The end of each year offers an opportunity to reflect, and no review of Scottish sport in 2018 could be complete without reference to the great success of Team Scotland at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. The Active Schools team in Aberdeenshire have used the Games as a special area of focus.
When athletes progress to the highest level, it can be easy to lose sight of where they have come from and where they started their journey in sport. Pathways are a vital component of Scotland's world class sporting system and for many people, Active Schools programmes and connections with local clubs are their first experience of sport.
Active Schools Aberdeenshire, in partnership with schools, local clubs and facilities, have ensured that the area currently provides or supports more than 80% of the sports in which Scots won medals on the Gold Coast earlier this year.
For the team at Active Schools Aberdeenshire, the importance of creating a strong, sustainable and clear pathway for young people involved in sport is always a priority.
Active Schools Aberdeenshire manager Brian Mitchell said: “Our staff will always look to find a sustainable pathway for the activities that we run in conjunction with schools and local clubs.”
Creating strong local partnerships within the Aberdeenshire area is a key part of every Active Schools coordinator's role and Derek Atkinson, lead coordinator for South Aberdeenshire, believes partnerships are key to the success of the programme.
Speaking as the second school term got underway, Derek said: “It has always been a key focus of the Active Schools team in Aberdeenshire to engage and work closely with local, regional and national partners to positively impact the health and wellbeing of school-aged pupils in the north-east of Scotland.
"We have a fantastic working relationship with schools in Aberdeenshire and our staff prove a vital link with internal partners such as the Active Communities Team, Community Learning and Development as well as colleagues across the Leisure Team.
"Our commitment to partnership working also sees our team working alongside local community sports clubs and the Community Sports Hubs officer to ensure that pupils have the opportunity to try a range or sporting activities safe in the knowledge that they can continue their sports participation in their leisure time with their local community.”
Through these successful partnerships, partnerships have been able to provide sporting opportunities across a wide range of sports:
Marc Austin's bronze medal got the ball rolling for Team Scotland at Gold Coast 2018 and triathlon sessions are taking place within the Inverurie and Meldrum networks, connected to local clubs with support from Triathlon Scotland. Support is also being provided to a new school triathlon club at Barthol Chapel Primary School.
Team Scotland returned with multiple golds from the likes of Katie Archibald and Mark Stewart and one of the others to reach the podium was double medallist Neah Evans, who lives near Turriff in Aberdeenshire. Local support has been provided by Active Schools to sessions within the Inverurie network for both road cycling and mountain biking.
In partnership with various athletics clubs across Aberdeenshire, Active Schools supports or provides extra-curricular athletics with additional pathway links to Aberdeen Sports Village and local clubs for those further afield.
Team Scotland had their best-ever bowls results at the 2018 Games, producing gold and silver medals in both men’s and women’s events along with a fourth place in para sport lawn bowls. Working in partnership with indoor and outdoor bowling clubs from across Aberdeenshire, Active Schools provide or support extra-curricular bowling sessions.
Aberdeenshire is fortunate to have support from a dedicated sports officer focusing on badminton, forming a key part of the extra-curricular programme in the area. With strong club links and a long term link to curricular PE, the sport is linked with performance pathways through the local authority's sports officer.
While swimming is supported by a sport-specific development team, Active Schools Aberdeenshire runs a comprehensive programme of CPD that allows club coaches and volunteers to secure certification in first aid, child protection and positive coaching.
Outwith the sports that secured medals in Australia this year, Active Schools Aberdeenshire are also working to produce future medal winners in other sports as well. Working with Scottish Hockey and local hockey clubs, there are currently extra-curricular hockey sessions supported across North Aberdeenshire. There are also mountain biking sessions taking place in Inverurie, Turriff and Aboyne.
There is a dedicated gymnastics sports officer working with clubs across the local authority as well as volleyball and basketball extra-curricular sessions for P1-S6 students. Squash support is being provided in Garioch Sports Centre, the home of former world No.1, world champion and Commonwealth champion Peter Nicol MBE.
Equality in provision
Aberdeenshire are not just content with providing a platform for young people to get involved with Commonwealth sports. They also support opportunities in a large number of other sports including football, orienteering, sailing and tennis, with more than 57 distinct activities being offered during the last academic year.
There have also been efforts by staff and the local Community Sport Hubs to create a comprehensive disability sports programme in the area, offering opportunities for all to participate in sport.