LITTLE Athletics: Kelly Holmes Wants It For Britain

Little Athletics has made a big difference
By Kelly Holmes
(Filed: 29/03/2006)

Australia’s Little Athletics movement started in Victoria in 1964 and now involves 95,000 schoolchildren. It began when one man saw the need for a Saturday morning competition to cater for all those too young to compete in senior athletics.

Its founder, Trevor Billingham, recognised this need one day in 1963, when three small boys turned up at an athletics meet in Geelong. They were ready to compete. On approaching an official they were told that they were too young to take part. That official was Billingham.

The disappointment of the three boys stayed with him. Several months later, at a coaching clinic which had been created for secondary school students, it was evident that most of the children there were of primary school age.

Reminded of his earlier experience, Billingham had an idea, and Little Athletics was born. The concept quickly took hold, and today it is known all over Australia. The future stars of many codes - including former Test cricketer Michael Whitney and sprinter Jana Pittman - started their sporting education under the banner of Little Athletics. In the 2003/04 season, nearly 36,000 Little Athletes were registered at over 200 centres throughout New South Wales alone. Taking into account the officials involved, there are close to 80,000 men, women and children taking part in the sport during summer.

The programme promotes “Family, Fun and Fitness” in a positive and healthy environment. The Olympic ideals of fair and open competition are embodied in its rules.

Children learn skills early, are given the correct running technique, and when they get a little older, they are taught about nutrition, how to use weights, and plyometrics. Even the under-six years group learn how to do all events, including shot putt, first with a bean bag and then very light shot. They compete from under-seven onwards.

Little Athletics is a great initiative, with lots of children having fun, although you can pick out the serious ones, too, even at a young age. I see no problem with getting young children involved in competitive sport. Rather like the Commonwealth Games, where many teenage athletes cut their teeth at a first major championships, I believe the younger we are educated physically, the better.

I took a Little Athletics session in Werribbee, Melbourne, earlier this week, and found a totally positive atmosphere - the kind of atmosphere in which champions can be created. One of the things I noticed was that so many parents stayed, or were involved in organising, coaching or officiating. It is important that we get this message across in Britain, and do not allow parents to feel they are ‘dropping off’ their children at an after-school sports club so they can get the shopping done. Families should be there for sport, providing support. Ask any successful sportsperson about their early years, and almost all will talk of sacrifices their parents made for them. I also believe that getting primary schoolchildren active should be one of the main focus points in improving British sport.