and a sofa with a cover full of holes come into sight. An old 15 inch television set is chattering away on the table. The walls have been papered with old newspapers. Behind the tiny living room is an even tinier double room with a bunk bed and from the ceiling hangs a small electric bulb which struggles to light up the room.

This is where Augustine Choge sleeps. But not alone, it transpires; he shares his accommodation with David Rudisha, Kinnear’s best 800 m runner, who this year managed to topple his fellow countryman Wilson Kipketer’s 15-year-old world record.

I have great difficulty believing what I see as I sit in Augustine Choge’s living room as he boils water on his humble gas cooker to make the Kenyan tea he drinks after every training session. This man has made an absolute fortune from his sport. He drives around in a big Land Rover and could easily buy himself a fashionable flat in Nairobi. Nevertheless, he isolates himself in this little chicken shack a few hundred metres from the centre of Iten all year round – interrupted only by the few months when he is competing in Europe. These are, as he puts it, the optimum conditions for doing what it takes. Sleep, train, eat, sleep, train, eat, etc.

I saw the same thing at MVP Track & Field Club in Jamaica, where the world’s best sprinters trained on the diesel-scorched grass track – not the hypermodern running track I had expected for athletes of that calibre. But as Stephen Francis puts it:

“There’s no need for anything that is not absolutely necessary. A performance environment should not be designed for comfort, it should be designed for hard work.”

This seriously challenges the modern American/European mindset. In poor, rusty and overcrowded facilities in the West it’s almost impossible to create world stars. We instinctively strive for groomed fields, top-level technology, comfortable surroundings. It’s just that the burning question is: Do we develop better performance in fine, fancy and comfortable facilities? Or is it possible to imagine that it may be advantageous to train under primitive, humble conditions like Augustine Choge certainly does, and which Stephen Francis insists on at the world’s most successful athletics club? Perhaps these are in reality perfect facilities for developing World class performance because they really test people to find out whether they have the will to maintain their focus, which is what it’s all about, and at the same time send a clear signal that the road to the world elite is far from easy or comfortable. Perhaps luxurious surroundings diminish effort. The Gold Mines deliver the point that if you want to create and maintain drive, then aim to make and keep facilities spartan and simple.

This idea confronts anyone who works on a day-to-day basis with talent development with a number of urgent questions. If hunger is created and reinforced by spartan and simple facilities, does this give certain parts of the world an advantage? And if it does, then how is an English boy growing up in an affluent and comfortable society ever going to match the hunger gnawing inside the belly of the Brazilian boy growing up in a São Paulo favela? It important to emphasise here that the message about simple and spartan facilities does not mean that we in the West should tear down our ultramodern training centres and train in rusty old fitness centres and on uneven grass tracks. Nor does it have anything to do with Roger Federer not being able to win a grand slam if he stays at a luxury hotel. But we must understand that creating World class performance does not necessarily require World class facilities. The Spartan conditions at the Gold Mines make sure that nobody falls asleep in comfortable surroundings and constantly reminds their performers of the humbleness and laser-like focus that is required to get good and stay good.

(reproduced with kind permission of Rasmus Ankersen. All rights reserved. Please do not reproduce without permission)

Cultivating my hunger

So where does that leave me? Well, it is always going to be a challenge to replicate the conditions necessary to create Rasmus’ hunger for success in a comfortable society like ours.  But I do think that it is possible to create deep intrinsic motivation if the concept of competition and self-development is put at the heart of the ways in which we educate our children and if as adults we accept that we must be live the change we want to see in future generations. So on that note, I’m off out for another run… if I keep going, I might just become the world class runner that I know I have the potential to be (maybe!)

The fastest marathons ever (and where the runners come from)

This list was published on Track and Field News

All-Time Marathon Top 10

The all-time men’s marathon top 10, following the Frankfurt Marathon this weekend:


 

 

 

 

 

 

1. 2:03:38 Patrick Makau (Kenya)    25 Sept 11
2. 2:04:42 Wilson Kipsang (Kenya)    30 October 11
3. 2:03:59 Haile Gebrselassie (Ethiopia)    28 September 08
=4. 2:04:27 Duncan Kibet (Kenya)    5 April 09
=4. 2:04:27 James Kwambai (Kenya)    5 April 09
6. 2:04:40 Emmanuel Mutai (Kenya)    17 April 11
=7. 2:04:55 Paul Tergat (Kenya)    28 September 03
=7. 2:04:55 Geoffrey Mutai (Kenya)    11 April 10
9. 2:04:56 Sammy Korir (Kenya)    28 September 03
10. 2:05:04 Abel Kirui (Kenya)     5 April 09

And for those runners whose times don’t count because they were achieved on an ‘aided course’:

2:03:02 G. Mutai 18 April 11
2:03:06 Moses Mosop (Kenya) 18 April 11
2:04:53 Gebre Gebremariam (Ethiopia) 18 April 11

Astonishing!

No news is good news?

On Thursday last week I was invited to the official opening of the Nike store in Westfield Stratford, on the Olympic park being built for the Games in 2012. The added draw was that Paula Radcliffe would be there, talking about running and giving tips and discussing her training and of course, discussing her meeting with IAAF president Lamine Diack to discuss the recent ruling that means that as of January 2012 Paula’s world record of 2:15:35 will be down-graded to a ‘worlds best’ from it’s current world record, because the race was a mixed race.

History stands

On arriving at the new store, everyone there was given a ‘History Stands’ t-shirt and we were able to nose around the very impressive new retail space, while a DJ played. But it was clear to me, that everyone was there to hear Paula being interviewed by Charlie Webster. And we didn’t have to wait long.

As I would expect, the message that Paula delivered from the IAAF was that they are sympathetic to the points she made and that they would look into the issue. Bodies like the IAAF rarely reverse decisions quickly or publicly, but my thoughts about this ruling are pretty clear;

  • if pacers are not allowed in women’s races then surely they have to be banned in men’s races too?
  • there doesn’t seem to be much compelling evidence that being in a mixed race actually provides assistance
  • the vast majority of big marathons have mixed fields which makes them ineligible for a world record attempt, so this limits women’s opportunities to run a world record
  • Paula didn’t use pace-makers. She did race men in the field, but at no time was she running behind a shield of pacers or anything like that
  • the ruling affects many more women than just Paula Radcliffe – for example the US women’s record is currently 2:19:36 by Deena Kastor at the London Marathon (not in a women’s-only race) and if the ruling were applied across the board, the record would suddenly belong to Joan Benoit Samuelson who ran 2:24:52 at the 1984 Olympic Games.

Paula Radcliffe on running in a group

I think that like many of the people at the event, I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t more positive news from the meeting with the IAAF, but when you have a super-star like Paula Radcliffe on stage being interviewed by a knowledgeable interviewer and runner like Charlie Webster, who was sporting trainers with ‘Break 3:30’ embroidered on the tongues, to remind her of her next target, there is always going to be some good stuff to take away.

Charlie asked Paula for any advice that she had for marathon runners who are starting out on training for the marathon and I was really pleased that Paula raised the subject of finding a training group, whether that is an athletics club or a group of friends. I have written about the value of running in a group which you can read about here and Radcliffe also talked about the importance of running in a group as the nights draw in from a safety point of view. Indeed after the talking was done there was an opportunity for the assembled crowd to go for a NikeTownRunners blast lead by a team from the store, which happens every Monday and Thursday and includes women-only groups, which I think is likely to be quite popular.

Paula’s focus on the Olympic Games 2012

Moreover I was delighted that Paula talked so positively about her experience in Berlin and the surgery that she had just afterwards. It was really great to see the fire in Paula’s eyes when she talked about the decision she had to make mid-race to back-off from challenging the eventual winner Florence Kiplagat who finished in 2:19:44. Paula has her eyes on the gold medal in London and I am delighted to see that she is prepared to do whatever it takes to make sure she is on the start line in the best shape possible. Can you imagine if she runs a world record that day… what would the IAAF say to that?

 

 

A world record… or is it?

I recently re-read one of my favourite books ‘The London Marathon’ by John Bryant and in one chapter, the author describes a fictional scenario for how the 2 hour barrier will be broken in the marathon;

It is 6 May 2024, London Marathon Day, the date set… after detailed discussions with the Ministry of Climate Control – the day when running 42.2 km should be perfect.

Millions are gathered around the course and a battery of television cameras are focused on the bright orange strip of all-weather running track two metres wide that snakes the miles from Blackheath to Buckingham Palace… Tufimu [the fictional athlete in this fantasy] is not wearing shoes as such for this marathon. His feet have been painted just 90 minutes before the race with a tough, flexible weatherproof coating – and one of the latest wafer-thin energy-return soles have been laser-glued to the bottom of each foot…

Bryant goes on to imagine that the runner will have an ear-piece plugged in to a feed from his personal hypnotherapist and that micro-chips under his skin will feed data back to a control centre, etc, etc. All very amusing.

The 2-hour marathon

But it makes a serious point. The 2 hour barrier for the marathon will, I have no doubt, be broken (hopefully in my lifetime) and it will also probably require a series of developments in both the way the athlete prepares and the kit they use. This was the case when Roger Bannister broke what many considered to be an impossible barrier – the 4 minute mile. In the case of Bannister’s historic run, it was the use of pace-makers that was the new (and in some quarters highly controversial) development, and one which has changed the face of athletics ever since. But does that mean that Bannister didn’t run a mile in under 4 minutes? No, it doesn’t.

That is part of sport. Things develop. Cars get faster, balls get lighter (or heavier or rounder or whatever), tracks and pools get ‘faster’ and sport should look forward. But I don’t believe that sport can, with one obvious exception, look backwards.

Paula Radcliffe’s world record

So how is it that the IAAF has announced recently that Paula Radcliffe’s world record for the marathon – 2:15:25 – set on 13 April 2003, will no longer be recognised as a world record (it will instead be listed as a ‘world best’ what ever the hell that means)? And the reason that this record is being down-graded is that Paula ran it in a race where there were men alongside her. Not men that Paula asked for and not, as we saw in the men’s race in Berlin this year, a peleton of runners in a ‘V’ formation in front and to the sides of her. The pace-makers in 2003 were just in the race, at most offering a target to help with the psychological challenges of keeping up the incredible pace Paula ran at.

Drug cheats

The obvious exception to all this, of course, is when it comes to drug cheats. And there the IAAF is in murky waters. I believe most strongly that if an athlete is found guilty of cheating by taking drugs, then all of their victories and all of their records should be disregarded. If they prove to be as capable clean, as they were when doping, then once they return after they have served their ban, they will surely regain their records. If they don’t… well then maybe the records weren’t legitimate anyway. But certainly in the case of many shorter distance events, almost all of the the women’s world records, mostly set in the 1980’s – before the introduction of mandatory drug testing was introduced – are so far beyond what the world’s current best are capable of, that there is a strong whiff of suspicion. There is a great article about this very subject here.

But Paula Radcliffe is not under suspicion of any misbehaviour. She is however in danger of having one of the most increadible feats of athletics, down-graded because of the occurrence of men on the course at the same time as her (ESPN have a great piece on this storm here). For what it is worth, I for one don’t think that is either sensible or fair and certainly brings into question whether ‘assisted’ marathon world records are going to be banned in which case Kenya’s Patrick Makau had better enjoy breaking the world record (2:03:38) last weekend, because he definitely hid from the wind behind a phalanx of pacers and if there is one rule for women, it is only fair that it should be applied to men. What do you think?

Lord Sebastian Coe and the Olympic Games

The Olympic Games are coming to London. In just over 300 days. And there is an increasing amount of opinion being spouted about whether London will deliver a great Games, deliver on the medal expectations and deliver on the legacy, the promise of which went some way to winning the opportunity to host the Games for this great city.

It is often said – and I believe it – that if you want to know the truth it needs to come from the horse’s mouth. Last night I was privileged and honoured to be a guest at a dinner hosted by Nike where Lord Sebastian Coe addressed 30 of us and talked about how far the Games have progressed and what is still to be done.

In logistic terms alone organizing the Games is a herculean task. The numbers are mind boggling, from the thousands that are already employed by the organizing committee and the thousands more that will be required in the coming months, to the 70,000 volunteers who will work at the Games to the massed ranks of police, medical and security staff that will be required. Then of course there will then be visitors in the millions. And not forgetting thousands of athletes from around the world.

I often hear people say that sport is an analogy for life and to illustrate the mindset for winning the Games, Seb told the story of one of his earliest senior races over 800m at the European Championships Prague in 1978. In that race he set off at a suicidally fast pace, partly to try to neutralise the threat of his greatest rival, Steve Ovett. However, predictably, having run the first 400m in 49 seconds, physiology caught up with Coe in the last 200m and also predictably as he tied up, who was alongside him? Ovett. What neither of them realized however, was that there was a further threat – an East German athlete who blasted past the pair of them to take gold in the last 20 meters. Lord Coe said that he was on all fours, desperately trying to catch his breath when Ovett came over, put his hand on Coe’s shoulder and said ‘Who the f*** was that?’ With a wry grin Lord Coe told us last night that winning the Olympics was like that, with London as the unknown threat. Paris and Madrid were odds on favourites to win the Games, but with stealth and passion and great preparation, who snuck up on the outside and took it at the line? Yep, London. Lord Coe, undoubtedly a man of great vision, passion and leadership, talked frankly about the challenges that his organization faces, but in my mind there is no doubt that it will all come together and prove to be an exceptional event. And I got that from the horse’s mouth.

But the London Games in 2012 is about much more than the few weeks of competition. There is the issue of legacy. And for that Lord Coe dipped back into his own past to talk about the importance that companies like Nike play in encouraging and supporting young people and ensuring that sport, and athletics in particular, capture the imagination of youngsters and fuel the desire in them to compete and be the best they can be. Can we deliver on that? Well, thanks to Lord Coe and his team I have no doubt that we will have a great Games. But the legacy – well that is going to take a massive combined effort from all of us. I sincerely hope we succeed.

Success and motivation

I have just watched this video on the BBC website with Paula Radcliffe talking about running and her career in athletics and the power that the games in London in 2012 are having over the decisions she is making in her life. It really made me think. Personally I think that Paula is an incredible person and an incredible athlete. Where the media and arm-chair pundits do criticise Paula, it is usually because in their minds she has under-performed at major championships – most notably the last two Olympics. But I doubt there is a serious runner in the world who doesn’t know how hard it is to arrive at the start line of a key race in perfect shape, and it is absolutely true that the closer one is to the edge, the harder it is to get the training just right and arrive without either under training or, possibly worse, over training.

I am really pleased to hear that Paula does not consider the issue of her not being in shape for the last two Olympics to be defining in her career or in any way indicative of an unfulfilled life. And at the same time I was touched by the fact that she is clearly still so affected and concerned by the opinions of the people who turn their gaze on her once every couple of years when she races a high-profile event, but in all likelihood have no concept of what it takes to do what she does. She mentions in the video that when all is said and done, running was the thing that Paula did as a hobby and I think, from the couple of times I have met her (albeit very briefly both times) and from the hours of video footage that I have seen of her, that Paula is still at heart a runner who runs because she loves it. I hope that it may always be like that for her and that she can have her dream of performing at the Olympics whilst retaining her sanity in the face of relentless pressure from the media and sponsors and the public.

So three cheers for Paula. Let’s all get behind her and the other runners who will hopefully be toeing the start line of the marathon in 2012 and aiming to be the best runners they can be on the day.

A once in a lifetime opportunity…? I hope not.

Christine Ohuruogu has been interviewed today – one year before the start of the Olympics in London in 2012 – about her thoughts as the Games approach. She told the BBC that she thinks that young people remain unengaged with the Olympics and that ‘”I think that is a shame and there is more that needs to be done over the next year to make sure we include our all young people.” Ohuruogu’s comments suggest she feels a key aim of London’s Olympic bid – inspiring more young people to get involved in sport, both at school or college – might not be met.’ You can read the article here. And I think she is wrong.

Actually I don’t think she is wrong, but I think there is a danger that the current set of political leaders think that by throwing a huge amount of money at the Olympics, they can turn an entire generation of youngsters from x-box playing, fast food scoffing couch potatoes into Olympians of the future. Sorry, but I just don’t think that works.

And I also think it is rather patronising. There are hundreds, probably thousands, of hardworking coaches and teacher and community leaders, some paid, some voluntary, who have tried for decades to get and keep kids involved in sport. My inspirational friend and mentor Charlie Dark set up the RunDemCrew to help others, and especially young people, discover the way that sport can be a power for good. He did not do that because there is an Olympic Games just around the corner, he did that because he realises the amount of work there is to do and it needed to start immediately.

So sorry Christine and Seb Coe and all the others who are responsible for what I am sure will be one of the most amazing events I will witness in my lifetime – the problems that we face in society, that sport can help to tackle, are not new – they are at least in part the legacy of under-funding in education and a general dismissal of young people for past decades and decades. And one two-week spectacle is not going to reverse the trend of young people losing the motivation for and interest in sport – only decades and decades of hard work and dedication is going to do that. So if the Olympics in 2012 is a catalyst for that, then great. But do not think for one minute that because you set up a few taster sessions and put on a good show next year, your responsibility to young people has been discharged. There is much, much more work to do.

“More than a Game: Harnessing the power of sport to transform the lives of disadvantaged young people” A report by the Centre for Social Justice.

“More than a Game: Harnessing the power of sport to transform the lives of disadvantaged young people” A report by the Centre for Social Justice. Initial thoughts.

The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) is an independent think tank established by Ian Duncan-Smith in 2004 to find ways to eradicate the poverty that exists in pockets in the UK. The CSJ believes there are a number of paths to poverty; broken family, failed education, debt and drug and alcohol addiction and that once a young person has more than three of these in their lives they are on a slippery slope to poverty.

The report that the CSJ has published is entitled “More than a Game: Harnessing the power of sport to transform the lives of disadvantaged young people” and broadly looks at how sport can act as an agent to transform the lives of the least privileged children in the UK. It is a fascinating and challenging report that has started me thinking even more about the transformative power of sport.

There are a number of areas that the report delves into that I think are crucial in helping us to understand the role that sport can play. There are also a couple of areas where I think the report could have touched on.

1) The importance of coaching and coach development
This is something very close to my heart. My Dad still fondly recalls his coach as someone he had great respect for and from whom he learned not only how to box and get in shape to win, but life lessons. I know that my coach is closely involved with the development of a large number of youngsters not only from an athletic point of view, but also socially and academically. As a former school teacher he is well placed to do that. Even I, at my grand old age, benefit from some sound advice from my coach now and then about issues such as how to deal with stress at work or how to approach some of life’s big events.

I completely agree with the report and it’s findings that one of the weakest areas in coach development in the UK is the lack of modules focused on teaching coaches to interact with young people. The report seems to accept that current coaching programmes are sufficient when it comes to teaching necessary skills and developing training programmes, but that is not enough to engage with the people who stand to gain most from sport

2) The importance of the education system owning sport as a tool for development
I am happy to state that in my opinion many of the problems that the CSJ report aims to tackle and a few that it doesn’t are due to the destruction of sports in schools. My personal mission is to try to find a way to tackle childhood obesity (more on that later) and as such I think that successive governments have been responsible for the sell-off of school playing fields and the removal of meaningful sport from timetables so that now we are reaping the seeds sown over the last few decades. If there is an answer to the social problems that the report looks at, then it is only through engaging with youngsters at school that we have any hope of succeeding.

3) The value of long-term programmes, not just ‘taster’ sessions
I was initially surprised to read that the report recommends that taster sessions should be abolished. My feeling was that anything is better than nothing and that taster sessions are a good way to get lots of youngsters to try different sports and see what resonates with them. However my understanding of the report is that the authors believe that the money currently directed at taster sessions would be better spent creating programmes where the participants have longer-term and more significant engagement with… yes, you guessed it – well trained coaches who know how to teach the technical aspects of the sport as well as engage with the youngsters of the programme and help them develop. I can’t help thinking that this must be a more expensive proposition than the current taster programmes but then again if in-depth programmes have the effect of reducing the effects of poverty, then the money will have been well spent.

Throughout the report there was a theme that I found fascinating – that of using sport to connect disadvantaged youngsters to the mainstream. I never thought of connecting someone to mainstream as a desirable side-effect of sport, but my understanding of this is that sport can have the effect of giving youngsters a reason to steer clear of drugs and alcohol and crime – the paths to poverty – and engage with education (especially if education is the vehicle delivering the sporting opportunities) or employment. In that way sport connects those involved in it with the mainstream.

I mentioned that there were two areas which I feel the report could have touched on;

The first is my bête noire – childhood obesity. I believe that sport is crucial for health and particularly in the fight against obesity. I also think that poor health is inextricably linked with and therefore to some extent must exacerbate the poverty trap both for individuals directly and for society as a whole through the need to pay for the treatment of diseases associate with obesity. I would have liked the report to draw a connection between the ways that sport – more so than any other activity that might help disadvantaged youth to beat the five paths (like music, theatre, etc) – can help to combat poverty both through helping youngsters to engage with the mainstream and by improving general health.

The report also clearly states that it is not concerned with elite sport. I am not sure it is sensible to completely ignore this issue. In this context I think there is a value and importance in elite sport in that it is often the promise of fame and fortune that has excites and motivates youngsters in the first place and so it must be considered. I think that there is also the opportunity, by engaging with elite sport, to secure more funding and access to facilities that could create more opportunities for development through sport.

As might be clear from this write up, I have only really had an opportunity to briefly read the report and I would encourage anyone interested to download it from the CSJ website here. This is such an important area and I think that this should be a debate that we pursue as quickly as possible so that we can help as many youngsters as possible.