Summer of sport has left active legacy

Edinburgh Leisure was recently garlanded for the  high standard of its aquatic programmes
Edinburgh Leisure was recently garlanded for the high standard of its aquatic programmes
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Scotland still suffers from poor fitness, but the rising number of leisure centre visits show we’re swimming in the right direction, says Dean Wilkinson

This summer, Scotland earned a huge profile boost in the sporting world, as we proudly hosted the Commonwealth Games to great acclaim. It was a welcome new image for Scotland, which has been dubbed the “sick man of Europe”.

The negative impact of not being physically active is well recognised and unfortunately as a nation, Scotland is considered by health authorities to be inactive, unfit and increasingly overweight. The health of two-thirds of the Scottish adult population is at risk from physical inactivity, and around one-third of young people are estimated as overweight or obese, making it the most common risk factor for coronary heart disease, disability, poor mental health, asthma and a general lack of physical strength. Most worryingly, the habit of being inactive is considered to start before children leave school.

The quality of life and benefits of getting more adults and young people regularly active couldn’t be more clear. As a key stakeholder and major provider of sport and leisure opportunities across the city, Edinburgh Leisure has a clear vision “to inspire the city of Edinburgh to be a more active and healthy city”. This clear purpose is demonstrated day in and day out across its swimming pools, leisure centres, golf courses and tennis courts, where a variety of affordable and accessible opportunities are on offer; from swimming to intensive fitness classes to social sports activities.

The number of visits to Edinburgh Leisure facilities is positive, with total visits to the city’s sport and leisure facilities rising from 3.6 million to 4.8 million between 2001/02 and 2012/13.

Edinburgh Leisure offers one of the most rewarding and motivating ways for young people to get active through a positive sporting experience.

Every week, Edinburgh Leisure’s coaching and teaching programmes cater for thousands of young people in one of 12 sports across 19 venues, making Edinburgh Leisure the biggest provider of coached activities in the city. The coaching programmes predominantly cater for young people during term-time (although adult sessions are available), while outside of the school term hundreds of children also attend sports holiday camps to improve their technique or learn new skills.

Most coached activities are structured so that participants move through a series of levels and assessments as they improve. As well as advancing through introductory and development levels, potentially talented athletes can progress onto performance level programmes that are delivered in partnership with the national sports governing bodies.

The reward of learning new skills is high on the agenda for a lot of parents who enrol their children onto an Edinburgh Leisure coaching programme, but it’s not just about improving skills or becoming a better athlete. Edinburgh Leisure’s customer survey revealed that parents also want their children to attend a coached sports activity simply to be more physically active and have fun.

The benefits and impact of structured, coached activities reaches even further. Significant evidence shows that a proportion of young people, especially girls, in high school are at risk of not doing any sport or physical activity, either in or out of school.

Taking part in structured, coached activities at an early age can encourage a stronger commitment to sport and physical activity.

A recent Sports Coach UK report, “The Impact of Coaching on Participants”, suggests that a significant number of young people feel that being coached increased their enjoyment, passion and commitment to sport, the time they spend playing and being active, and made them feel less likely to stop playing.

This research also highlighted a link between the quality of the coaching and the enjoyment of young people. That’s why Edinburgh Leisure is emphatic about attracting coaches who are qualified, passionate and dedicated to providing a quality experience which inspires children to love being active. We are setting the bar high from the beginning.

It’s also important to provide programmes for people of all ages and abilities and reach out to all communities. The breadth and high standard of our aquatics programme has achieved this, as evidenced by Edinburgh Leisure’s recent success in achieving Scottish Swimming’s “Service Provider of the Year” award.

Since the autumn term began, hundreds of young people have already made a new commitment with weekly attendance figures up significantly compared to this time last year.

While the nights are drawing in, the recent summer of sporting success may be becoming a fond memory, but we can keep up this momentum towards a healthier, more active Edinburgh.

• Dean Wilkinson is Sport & Physical Activity Development Manager at Edinburgh Leisure