As well as my obvious pride in seeing Welsh athletes and our national teams pick up medals and trophies, seeing more people take part in sport and learning about the inspirational work of our coaches and volunteers is one of my favourite parts of my role at Sport Wales.
At the recent Sport Wales Coach of the Year Awards in Cardiff, it was a great chance to meet some truly outstanding individuals. They are the people whose work means we can offer young kids their first taste of sport, right the way up to polishing the performances of those athletes who will win medals at world championships.
From all walks of life and every corner of Wales, they are the people to follow and emulate.
Last year Sport Wales, along with our partners, committed to doubling the number of coaches and volunteers in Wales, from around 110,000 to around 250,000 by 2016 – around 10% of the population. It is a hugely aspirational target but one I believe we can meet as part of our whole Vision for Sport. Our research shows that 9% of adults would like to volunteer more often, so the will is there.
However, I feel that progress has been too slow to date. The sporting sector – and I include Sport Wales in that – must up its game considerably.
Evidence of the progress made through work to increase the volunteer base now needs to become more prominent. We are not seeing development of coaches and the sporting workforce being given the priority it deserves in the sector and that means we will be held back in our Vision for Sport.
As an example, the number of active coaches in our national governing bodies increased from 14,604 to 16,397 in the year from 2010 to 2011 – an increase of 12%. If we maintain that level of increase over five years the progress would put us at about 60-65%, rather than the 100% increase we are looking for. Of course, it is not just about numbers but about the type and level of coaches we need and where they are deployed. It is quality as well as quantity, but I reinforce my desire for us to progress at pace.
With London 2012, Glasgow 2014 and the recently announced World Athletics Championships in London in 2017 just over the horizon, children and young people especially will want to copy their sporting heroes. Following Dai Greene’s magnificent performance and gold medal in the World Athletics Championships this summer, his Swansea Harriers club received lots of requests from youngsters wanting to follow in his footsteps on the track and join up.
My challenge to the key players in Welsh sport is, are we ready to capture this interest?
We all know we need an army of willing coaches and volunteers to make sure that children’s first experiences of sport is a positive, fun one. We need to start recruiting now.
The London 2012 torch relay route has recently been announced and I’m pleased to see that Wales features so prominently, including a trip to the top of Snowdon.
I’ve been delighted to hear about the different community events that will be held as the torch travels through the country. We must all bear in mind that the opportunity to use the power of this event to encourage more young people to get involved in sport is one we must grasp.
There are numerous ways in which people can get involved, but in many cases we have to act sooner rather than later to avoid being left behind. For example, schools have until December 16th to join-up to the Get Set Network – the official education programme for London 2012. By joining up, Welsh schools can guarantee a share of Olympic and Paralympic tickets for their pupils.
However, it concerns me that only just over 10% of schools in Wales are fully signed up to this scheme (figure from early November). This means our schoolchildren will miss out, with tickets being shared out across the UK. A pupil from England, Scotland or Northern Ireland will be watching an event live when it could have been someone from a Welsh school.
I could not let this opportunity go by without mentioning the fantastic performance of our team at the Rugby Union World Cup. Warren Gatland and his players and staff gave the nation such a lift and proved that hard work and dedication can bring rewards.
Wales again outmuscling much larger nations to show we are a sporting nation that can compete at the very top level.
When you see 60,000 people in the Millennium Stadium at 8.30 on a Saturday morning to watch rugby on a big screen, no-one can dispute the impact of sport.
I was lucky enough to see some of the GB Boccia Championships held at the National Centre in Cardiff a few weeks back. 36 of the best players in the UK converged on Cardiff to take each other on for the ultimate title – GB Champion.
In the BC2 group, Andrew Williams from Mold, North Wales, took gold with a 4-3 final win. In the BC3 class, Jacob Thomas from Pembrokeshire grabbed another Welsh win, while Swansea’s Rhodri Tudor took a bronze in the BC1 event. Fantastic achievements and a credit to them and all those who have helped get them to this level. I look forward to seeing more of their achievements.
Most recently, Andrew Selby and Fred Evans secured places on the boxing team for London 2012 – two fighters on an Olympic team being another first for Wales.
As the countdown clock to Glasgow 2014 ticked under 1000 days to go, it reminded me of the targets and aspirations we have set for sport in Wales.
I will not let us slip from our Vision to get every child hooked on sport for life and create a nation of champions. We must continually look to up our game, try new approaches and focus on what we need to do to be successful.