Of all the memorable moments of Glasgow 2014, one of the highlights had to be when 13-year-old Erraid Davies scooped bronze in the paralympic swimming, making her the youngest Scot in history to win a Commonwealth Games medal.
The young people I work with were particularly thrilled for this young girl who has overcome barriers. In fact, all the inspiring moments of the Games have had a special significance for them, as they understand the power of sport to transform lives.
Positive Destinations Through Sport is a project which helps young people in Edinburgh develop coaching skills and increase their opportunities to progress into a career in sport.
Specifically aimed at 16- to 25-year-olds not in education, employment or training, the project taps into sporting values such as teamwork, persistence, respect and resilience – in fact, all the sporting character traits which help people enjoy a fulfilling life.
Edinburgh Leisure’s 2 Your Future courses, part of the Positive Destinations project funded by City of Edinburgh Council, has been teaching young adults coaching skills since it launched in 2012.
Our participants have loved the Commonwealth Games and being part of the whole experience by delivering themed events, “In the Meadows’”for groups of up to 60 children at a time in the summer holidays.
Most young adults who have come to us have poor job prospects, few academic qualifications and, perhaps most damaging, low self-confidence. Training to be a sports coach gives them the opportunity to work towards something.They experience having to push themselves.
Those who might have been involved with drugs discover a new kind of rush – the natural one that comes when you achieve something you never believed you could. And the confidence that comes from standing up in front of a group and delivering a sports lesson successfully is incredible.
I have seen dozens of these youngsters learn coaching skills, as well as communications and organisational skills, which have, by the young people’s own recognition, transformed their life chances.
One example is a very impressive young man, Brian, who is a real hit with the kids and colleagues alike. A hard-working and enthusiastic coach, everyone comments on what a nice guy he is. Nobody would believe the situation he was in this time last year.
Having grown up in a deprived area with a variety of complex challenging circumstances, Brian had fallen in with, in his own words, “the wrong crowd”, spiralling into drug abuse and petty crime.
Brian, 18, was the sort of “NEET” some might have written off as one of life’s no-hopers, but when he came to us he genuinely wanted to turn things around. He just didn’t know where to begin. We have supported him in training to coach athletics, football and gymnastics, as well as providing support developing the basic life skills required for employment.
The difference in this man is night and day. Brian has an alternative route for himself, channeling his efforts into taking control of his life through sport, and in doing so working hard everyday to give something back to society through coaching.
Another of our participants successfully obtained a job in the Commonwealth Games athletes’ village thanks to the experience he gained with 2 Your Future, and his colleagues on the course have been thrilled by the messages he sent about the amazing atmosphere in Glasgow.
To date, 15 young people have secured work with Edinburgh Leisure, either as a service provider or in full-time employment, while dozens more have benefited from our support by obtaining a job or education place in the leisure industry. Having heard their stories, it worries me to think how their lives might have turned out otherwise.
This is partly because I recognise my younger self in them. I was never a high achiever at school and came from a background with very low expectations. I have had to work really hard to build my self esteem.
But I loved sport and that was the driving force for me to work towards a career and a better future. Years later, I have a coaching career which involves helping young people who feel there is no positive destination for them discover that they can believe in themselves.
Like them, and the rest of the country, I was inspired by Shetland’s Erraid Davies and all the incredible athletes who wowed us last month at the Commonwealth Games.
But, for me, seeing a young person who overcomes life challenges in the pursuit of a career in sport and who works hard to achieve it, is another kind of inspiration which is just as powerful.
• Jack Martin is positive destinations project development officer at Edinburgh Leisure www.edinburghleisure.co.uk