By Graham Thomas
Those struggling to afford groceries in Wales are attending food banks, while some people who are worried they can’t afford to put their heating on this winter will be going to “warm banks” held at libraries and community centres.
But what if you’re young and can’t afford sport? Where’s the sport bank?
These are the kinds of pressing issues occupying the thoughts of the Youth Sport Trust – one of Sport Wales’ national partners. The organisation tries to empower young people with shaping a future where physical activity is available to all children and youngsters, but the cost of living crisis has sharpened concerns that some youngsters are missing out.
Given that background, it’s more important than ever to make sure that the voices of young people are being heard loud and clear, and one of the many ways in which the Youth Sport Trust aims to embolden young people is through the Young Ambassador Programme.
Supported by the Youth Sport Trust, and funded by Sport Wales, the scheme was first introduced in Wales in 2010 as a legacy of the successful bid to host the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
As well as increasing opportunities for young people to take part in sport, the programme has helped to develop a generation of well-rounded young leaders.
Now, ten years on from the Games, the programme has been reviewed and the Youth Sport Trust are working with Sport Wales as well as a newly-formed National Committee to develop a new vision for the programme.
Their proposals were recently shared at the National Young Ambassador Conference to gather feedback from young people, sport development officers from local authorities, national governing bodies and other national partners.
The idea is to ensure the ambassadors can have an impact in three key areas.
Firstly, there will be an aim for them to have more influence on stakeholders and affect their decision-making. That means making sure head teachers, PE leads or sports governing bodies involve and listen to the ambassadors to ensure the sporting activities being put on – in PE, extra-curricular or school sport time – are the ones young people actually want.
That might sound obvious, but in a changing world – as the Sport Wales’ Schools Sport Survey has shown – physical activity has to be relevant and attractive.
Steve Thomas, Wales Development Manager at the Youth Sport Trust, said: “If you cater and tailor the activity toward the demand and then get young people involved in facilitating that activity, then you have a better chance of creating an environment to sustain participation.”
Secondly, the ambition is for the ambassadors, as leaders, to organise and facilitate activities with their peers and not simply rely on teachers or coaches.
Thirdly, the ambassador should be able to inspire. The idea is that if you’ve got the right role models, then you can engage people and help inspire them to do at least some level of physical activity.
Among those role models is Jac Chapman, an 18-year-old student from Carmarthenshire who combines his law studies at Cardiff University with several roles within sport which include being a Youth Sport Trust Young Ambassador and chair of the Sport Wales Youth Panel, while he has recently returned from Qatar where he took part in a global youth conference representing the Football Association of Wales Youth Council.
Describing how much the Young Ambassador programme has meant to him, Jac said: “All of my experiences as a Young Ambassador have developed me as a coach, an advocate and as a person.
The experiences I have gained have also generated numerous opportunities and relationships which I have utilised to get to where I am today. I will forever be profoundly grateful for my time as a Young Ambassador and I would encourage any young person to embrace everything that the pathway has to offer.”
The YST are also attempting to be more involved in schools and colleges across Wales. There are plans to support active education through the Welsh Baccalaureate, school councils and other bespoke programmes.
The Trust are also currently involved in helping the Football Association of Wales to develop a new primary and SEN schools framework to ensure that more girls and boys continue to play and enjoy the game as a lasting legacy to Wales’ participation at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.