Monday, November 27, 2017

Scotland’s ticking health time bomb, apparently we are a nation of couch potatoes despite £500 million a year ploughed in to taking part in sport, the lack of tuition, lack of instructors and cost of tuition puts exercise beyond Joe Public, politicians might ask the questions but in this case at Holyrood, they don’t know the answers

Dear All

Back in the day, in my youth by a quirk of fate, I ended up as a fitness trainer; my first teaching experience was at Bellahouston Sports Centre where I taught karate to kids. The reason I was teaching was there was apparently a shortage of instructors, so I ended up with the task of teaching a class and getting the kids ready to pass ‘gradings’.  As it happened, I had a flair for teaching and patience, when you teach a class of kids, you need patience.

After awhile, I ended up at Glasgow University, and as fate would have it, a friend asked me to take her to the gym because she didn’t feel comfortable about going alone, and since I was training at the time, I said okay I will show you how to use the machines, and the free weights.

Next thing I know I am knee deep in women apparently I was thought to be brilliant, prior to coming to university, I trained in the gym at Bellahouston in the days of Bobby Preston, who was quite a character and lifter. The powerlifting club there was regarded as one of the best in Glasgow and beyond.

When you get serious about anything you want to find out as much about it as possible, so as well as training and teaching a large part of my time was spent reading up on the technical aspects of weighting. I used a system called EDIP, which if you have been in the military this word is familiar to you.

EDIP, Explain, Demonstrate, Immitate, Practice, this is a tried and tested method of teaching which a lot of other systems use a version of to impart knowledge.  

After awhile, I realised that although my training partners were regarded as pretty good, there was something else that they needed as well to understand the core subject properly, they needed to learn how to teach themselves. University has a wealth of IQ floating around the place but that doesn’t always translate into practical application. My training partners were regarded very highly in the gym due to them being the elite of the University. Later on, I would end up getting fitness qualifications which are always useful because certain people value the ‘piece of paper’ rather than the experience of the individual, however I had in depth knowledge and the paper to back it up.

The biggest drawback in getting Scots involved in sport is and always will be availability of tuition. One of the guys who I taught at University works in London, his time is expensive; he charges the going rate which is £50 a hour. In council facilities and in private gyms, a basic personal trainer charge can set you back £25 per hour, the cost of learning isn’t cheap. Most people unless they have someone like me tend to adopt the sink or swim approach, and when they get going for a while ask other members how to do exercises or just watch someone and then try to copy them. This leads to a high turn over in gym memberships as people without the access to learning and instruction simply don’t see progress and therefore the gym becomes just another thing to them.

A lot of money has been ploughed into making Scots active, £500million a year, but despite throwing cash at the problem, and building facilities which some ‘ignorant’ politicians then claim is ‘world class’, most Scots claim too embarrassed to take part in sport or worried that it’s too elite.

Too embarrassed by lack of knowledge and no real help, and think it is too elite is also a myth as well, training is something which can be learned, what is the first step?

Getting people to turn up!

My classes at University were always full, this is because I as a coach in the GUSA taught for free, and I also taught students for free elsewhere. Politicians don’t understand the problem, if they did they would realise that facilities need instructors and instructors build the gym community, so the pool of knowledge spreads outwards. Pumping hundreds of millions of pounds of public cash into physical recreation and then finding out that the number of Scots taking part in sport or recreational activity has stagnated is an old story.

Although politicians and others talk about the creation of a “legacy of sport” after high profile events like the 2014 Commonwealth Games, it is the person who teaches who comes in on a Friday night in the pissing rain to teach a class for free or paid that is the real legacy which should be helped and supported. Holyrood’s Health and Sport Committee

This lot don’t know what they are talking about and never did, which is why explaining anything to them is a waste of time and why there will always be a lack of public response to the massive investment. Imagine the amount of money that could be saved if people had the mental tools (knowledge) to lead a healthy lifestyle, the NHS would certainly benefit as would other services which the public access.

Convener Neil Findlay MSP said:

“We are disappointed that overall participation figures have remained fairly stagnant over the past decade. We look forward to a response from the Scottish Government to tell us what its plans are to increase participation rates and to hear what lessons have been learned over the past decade".

Lessons learned?


As well as the cost of tuition, to be decent, you have to add in the cost of buying the equipment or clothing for the activity that you want to engage in, sport isn’t cheap. If add in the cost of membership, you are paying a good bit of money. Here is an example which I selected at random.

This gym charges £46 a month, and that doesn’t include tuition however you do get a very basic induction usually done by a young person who might be a sport science graduate who needs a job.

Holyrood is good at generating paper but when it comes to solutions, their knowledge just isn’t there, the Sport for Everyone Phase 2 report looked into why some Scots adults were failing to achieve the Chief Medical Office physical activity guidelines of 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise a week, 150 minutes of moderate intensity or a combination of both.

Just as some people don’t have the will for different reasons, there is a lack of political will, as to council facilities, they cater to the lowest common denominator, much like the equipment. Although Councils like to say their facilities are world class that is in the main just risible.

Feedback to the committee revealed many Scots who opt out of physical activity do so because they are too embarrassed and worried they might “look foolish, especially in large leisure facilities or palaces of sport.

Basically as I said; no knowledge; cast adrift and left to sink or swim, getting a trainer or coach is a serious business especially when you can get one for free and they are half decent. A lot of time and energy is needed to get someone trained up, it doesn’t just happen, it is planned out and training outcomes established.

So, what is a training outcome in exercise, let’s use weight training as an example, it could be more knowledge, lifting more weight, doing more repetitions, cutting down rest time between ‘sets’.

Sets are a series of repetitions ranging from one rep and upwards.

When I was at school, I wasn’t interested in sport, the reason was the school wasn’t educated much beyond fitba and netball. The PE teachers were old men who were basically passing their time until retirement; they had lost their ability if they ever had it in the first place.

There is a theory that sport is elitist and is lacking in positive role models, we see the Olympics and marvel at this, but getting someone to the Olympics isn’t cheap, these people needed to be funded, and that is why it is seen as elite. It seems that ‘yahoo okay ya’ mob always seem to get to the front of the queue when the cash is handed out, not the wee guy down the end of the street.

And it is usually the wee guy down the end of the street who then goes onto teach others for free but generally without the support and recognition.

The problem is knowledge, the solution is provide instructors, the mechanisms to get that in quantities required to make an impact aren’t developed, if you can’t get taught and access tuition, you don’t have the same connection as those who do.

In my entire time teaching at Glasgow University as an instructor, I wasn’t paid a penny, not even expenses but I did turn out an elite product unlike the university paid staff that turned out an inferior product, so much so some ended up asking my trainees for help.

Yours sincerely

George Laird
The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University

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