Schools system must find stars of future -- Gillick
THERE are champions hidden in those classrooms.
That is the belief of former two-time European Indoor 400m champion David Gillick who believes the Aviva Health schools fitness challenge pioneered by DCU's Professor Niall Moyna has the capacity to unearth future individual stars who will win international medals for Ireland.
"When I was in school it was hugely about team sports. Even when you went for PE class, if the weather was bad you were indoors, kicking a ball around. That was mainly what PE was for me," said the Dundrum South Dublin star.
"There was never anything like 'alright lads we're going to jump into a sandpit today or let's see who's the fastest in the class?' or stuff like that," said Gillick, who believes that a lot of potential future stars are being overlooked because of the concentration on team sports.
"This programme could definitely unearth talent that is being lost to Irish athletics or other Olympic sports," he added.
"I hold firmly to the belief that there's champions out there in our classrooms, we just have to provide them with the opportunity to get out and run and jump and try other things.
"If we can use physical education classes to get at that promise and expose it to all sorts of sport we will find great talent.
"This project is not only useful from a healthy lifestyle ethos and the skills it can give kids to use throughout their lives but it can also help them find where their talent lies best."
But Gillick warned it will not work if PE teachers do not explore a broad variety of sports with their pupils.
"If PE is on the curriculum there's got to be a clear system in place of things to be covered. There's no point in having something like this if you play Gaelic (football) every week just because you're in a Gaelic school.
"There's got to be core stuff covered with kids and they have to be allowed explore lots of sports and see what they're good at and if it means bringing in athletes, whether it's someone like me or a Gaelic or rugby player to help with that then let them do it."
The Aviva initiative, which began in Irish secondary schools last year, saw some teenagers make extraordinary improvements in their basic fitness levels alone.
"We saw phenomenal improvements in just a six-week intervention," said Dr Sarah Kelly, an exercise physiologist based in IT Carlow who is one of the programme monitors.
"The best boys school improved by 60pc and the most improved girls' school improved by 133pc which is remarkable in that time period.
"We had 8,000 first and second-year schools students take part last year but we are opening it up to third years this year also and hope the numbers will shoot up further," she added.
The project is part of the Wellness Economic Alliance initiative which Professor Moyna has developed at DCU's Centre for preventive medicine and he called again yesterday for the Government to make physical education a core examinable subject in secondary schools.
Research with 205 teachers in 13 counties found that 80pc of them believed that PE should be an exam subject.
The deadline for entry into this year's schools' challenge is January 17.
Schools will then have until January 31 to register the results of their bleep tests and then undertake six-weeks training before re-testing and prizes for sports equipment are available in several categories. All details are available at avivahealth.ie/fitnesschallenge