Welsh schools are currently worried about their youngsters’ health and activity levels after the government’s £160m cuts in sports funding. If all of them had Sporting Marvels, they probably wouldn’t be.
By Thore Haugstad
Based in the Rhondda Valleys, Sporting Marvels is an initiative that sends Christian role models out into schools and church communites to work with youngsters through the medium of sport.
These ‘Sporting Marvels’ have inspired change among Rhondda’s youngsters and reinforced values such as healthy living, strong character and care for other people and the community as a whole.
Having started seven years ago, the initiative now works with three comprehensive schools and 15 primary schools.
Sports icons such as Adrian Garvey, Chris Singleton as well as the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams have all backed the initiative while local police and head teachers are said to be “ecstatic” about their influence on the local community.
Sporting Marvels Chief Executive Phil Davies, said: “What we try to do is to help kids deal with some of the pressures of society and show them that there is an alternative way to live their life.
“We have a team of positive role models who are young, sporty, handsome on-fire type individuals able to relate directly with young people because they’re not very old.
“The young people immediately identify with them because the sporting marvel brand is very well known up here now. It’s becoming cool to be associated with the Sporting Marvels.”
Sporting Marvels are, as they say themselves, “strategic” in how they place their role models. Their special All-star program is designed to target youngsters who are leaders of their peer groups, the idea being that these people will again influence their own friends once connected with the initiative.
And with 4000 youngsters currently involved in their activities, it seems to be working.
According to their website, Sporting Marvels have 18 marvels from Wales and overseas, although Mr Davies says he was conscious of recruiting people exclusively from overseas in the very beginning.
“When we started, all the marvels came from overseas from places like South Africa, America and Australians,” he said.
“The reason we brought people in from overseas was because you can’t change your mindset with people who are part of the mindset. You need an outside influence.”
Many youngsters who were recruited five or six years ago are now teaching kids about the values of life themselves, meaning that more and more of the marvels are people from the Rhondda community.
This represents a cycle in which home grown people can be inspired and in turn inspire others as they get older. In these economically difficult times where schools worry about the health and fitness of youngsters, Wales can only hope Rhondda’s Sporting Marvels is the first of many.