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Is Your Child Getting Their 60 Minutes A Day?

Hold onto your seats because the Government have found out what prevents child obesity...eat less & exercise more!  Although over the past number of years we have seen local Council's put up more 'No Ball Games' signs & charge higher commercial rates to use public facilities to operate classes for children by skilled coaches.  At the same time schools are investing less time for children to get active in school through the demise in P.E..  With health & safety issues children in many schools are not even allowed to play in the playground.

Signs like these have our children playing less & less in the streets

What is the Government doing?  Well through the Public Health Agency they are launching a bold new campaign to get the 60 minutes a day message across to parents, carers & children.  This autumn, all primary schools in Northern Ireland will receive...

Well this is the point you expect them to say they have invested money for qualified coaches to come into schools & get children active through falling in love with a sport.  You know, they get motivated & then want to do this sport away from school as well...or maybe they will invest the money in educating teachers within each school to deliver a structured programme for kids to enjoy & get active.  This sounds great & sounds so simple but the Government & Public Health Agency have come up with their own answer to get children active...what?  Well they are producing a book!

With almost three quarters of 8-11 year-olds in Northern Ireland not getting the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity each day we need more than a bloody book by the Government!  We need the Government to support & promote the quality organisations & coaches out there currently operating physical activity classes not work against them.

Carrickfergus Borough Council.

2 September 2010, I was in court for running an award winning Toddler Soccer & Mini Soccer class in Carrickfergus Leisure Centre.  In short the Leisure Centre closed down to be re-developed.  We had been operating our class for boys & girls aged 2-13 for 4 years.  Even when the Leisure Centre closed we continued our class outdoors on hard court tennis courts & continued to pay the same rate we had always done.

Then the brand new centre opened & we moved inside again.  At the end of the first month we received an invoice double to what we had been paying.  I brought this straight up with the Council.  We had councillors informing us to pay what we had always agreed to pay & what was agreed on our signed booking form.  Even though I had sent cheque payment for what we agreed they would not accept.  This ended up with the Leisure Centre staff refusing entry to our 2 year olds.  They stood crying in the rain not understanding why they couldn't play football.  We had a council that would not allow their residents to walk through their door to play football.  They no longer allowed a group that always paid their bill straight away, not taking the 30 days credit facility, who operated in good practice - qualified coaches, background checked staff, child protection, first aid & insured to continue their programme.

So in their wisdom they took us to court!  I honestly can't put together in words how stressed, disappointed & frustrated I was to say that I came from Northern Ireland.  A country that has many evil people who have carried out such brutal things but here I was...a football coach getting children active & trying to make a honest living being taken to court...makes you think!

The Result...

The judge was shocked at the findings...

  • She could not understand a Northern Ireland Council that was against an organisation that operated classes for children to get active.
  • An organisation that insured their programme was operated correctly (qualified coaches with all child protection issues put in place)
  • A business that paid their bills early & operated all year round - 'surely this is the kind of user that centres love'!
  • A council who went back on their word & doubled the hire rate by scribbling down new rates at the top corner of my booking form AFTER it had been signed.
  • The 'Sports Development Officer' who wrote the new rates could not even read his own writing at the court case to confirm what he had written!

So the case was thrown out & the court ruled in my favour.  The cheque which I had written with the agreed rates months previous was eventually cashed.  Yet I was still not welcome back in the Leisure Centre & had to take my programme 'underground'.

Northern Ireland

Other studies in Northern Ireland have found the...

  • Standard of health in general is lower than the UK average.
  • Numbers dying from heart disease in Northern Ireland are amongst the highest in Europe.

So this is why that I am so frustrated in the way the country is run.  People in Northern Ireland don't like seeing anyone succeed...the powers that be hate to see anyone challenge them or think different.  They feel threatened & insecure.  That is why you see so many, 'Jobs for the Boys'.  You know, jobs that become available that legally these organisations have to advertise but you already know they have been filled with the usual suspects that continue to offer the same crap they have been for too long.

Has football in NI moved forward?Irish Football Association

I once went for a job in front of a 10 man committee with the IFA to be a Grassroots Development Coach.  I had a good interview but never got one of the positions.  I received a letter saying that I was one of the stronger candidates but they would not be taking me on board but I can organise an interview for feedback.

I did organise an interview for feedback but it was the biggest joke & waste of my time.  Upon walking into this individuals office I found it to be a complete mess.  Even though this meeting was scheduled he was in no way organised for me & couldn't find my notes from my interview.  Going through piles of paper work & hunting around like a bloody headless chicken I know he just picked up any file & let on it was mine!

My review & feedback was as follows; 'Question 1 was good as was your answer to question 2.  Question 3 not so good & question 4 good'.  What!  I asked why my answer was not so good to question 3 & was simply told some made up crap that I challenged him on as I know I covered the exact point he was getting at.  He seemed very uneasy when I challenged him & was dismissive.  He then simply tried to conclude the meeting & finished with saying, 'hopefully you got something out of this'.  Of course I replied straight away saying no.

Later in the year a child attended my own programme whose father recognised me from my interview.  He sat on the committee & told me that I wasn't offered one of the positions due to being over qualified & with what I had started with TW Sports (my coaching company)  I still to this day believe that all they want is robots that won't challenge their judgement.  Don't get me wrong there is some great coaches within the set up but I wonder.  It needs such a bloody shake up.  I remember meeting one of the Grassroots Development coaches in the Council offices.  He never likes talking to me & openly tells me he hates me & that my programme with Toddler Soccer is against the law as under 6's shouldn't play football!

I've also asked about getting involved with the Elite County programme but they like to keep that 'in-house'.  So for a UEFA A Licence coach with over 15 years experience who has developed a successful Academy at an Irish Premiership Club + an award winning programme can't get a look in within the County set up...what does that tell you?  Maybe it is because I am opinionated & speak out...they don't like that.

What they fail to address though is why so little of our youth talent is making it in the professional game.  Also the failure of our national team.  I am sick of hearing the same post match interviews of, 'we'll dust ourselves down, pick ourselves up & fight & battle'.  The excuses that we are a small nation.  Let's talk facts.  Why not improve the education & the technical ability of our players?  One fact we can't get away from is the failure of beating Faroe Islands away during this campaign.  This is a place that has more bloody sheep than people!

Prevention better than cure

I travelled to Holland 2 years ago and listened to a very interesting presentation by the Mayor of Oss.  I compare how the Dutch Council’s compare to our Council’s in Northern Ireland…

Prevention better than cure...Oss is a city with 9 villages and small towns.  With 77,000 inhabitants & 125 nationalities, the Council insures plenty of activity for all.  The facilities on offer and sporting opportunities on offer is too much to mention in this report.  Although one fact which I will mention is that they spend €256 million (£233m) on sports funding each year.  On average they will spend €69 (£63) per person per year on sport!

How refreshing to see a Council wanting to provide for the community and work with sporting business’, sports clubs and organisations.

The Dutch Council was shocked that my local Council, the capital of Northern Ireland, Belfast, does not promote my sports development programme.  I have touched on the subject before but Belfast City Council and a number of ‘our’ Councils will not support private run organisations – even my own award winning business.

Don't get me wrong SportNI have provided great facilities across Northern Ireland but are they affordable for user groups & are they being used by the qualified & experienced coaches to develop local talent?

Belfast City Council & the Alliance Party

It has been refreshing to see the Alliance Party take an interest in my programme.  Naomi Long, Chris Lyttle & Judith Cochrane (MLA's) have taken time out their busy schedules to come along & view our programme.  They love what we do & are trying to support us through contacting Council's & the Minister of  Culture, Arts & Leisure.

It is going to be a long road.  I need to speak out.  People & organisations won't like that but they already hate me so it makes little difference.  Recently funding was put in place for me to operate in the lower Falls area of Belfast with low income families in an initiative to get fathers playing football with their toddlers.  The Education board stopped funding after consultation with the Irish Football Association as they say it is against the law for under 6's to play football.

So even though my Toddler Soccer programme has won awards & I am author to, 'Toddler Soccer the Essential Guide', that has sold in over 20 different countries this programme was cancelled.  It was cancelled by the same people who talk hot air about getting children active!

Along with this I have had to deal with Belfast City Council not allowing me to hire Leisure Facilities provided for the rate payers that reside in the City.  Even if I do manage to get past the bookings officer and they accept a booking from me, in one of Belfast’s 11 Leisure Centres, they will charge £100 per 45 minute slot per week.  Yes you did read that right…..£100 per week!  If that is not enough to hinder me thinking about starting a programme for children that will develop their football skills along with their social skills and improve their health they charge a further £2 per child attending!

So for me to take a group of 20 children I would have to pay Belfast City Council £140 per week.  Or, if you like, £840 per 6 week term.  That would result in charging each child £7 per 45 minute class!  But how do I pay my coaches, insurance, equipment, petrol & support my family?  Well I would have to charge more!

Honestly, drug dealers get more freedom to operate in Belfast than my youth development programme that is open to all.  This country will never change; it will always remain a culture of, ‘who you know’ and ‘who you are’.  Although the lack of support and hatred I receive from Councils and Sports ‘Development’ officers is a compliment.  They are jealous of a successful programme that is run by a talented group of coaches – its competition!

I can’t find any information on what Belfast City Council spends on sport and leisure.  Although some interesting and confirmed facts that I found on their website (Belfast City Council) and from the Belfast Telegraph include the following;

  • 11 Leisure Centres operated by Belfast City Council.
  • £41 million loss in last 5 years, despite more than £50 million of rate payer’s money invested.
  • Not one Leisure Centre made profit or came close to breaking even.
  • Between 2002-2007 £53 million of public money was put into keeping the 11 facilities open.

Belfast City Council also claims the following;

  • Giving young people a sound start in sport.
  • Encouraging and supporting good relations.
  • Promoting physical activity and leisure.

Personally I can’t agree with any of the statements above.  They will argue back that I’m a business & I’m out to make money?  Well of course I need to make money; I have a family including 3 children to support!  Maybe Belfast City Council want higher poverty rates throughout the province.  Maybe they just want private ventures like my own to help recoup the millions that they are throwing away through poor management.

I could offer a long list of benefits what TWSports.Org offers through their inclusive and innovative products that are open to all.  That introduces toddlers from the age of 2 to sport.  Educating the importance of a healthy lifestyle; children and parents mixing socially; giving children more responsibility & freedom to be creative and develop their technical skills – oh, and developing young coaches and offering employment in the middle of a recession.  But that sounds too good to be true.

I am realistic that my programme is successful due to the hard work that my staff and I put in but more importantly the continued support we receive from parents, children, schools and other Councils and organisations in Northern Ireland that want to work with us.

I hope the Alliance Party can assist in us to develop our programme so we can reach out to more children & parents across Northern Ireland.

Conclusion...

Our European counterparts who actively invest in prevention rather than cure is refreshing to see.  They insure they get kids active while we as a nation send a book in they send a coach in!  The money & cuts from sport (especially within schools) will mean further money being spent on hospitals to 'cure' the problem.  With more 'no ball game' signs being put up around the country & parents not allowing their kids to play outside due to 'stranger danger' is resulting in a ticking time bomb.

Even in my own son & daughters school they ban skipping ropes & footballs due to health & safety.  Will we start to see parents out live their children?  That is one serious concern.

I got a tweet the other day from someone that used to live in Northern Ireland who has moved his family to Australia.  'Pathetic small mindedness & religious/political influence has completely ruined Northern Ireland.'  Although my blog may highlight the negatives & it certainly won't make me many friends but I simply wanted to share the ongoing nonsense that I personally have to deal with on a daily basis.

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