Sport in its purest form

IPSWICH has been bringing sport back to its purest form in the past few weeks - and it has helped restore the town's faith in its youngsters.

Stuart Watson

IPSWICH has been bringing sport back to its purest form in the past few weeks - and it has helped restore the town's faith in its youngsters.

Sport was designed with loyalty, team spirit and health in mind but too often these wholesome values are forgotten in a modern society filled with highly-paid mega-stars.

However, in a climate where Britain's youth are constantly criticised for misbehaviour and intimidation, Ipswich has proved that the power of sport can still be harnessed as a tool for combating such issues.

For the past four weeks of the school holidays a host of governing bodies and institutions have once again fully funded a packed schedule of sports so that youngsters could take part for free.

The programme of 'Game On' - consisting of the four different sports of martial arts, non-contact boxing, street dance and basketball - was launched last year and has combined with the longer-running summer football scheme known as 'Jumpers for Goalposts'.

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The result has been that, with some form of free coaching session available at virtually every hour of the day, the Suffolk Police have once again reported that recorded crime levels committed by and against youth in the town have been dramatically down on previous years.

“The whole idea of this project is to keep these kids off the streets and out of trouble and we've found that, if you give them something free to do, they are generally really good kids,” said Stuart Wall, one of the team of five football coaches that have been touring ten of the town's parks.

“The older ones have been very good at looking after the younger ones. They have become an extension of the coaching team really and have thrived on mentoring the younger players.

“There has been a really nice response with thank you cards and, as a coach, that has been hugely rewarding.”

A quick chat with some of the participants confirms as much. Josh Dowsing, 12, said: “It's been great fun, I've made loads of new friends, it has helped my football and the coaches have been brilliant.” Mayson Rayner, Sam Payne, Logan Day, Tom Winter, Curtis Jones and Nathan and Thomas Whitby, all aged between nine and 12, were quick to echo such sentiments.

All of the sports have stripped themselves down to their most basic versions and have put all of the emphasis on fun rather than improvement.

Boxing has been purely non-contact, there is no mention of working towards belts in the martial arts, while football has simply been just about a diverse mix of kids chucking their bags down as posts and playing.

Wall said: “At a couple of our sessions we have had a junior team training alongside us and the manager has come over and asked if there were any players of a certain age that were looking for a club.

“That's great, but we've found that this is not really what Jumpers for Goalposts is about. Most of the kids that we have seen have either already got clubs or are here just for the social kick-about.

“We have found that there are a lot of kids out there that are not interested enough to be involved in the structure of training and playing matches every week.

“That's why we have tried to make all these sessions as fun as possible. We are not very heavy on the coaching side of things, we just let them tell us what they want to do and let them get on with it.

“Hopefully now, once we are gone, they will continue to meet up at the same times.”

Claire Findlay, a community dance artist with Dance East, has provided the street dance sessions. She said: “Street dance gives youngsters the opportunity to try a new dance style with no pressure. It's pure fun. It's also a chance to mix with other children.

“A lot of kids see this sort of dance on pop videos and street dance has built up through hip hop culture. It's good exercise as well.”

Chiefly organised by Ipswich Borough Council and the government's social inclusion project Positive Futures, funding for the project - which comes in at an estimated £30,000 - has also come from Sport England, Suffolk County Council, Respect Task Force, Safer Neighbourhood, Dance East and the Extended Schools Offices.

Such has been the continuing success of the scheme that there are already plans afoot to provide a further week's worth of coaching in the October half-term this year.

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