College scheme could be a game-changer, writes Ray McCowan
Last year’s Commonwealth Games demonstrated Scotland’s passion for sport, and we in the country’s colleges are keen to capture this enthusiasm, make sport as accessible as possible and promote healthy lifestyles. To achieve this, colleges across Scotland are introducing a new initiative that will support students to get involved in sports and reap the benefits of living healthily. It may even help develop the next generation of Commonwealth and Olympic competitors.
Edinburgh College is partnering SportScotland and working with another 12 colleges in Scotland to lead a new scheme to provide inter-college sports competitions on Wednesday afternoons. This will create new opportunities for college students to compete and become more active.
Colleges are perfectly placed to make a significant contribution to Scotland’s sporting success and widening access to sports. Our colleges have excellent sports facilities, courses and coaches, and wider support is also available to help to develop young people’s potential.
It is hoped that the initiative will enhance the overall student experience, as well as boost their overall fitness levels. However, we should not lose sight of the wider benefits of sports participation, which include teamwork, social interaction and personal discipline – all of which are also transferable skills into life and work. Although our focus is on capturing young people’s enthusiasm for sports, the sports sessions are optional and those not interested in sport will be supported to take part in other extra-curricular activities of their choice.
To some extent, the new initiative also helps create a lasting legacy for last year’s Commonwealth Games. There is only going to be a legacy if we, the community, engage with the facilities that are available to us and if the right avenues are accessible to help encourage people, young and old, to get active. Just last month, SportScotland, the national agency for sport, said that membership of the 17 Commonwealth Games sports’ governing bodies had risen by 11 per cent during the past four years, as the buzz around Glasgow 2014 grew.
Initially, the Wednesday afternoons will see five sports involved – football, badminton, basketball, rugby and volleyball – with plans to extend to other sports as the project progresses. Some teams have already started to compete and it is hoped students’ associations will support students interested in setting up their own clubs in a different discipline.
Scotland’s colleges already have a good sporting pedigree, with many high-performing athletes coming through further education, including a number of Glasgow 2014 competitors, such as Edinburgh College’s Sally Conway, who studied the Instructors Course in Fitness and Exercise and won a bronze medal in judo and Reece McFadden from North College Lanarkshire, a third-year joinery apprentice who won a bronze in the Boxing flyweight competition. The new scheme will formalise support for students to participate in sport and physical activity whatever their level of performance.
We were delighted the minister for sport, health improvement and mental health, Jamie Hepburn MSP, was able to join us at our Granton Campus to launch the new initiative – and participate in some basketball with teams from Edinburgh College and Dundee and Angus College. He stressed the need to encourage people to continue to participate in sports after they leave school and the benefits for mental and physical wellbeing.
This is a long-term project, which has been promoted by Scottish Student Sport, and the vision is that in years to come there will be a thriving and sustainable sporting culture between colleges. As well as bringing direct health benefits to students, it will also bring the college community closer together in the spirit of sporting competition. Scottish Student Sport, supported by SportScotland and the Scottish Funding Council, has been allocated funding to support sports development across Scotland’s colleges and universities. Scotland’s colleges have huge potential to enthuse and engage young people in sports and a healthier lifestyle. These initiatives to foster competitions and earmark Wednesday afternoons for sports will encourage wider participation and create a lasting legacy. Our next generation of sports stars are just as likely to be at a local college as they are at university or in work. This is an important first step to fulfilling their potential.
• Ray McCowan is vice-principal education leadership at Edinburgh College www.edinburghcollege.ac.uk