It's time to bring back the 'Talent Scout'

Torbay Weekly

Usually, in this column, I try to tell a story. This week, I hope regular readers will forgive me for beating a drum to draw attention to a cause close to my heart!

During my 33-year stint as chairman of Torbay Sports Council, we had one golden rule which we regarded as sacrosanct... we would never allow our meetings to become 'talk shops'.

To help us avoid this fate, we always retained one agenda item entitled 'Initiatives' which made sure that we were always thinking of ways to make a physical contribution to the sporting community which we served.

One of the initiatives, which came from those meetings, was short-lived, but very successful.

'Talent Scout' offered all Year 5 and Year 6 schoolchildren in Torbay, the chance to show off their skills to coaches from local sports clubs.

Paignton Community and Sports Academy offered its sports facilities for a morning, and local clubs set up their own practice areas, and provided the coaches.

The idea was that the academy would invite every child aged nine to 11, in Torbay, to attend, and to choose four sports which they would like to sample.

Two could be their favourite sports, but the other two had to be sports which they had never tried before.

The clubs, for their part, had the opportunity to watch the youngsters use their equipment, to assess either their talent, or their enthusiasm, and to decide whether or not to make them an offer of membership.

A minimum offer could amount to one year’s free club membership, but those 'teaching clubs', like martial arts, and gymnastic clubs, who rely on fees to cover their costs, could offer a number of free coaching sessions instead.

In 2013, 170 youngsters, with their parents, turned up at the academy, and sampled 16 different sports! It was a sight which I will never forget.

The car park was full, and the sports hall was alive with that wonderful sound of young people having fun.

There was laughter and comradery between coaches and participants, and it was a day of pure joy for all of us who were involved.

At that session, over one hundred offers were made by clubs which included those specialising in soccer, rugby, cricket, table tennis, archery, karate, tennis, cricket, gymnastics and more.

Surely, any initiative that leads to more than 100 young people, of nine to 11, joining local sports clubs, in just one day, is worth retaining!

Thanks to the commitment of three inspirational teachers, Dave Carpenter, Jason Trevarthen and Nick Gillard, 'Talent Scout' was held again in 2014, and in 2015, each time with similar success.

In recent years, however, the hierarchy of local sport has changed, and this wonderful day has never been repeated since.

That well-known cricket enthusiast, Mark Faulkner, told me the story of how his club had always wanted to develop a colts’ team to ensure its future.

He explained that lots of young players had shown an interest in joining Chelston Cricket Club, over a number of years, but, until they had 11 of them, all at the same time, they couldn’t begin to arrange fixtures!

'Talent Scout' was the perfect answer, and in 2014, his club recruited a whole team in just one day!

In 2017, Malcolm Grant, from Brixham Archery Club, phoned to tell me that one of his young archers had been chosen to take part in a national competition, and had won a medal!

He said: “I thought I would let you know because she picked up a bow, for the first time, at our 'Talent Scout' stand, four years ago!”

Young people, from sporting families, tend to join local clubs at a very young age, whereas those from non-sporting backgrounds tend to join much later.

By the time they join, in their mid to late teens, they often find themselves a long way behind.

'Talent Scout' allowed aptitude to be spotted at an age when it can be properly developed.

Now, in 2021, most local sports clubs are finding their memberships diminishing.

As more and more mothers take full-time jobs, Saturdays are becoming 'family' days rather than 'sports' days.

Children are finding their 'kicks' indoors, from computer games, rather than outdoors, on the soccer pitches of Torbay.

How very sad that, 30 years from now, the writer of this column Retro Sport may well be recounting the highs and lows of his days playing 'Football Drama' in his living room, which overlooks an estate called 'Clennon Valley Business Park'.

I appeal to those who lead local sport to reverse this trend, and to rebuild the link between our wonderful Paignton Community and Sports Academy, and our local clubs.

'Talent Scout 2022' would be a great way to start!