Are the Olympic Games really inspiring the next generation?

Great Britain's Peter Wilson with his gold medal after winning  the Double Trap Mens Final
Great Britain's Peter Wilson with his gold medal after winning the Double Trap Mens Final
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Amid medal wins and disappointments, the glory of the Games and one or two controversies, will London’s post-Olympic legacy have the desired, positive effect on young people in this country? Interviews by Rod McPhee.

Craig Ogilvie is manager and coach of East End Park WMC Juniors, a football team based in an inner city area where young people are faced with numerous challenges.

“The biggest inspiration for the kids is the athletes themselves and that’s because many of the athletes aren’t celebrities, or household names, they aren’t “famous” in the traditional sense. When you hear about the background to lots of these Olympians you hear that they are just ordinary people who may even come from an area which isn’t that different to where the kids live.

“Having role models like that is really important, because they’re very real role models. It’s not like having a youth worker as a role model, for example. It’s not just someone who’s doing a job, it’s someone who’s just a real person who has taught themselves discipline. I think when youngsters watch people on TV they can see what they have to work towards, that they have to do if they decide they want to be the best they can be. They can see that they have to be fit and healthy and look after themselves.

“I also think that if it helps young people to discover something that they’re good at and some way that they can be rewarded, then that is genuinely inspirational. A lot of young kids find that all they get is criticism and punishment, whether it’s at home or school, and that might just be because they haven’t found something they excel in. When they see the Olympics they see people excelling and getting rewarded.”

Mick Hill is a former javelin thrower from Leeds who has competed at four Olympic Games and coaches Yorkshire heptathlete Jessica Ennis.

“My answer is an almighty ‘Yes’. I’ve been watching the Olympics on the television and even at 47 I’ve been inspired by it. It’s fabulous and makes me feel very proud to be British.

“To see the streets lined with people for events like the cycling has been wonderful and there will be a lot of youngsters out there who will decide they’re going to do all they can to get to the next Olympics, the one after or even the one after that.

“The television coverage is spectacular and there is no doubt that a lot of people watching at home who are into sport will feel enthused and motivated by it.

“In terms of ensuring there is a legacy left behind by the London Games I’m not sure we need to do too much more.

“One thing we do need to do though is make sure that if youngsters see a sport they like and want to have a go at it, there is somewhere not too far away from them that offers the opportunity of some coaching and someone ready and able to take them on.”

Jem Lawson is chair of Triathlon England who, from tomorrow until Tuesday, will take over Leeds’s big screen on Millennium Square to showcase the triathlon events starring the city’s own Brownlee brothers.

“The shared experience element is enormously inspirational and a crucial part of the games. The triathlon hasn’t always enjoyed as high a profile as it does now, and that’s perhaps because we haven’t had as many athletes taking part. But the more we see it, the more we may inspire people to take part and the more they take part then the more chance we have of creating the next generation.

“What’s particularly inspirational about the triathlon is that it involves what you would call lifestyle sports – activities like running, swimming and cycling – things that any of us can do relatively easily. So while we see these elite athletes on the big screen it’s important to install in ourselves the idea that we don’t have to be superhuman to take part.

“I think the games will only truly inspire the next generation if the sports governing bodies take this incredible opportunity to take sports out into schools and communities and give people the opportunity to use that inspiration.”

Gary Hetherington is chief executive officer of Leeds Rugby and a board member of Leeds Sport, the city-wide body set up to encourage local activity and recreation.

“Absolutely, I think the Olympics will provide inspiration to the next generation, and it won’t just benefit traditional Olympian sports, or necessarily popular Olympian sports, I think the inspiration it provides will spread across all areas. Most importantly of all I think it won’t just be inspiration that will touch people who are normally involved in sport, but perhaps reach out to that section of the population who wouldn’t normally be into any kind of activity, and seeing such glorious images on the TV might just be the vision they need to change their minds.

“Crucially with these Olympics I really do feel like the public has got behind the games, even the media coverage has, on the whole, been positive and that coupled with seeing so many British athletes triumph is an amazing combination. In a country where sport is so important the Olympics show the world of sport in its best light – and it’s doing so right here in Britain. How could the Olympics not be an inspiration?”

JAMES McKenna is Professor of Sport at Leeds Metropolitan University.

“Being ‘inspirational’ is only a very small part of what the legacy of the games should be. What’s more important is turning that inspiration into commitment and turning that into a long-term commitment.

“If we are to get people into sport then we have to develop something like a rolling programme of six month trial sessions for various sports which will allow individuals to take a look at certain activities, decide whether they like them, decide whether they’d be any good at them and perhaps have a try.

“Unfortunately, I think after the games the government is likely to have bigger spending priorities, so I think it is down to us as a collection of communities and as a nation to try and revive the old traditions of pursuing sport in the community, because that’s what we used to do in years gone by.

“These days sport tends to make a much more structured form which means it doesn’t always reach the places it used to reach - and they are often the places where sport could have the greatest effect and where any inspiration must be directed.”