Susan Rice: Our children want a sporting chance – and we must provide it

NO-ONE can fail to notice that Britain is backing sport at the moment. The World Cup is starting, Wimbledon is just around the corner, and the build up to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games is really ramping up. How do we translate these events into a long term legacy for Scotland?

The key to developing sports is supporting the children that wish to join in. This week is Bank of Scotland National School Sports Week, so as well as providing lots of opportunities for more than 500 schools in Scotland to participate and try out new sports, we also asked Scottish children about their attitudes to sport.

We have learned that Scottish youngsters are enthusiastic about the London 2012 Games, and not just about watching them on the television, or honing their skills on a console.

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Eighty-four per cent of Scottish school children said that they would like their school to host classes or sessions where they could try some Olympic or Paralympic sports that they have not tried before. Many are doing just that this week. Archery, sailing and fencing come out as some of the top Olympic sports that youngsters want to try, and while it is not practical to add all of these to the curriculum, taster sessions are a great way to allow children to experience something new.

To help sports of all disciplines develop young athletes right up to elite performer level, to achieve their dreams of winning medals and trophies at major championships, they need support from all of us – businesses, schools, peers, parents and relatives.

The benefits of setting an example and providing support are clear. Sixty-two per cent of Scottish school children feel inspired to try the sports in which Britain does well at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Seventy-four per cent said they were motivated by "health and fitness" and 73 per cent by having fun when it comes to taking part in sports. Crucially, 76 per cent of Scottish children believed that sport helps them focus in the classroom.

So, if the majority of children are excited about sports, and they recognise the benefits in terms of motivation, health and friendships, what can we do to help?

Raising awareness of some of the lesser known sports would be a good starting block. Goalball and boccia are both hugely popular paralympic sports, but most Scottish children (and many adults) have not heard of them, seen them played or tried them. Learning about these sports creates an appetite for trial, which is key.

Opportunity turns that key, so it is the second crucial factor in tapping into the sporting potential of our young people. Even a taster session can ignite a passion and an interest in pursuing a less mainstream sport further. It really is the taking part that counts. The support of parents and relatives is important, too, and many get involved by working with schools as referees, umpires or by fundraising for school sports equipment and facilities. This type of contribution is invaluable.

The fringe benefits of children participating in sport are tremendously important, from developing strong friendships, team skills, fair play and increased confidence to improving classroom focus, leadership skills, self esteem, energy levels and even life expectancy.

Sport isn't just about winning – it's about everyone getting involved, having fun, and being inspired to go beyond their personal best regardless of ability. It is also about sharing the Olympic and Paralympic values of excellence, friendship, respect, determination, inspiration, courage and equality with thousands of schoolchildren nationwide.

• Susan Rice is managing director of Lloyds Banking Group.