Initiative aims to boost youth shinty

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The Camanachd Association is pushing ahead with a two-pronged initiative to increase the number of children playing shinty in all parts of Scotland.

This is the Scottish Year of Young People and the Camanachd Association, in its 125th year, is keen as part of its ongoing drive to increase participation in shinty to encourage more young people to play the game.

Initial talks have already taken place at a specially arranged meeting with Highland Council head of education Jim Steven to discuss the importance of schools and clubs working together to grow participation in shinty and how this can best be achieved. Also present at the meeting were Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP Kate Forbes, Camanachd Association chief executive officer Derek Keir and John Finlayson, a former Skye Camanachd player and manager who is both a Camanachd Association director and a councillor with Highland Council, who organised the meeting.

There were discussions around the many different approaches available to grow the game in line with the Camanachd Association’s strategic plan, with input from schools and, with the support of Ms Forbes and other MSPs, it is hoped to raise the profile of the game and offer support to schools from the Camanachd Association’s development staff.

Mr Finlayson said: ‘The meeting clearly demonstrated the will to support and empower schools and communities to offer young people of all ages the chance to take part in a sport that promotes health and wellbeing, friendships and a pathway in a game which, while it can offer representative opportunities, still has its roots in local communities. We also want to ensure sustainability at club level and having more youngsters playing shinty will obviously support the development of pathways for player progression. It would be great to see more schools working with our development officers and having shinty as part of the school curriculum. The support being offered by Camanachd staff will be available throughout Scotland.’

Mr Keir said: ‘The first experience many young people have in sport comes through the school environment. Therefore, in order to broaden the number of young people experiencing shinty, we are offering CPD (continuing professional development) for teachers across Scotland to provide the training required to ensure that every first experience in shinty is positive and it connects with a pathway into a local club.’

Ms Forbes added: ‘Children in the Highlands and beyond don’t get enough opportunities at school to try out shinty and pursue the sport.

‘The future of the sport and the competitiveness of the leagues are dependent on children inheriting our love of the game. That is why I was delighted to meet, at John Finlayson’s suggestion, with himself, Derek Keir of the Camanachd Association and Jim Steven at Highland Council.

‘It was a very productive meeting with us working together to identify ways of promoting the game to ensure there are enough opportunities for young people to play shinty at school level and as part of PE.’

One of the outcomes from the meeting is that Camanachd Association director Lyndsay Bradley will speak at a head teachers’ conference and highlight where the Camanachd Association can provide support through their development officers who are keen to open communications with the schools. There will be benefits all round as there is a feeling among head teachers that pupils’ involvement in extra-curricular activities such as shinty not only have health benefits but also have a positive effect on improving pupil attainment.

The second phase of the initiative is a specially arranged forum which takes place at the Ben Nevis Hotel, Fort William, on Sunday September 2.

The forum is billed as a major opportunity to shape the future of shinty and the topics for discussion include whether the Schools Camanachd Association should be re-established as a separately constituted body with office-bearers and separate financial accounts. Alternative models will be considered such as a Camanachd Association Schools Working Group or Committee or indeed whether the current Camanachd Association Youth Working Group should be extended to administer youth and schools.

Other topics for discussion include the long-term player development of primary and secondary school aged players and their participation in festivals, tournaments and single fixtures and whether these should take place at area, regional, district or national level.

Competition entry criterion is also sure to be at the fore given recent controversy regarding the primary school age MacKay Cup competition.

The forum starts at 1pm and all interested parties are welcome. The views from the forum will be collated and considered by the Camanachd Association Youth Committee.

This initiative comes at the same time as the Camanachd Association has advertised for a marketing and communications organisation to develop and raise the profile of shinty.