The Olympic glow

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Mo Farah and Usain Bolt

How to get youngsters into sport in the wake of the Olympic glow?

London 2012 has been a resounding success. The Olympics and Paralympics have been hugely popular in this country and we have enjoyed watching both familiar events like athletics along with more niche sports, such as the new BMX event.

The issue now is how to translate all this excitement about London 2012 into a long-term increase in the numbers, particularly of children, participating in sport.

Reports of greater numbers of kids riding their bikes around the local park are welcome but unlikely to be maintained too far past October without positive action.

#Compulsory sport?
We've heard a lot over the Olympics and Paralympics from people wanting compulsory sport in schools — two hours a day, according to London Mayor Boris Johnson. Its supporters claim it will improve sporting performance, help kids stay fit and encourage youngsters to take up sports they may have enjoyed watching at London 2012.

It is not quite as simple as that, though. Regardless of those who believe that all kids must be made to do sport because they will eventually enjoy it, there are many youngsters who have never enjoyed — and will never enjoy — sport.

It's not easy for me to speak on behalf of this significant group, being such a fan of sport myself. Nonetheless, this group exists and forcing them into extra P.E. lessons will not make them any keener to take up sport — it is more likely to have the adverse effect and put more kids off for life.

#Tricky Question
So the question of how to encourage sport in youngsters is a tricky one. There will of course be those with little interest at the moment but whose curiosity may increase over time. This is another factor.

The selling off of school sports fields will undoubtedly not help. Regardless of whether more sport, or a greater range thereof, will be introduced in schools, facilities are vital to ensure that current sports programmes survive and help kids already benefitting from them.

I played football, cricket and rugby on the sports pitch at my high school, Malbank School in Nantwich, and can't imagine enjoying sport as much as I do now without that provision.

It is difficult, especially in comprehensive schools strapped for cash, to target youngsters with an interest in sport without alienating the others, either through forcing them into participating, or else leaving them out altogether.

#Extracurricular
Hence extracurricular activities are more important than ever. Our local area has clubs ranging from cricket to tae kwon do and the likelihood is if you're interested in a sport, you're far from the only one.

It falls on parents as well as schools to give kids a gentle push in the right direction — if a child enjoyed watching the BMX event at London 2012, take a look at bike tracks in the area and go along. Enthusiasm at a young age is easily turned into actual participation.

With a spot of encouragement, kids glues to their screens during the Olympics and Paralympics could soon be outside doing any number of sporting activities.

Schools themselves will always have P.E. lessons and mainstream sporting clubs (football is an obvious example) but parents may have to find time to look further afield for facilities for niche sports with less popularity.

#Pressure
We are right to pressure the government to capitalise on the opportunity we have — to 'inspire a generation' into sporting participation, as the Olympics motto claimed. Government should be doing all it can to facilitate the participation in (and more importantly, enjoyment of) sport for the younger generation.

It does not fall entirely on David Cameron though, to use the popularity of London 2012 to ensure a positive sporting legacy. We must all do our bit not only to highlight and maintain sporting opportunities in our area, but to make use of them by taking children along and helping them find a new hobby.