A team of quality coaches has been assembled at the British School in Abu Dhabi with the task of developing raw talent into sporting stars of the future.
Experts brought into UAE school to nurture talent
An international squad of coaches has been assembled by an Abu Dhabi school seeking to merge sporting success with academic achievement.
The British School Al Khubairat has nearly all the bases covered as experts have been brought in to guide pupils in an array of athletic pursuits.
Colin Wells, until recently the coach of the country's senior cricket squad, has been given the task of nurturing raw talent into potential successors to Andrew Strauss, Ricky Ponting and Graeme Smith in the Test arena.
Wells joins Lyn Jones, the former Welsh rugby union international wing-forward, Kellie Cogdon, a former England schools netball player and Mike Edgar, who represented Scotland schools at hockey, in forming an experienced band of specialist coaches.
The team has been assembled by Paul Coackley, the school principal.
He stressed the importance of making sport a vital part of extra-curricular activities for children to accompany their academic studies.
"If you can find an outlet for things you want to do then school becomes a much more interesting place," Coackley said. "I think it is no different for children than it is for adults. You want to find things outside your working life that give you pleasure.
"Education is a bigger picture than just what goes on in the classroom. The children are here from 7.30am and many of them stay around until 5pm taking part in sporting and other activities. Busy children are happy children."
Wells, a South African-born all-rounder who represented the English counties of Sussex and Derbyshire and won England caps in one-day internationals, is relishing his new role, having replaced Richard Illingworth, who has returned to England to enhance his career as an international umpire.
"There are different challenges here," said Wells, who gave up his national team post in July. "The way the structure of the UAE cricket scene is I had taken the squad as far as I could take it, so it was time to look for pastures new."
An unfamiliar difficulty for Wells is coping with the lack of a definitive cricket season at schoolboy level.
The climate in this country dictates that all outdoor sports take place in the cooler months, so he finds himself in opposition to other coaches in the hunt for the best recruits.
"Cricket clashes with everything here and that's a problem but we get round it," he said. "We try to play the games on different days.
"This is a big school numerically. You find the same pool of talent in pupils who will be involved in more than one sport.
"There are very few people in the UAE who make a professional career out of sport so it is more about providing them with an opportunity to play the various games and then hoping that the really good ones go on to make the grade."
Jones, capped by Wales on six occasions in the 1990s, arrived in Abu Dhabi 15 months ago and is already seeing the fruits of his labours.
"I think there is sufficient interest in schools rugby for us to produce a team who could play against Dubai," he said. "That would be a significant step forward in the development of the game in the UAE."
Jones, who coached the Ospreys and the Newport Gwent Dragons in Wales, is passing on his knowledge to students aged from eight to 18, added: "Rugby helps the students with their academic studies.
"You tend to find that people come to rugby because the values attached to the sport are very strong. It attracts good children."
Cogdon, one of the most respected names in netball coaching in the north east of England, regards her main objective as developing netball in a country where it is not regarded as the first sport for girls.
"Netball is quite big in Australia, New Zealand and Britain so we are helped by the fact that we have a good representation from those countries in the school," she said.
"We have a massive mixture here and we are looking at about 300 in total from the various age groups. At the moment we don't allow boys to play but the sport is developing in certain parts of the world as one that boys are starting to play."
A few of the girls in Cogdon's classes are Emiratis and she is keen to push them on to a higher level.
"The UAE don't have a national squad yet but if we can increase the participation at grass-roots level that will surely help," she said.
Edgar, as well as being a hockey specialist, is also the British School's director of sport and he admits to having his hands full fitting the various pieces of what he regards as a massive jigsaw to cater for the various preferences of his pupils.
"I think during this year we should see the first competitive fixtures between Abu Dhabi schools and Dubai schools in rugby, football and netball," he said.
"The schools from the two emirates are now working much closer together than in the past and that is really encouraging."
The school has not yet installed a specialist football coach. The principal feels football comes naturally to schoolchildren and is the easiest of the popular games for boys and girls to learn. Many are showing an interest in playing in the embryonic junior leagues.
"We have a huge set-up for football," Coackley said. "We have got a lot of staff who play football. It tends to be a game that takes care of itself. It doesn't need a lot of coaching at an early age.
"Other sports tend to be more technical and need more specialist coaching. But football is still probably the biggest game in the school from a point of the number of players - boys and girls - taking part.
"We are trying to develop the infrastructure within the city so there is a medium for children to take part in competitive sports at a variety of levels.
"Our philosophy is we like to win but the key element is to play for pleasure. We are trying to promote participation. And I think we are succeeding."