ABU DHABI // A series of summer camps are aiming to develop the country's young talent and involve more children in sport. The camps - some mixed and others for girls only - are being run by Libra consulting and are taking place in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Utilising the many unused sporting facilities at schools including the Dubai British School and the Raha International School in the capital, the camps - which will have around 1,500 children through their doors this summer - aim to encourage more children to take part in sport.
The camps form the first extensive programme of their kind in the country, spearheaded under the patronage of Sheikh Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, the president of the Asian Chess Federation. Many children around the country do as little as one hour a week of physical education under the school curriculum and have limited access to some of the sports offered in the Libra camps, such as basketball and swimming.
Among the camps' coaches is the Australian triathlete and swimmer Mark Pringle. He has seen many children with potential to go to the "next level" of training and even become professional. But he was surprised to find one in five children who are coming to the camps cannot swim. "We are in one of the hottest countries in the world but some of these kids just don't get in the water," he said. "Swimming is more of a life skill. Once you've learned it you never forget it."
Damon Smit, another of the coaches, is developing the children's cognitive awareness and motor skills with a series of simple games focusing on skills which will help them with any sport later in their lives. "It's something to keep them active and a way to introduce them to the concept of an 'invasion' game. They have an opposition team and they have a target," he said of the objective. He said that with mixed groups it was important to find a "common ground" between the children to ensure they were all keen and involved.
"Most of the girls don't want to play rugby," he said. "But then you come up with games they all feel a part of." In any sport there is an element of defence and attack so his range of team games aims to teach them both sides. "It's about building a foundation, something that they can take away and apply to any other sport," he said. David Jenns, the managing director of Libra, said that the introduction of sports for these children was the first step in getting them involved at a higher level.
"You don't need to be sports specific at this stage so it's a good introduction to things like possession and the concept of playing on a team. There are principles of defence and attack that they learn without having too much over-coaching." He said that often, children were "compartmentalised" into sports too early which could be detrimental for children who needed a broad range of activities in their formative years.
"Ryan Giggs is a great example, he could have been a great rugby player at a level he reached in football," he added. Anne-Marie Pigneguy, who has a daughter Chloe, nine, at Al Raha International School, said Abu Dhabi's summers had been lacking in educational activities for children and that some of the previous camps had been run by under-qualified staff. She and her husband have lived in Abu Dhabi for three years and had struggled to find suitable activities for their daughter until now.
She said that in the past some camps had not been involved in educating the children but had concentrated solely on sporting activities. But she had been concerned by a lack of qualified staff. She said: "It can lead to discipline problems or even worse when you don't have trained staff dealing with the kids. It can be dangerous." firstname.lastname@example.org