England international bowler, John Rednall, reports on a fantastic junior recruitment initiative in Kesgrave.
Those who read my monthly articles for this worthy publication will realise by now that I am passionate about introducing young people to the sport of bowls. Shortly after taking my English Bowls Coaching Scheme Instructor’s exam in 1985, I formed junior sections at Mid Suffolk IBC and led 14 successful years of coaching Ipswich juniors. Since then, I have gone on to work at the Bowls England Junior Academy and Coach Bowls initiatives.
I’m proud to say I’m not the only one on a mission to provide opportunities for juniors in our locality. Two of my former juniors are just as actively involved; Mark Royal has done a lot for youngsters for years, organising tournaments, events and sponsorships, while Lee Calver, now a fully-fledged senior international, has set the ball rolling in Leiston and Felixstowe as a sports coach in schools. The brilliant June White (Thurlton BC) has successfully taught hundreds of children, indoors and out in the north of the county.
The latest member of the junior recruitment team is Aaron Giles, who has spearheaded the dynamic and incredibly successful after-school outdoor junior bowls club in Kesgrave, just outside Ipswich. Aaron, a keen and proficient bowler himself, is a teacher at the nearby Heath Primary School, located just a two-minute walk away from the excellent community sports and recreation facilities on the Grange Farm development.
At Heath Primary, all teaching staff are encouraged to arrange extra-curricular activities and enrichment opportunities. Aaron had the foresight and dream of providing highly inclusive bowls sessions for the Year 4, 5 and 6 children and the results have been amazing.
This new junior club has been created with the children voluntarily coming forward to register their interest. They are there because they want to be there, not as part of their Physical Education entitlement. Both systems work well, but the heath initiative proves that when we provide the stimulus, raise curiosity, provide equipment and time, youngsters will flood through the gates. The behaviour has been exemplary, levels of concentration consistently high and the competitive nature of future champions exuding from hungry to improve learners.
When Aaron asked me to lead the coaching, which takes place from 3.20 until 4.20 every Wednesday afternoon, he asked me what numbers I envisaged signing up. I answered that I would be happy to work with a minimum of four learners. Aaron advertised the venture and before he knew it, some 28 children had signed up. We also decided to try to encourage parents and grandparents of the children to come along and take part, the result being eight parents, teaching assistants and lead teacher, Mrs McConnell. In addition to these great numbers, 24 more children have already signed up for the next course. And the list is growing as the current crop of stars of the future tell their friends and families.
At the time of writing, the children had just enjoyed their fifth session and were interviewed by BBC Radio Suffolk sports producer Graeme Mac who watched and interviewed a good number of the participants. Graeme then condensed the content into a 16 minute feature on junior bowls for the Thursday night Sports Social programme which can also be viewed on BBC Sounds. Here are some excerpts from the feature:
Graeme: We are here at Kesgrave bowls Club. John, I’ve never seen a bowling green looking so colourful. Just set the scene for us.
John: Yes, it’s colourful indeed; we’ve got coloured hoops, we’ve got bean bags, sets of water-filled plastic boule and ten sets of Junior Ace bowls of various flecky colours that the children love. The first few sessions were on delivery technique. We do warm-ups, co-ordination exercises, any exercises that involve estimating distance and direction and weight and then we introduce them to the bowls and they’re really enjoying it.
Graeme: And Aaron, you were keen to make this happen.
Aaron: I teach Year 5 at Heath Primary School. I’m trying to bring sports into the job role. On my interview (four years ago) I mentioned bowls as I’m a keen bowls player myself, always have been; I got it from my dad and my grandad. It’s always been a family sport, but I’ve always been one to try to get that to the children out there as well because bowls is not really a sport that you see in schools. The sport doesn’t really get talked about so to try and get that next generation playing…. It’s been brilliant to get this bowls club going, especially with John helping out.
Graeme: What a job you’re doing. When you look about and you see the concentration on the children’s faces and how much they’re embracing this sport…. that must be a great feeling.
Aaron: Yes, it’s fantastic and seeing them all progress over the last five weeks, it’s just been wonderful to see and there’s such pride, both for myself and for Mrs McConnell (year leader) and for the school in general. And having all their parents and grandparents here, just to come along and watch or to get involved and get stuck in has been great. Mothers and daughters playing, fathers and sons and some grandparents as well. It’s been great having them all play together.
Also in attendance at every session has been the newly-crowned Bowls England Under 18s winner, Charlie Beeton who has earned his place to represent England in the British Isles Under 18s in Scotland in July. Charlie is a massive bowls enthusiast and has enjoyed demonstrating shots and exercises to the children; he has become a valuable member of the initiative and it won’t be long before he starts to take his coaching exams, I’m sure. The club has been most helpful too, providing members to oversee, guide and encourage.
So, how have the children and parents responded to the coaching sessions and their learning of a new sport?
Here are some of the quotes from Graeme Mac, the children and some of the children’s parents:
“I’ve really enjoyed learning a new skill. It’s been great playing with my friends from school.”
“It’s helped me have more patience.”
“Such a fantastic opportunity for the children to engage in a sport that isn’t (usually on their radar.”
“The sessions are real fun. I really like bowls. I’m getting good experience of this new sport I like.”
“It gets really competitive.”
“It’s very fun and enjoyable; it’s also very competitive though.”
“We get to play with our friends, and I get to practise with my grandad. I really like it, it’s fun and I like the designs of the bowls.”
“It’s fun to play against other people.”
“It’s great and it’s lovely that the adults can come as well and participate with their children and watch, it’s brilliant. I’d never actually played bowls before and I’ve really enjoyed it, so it’s been lovely.”
We have to realise that most of those taking part had never previously heard of lawn bowls. They did not know what to expect, whether they would enjoy the sessions, or if they would be any good. But they signed up and have enthused ever since.
Heath Primary School is rightly proud of the success of its new after school bowls club which features on its website. Well done to Aaron Giles for his idea which has come to fruition.
The children’s third session came the same day as they had taken their SATS tests and it was great to see them so relaxed after the tensions and rigours of exams. The fourth session was after a full day of OFSTED inspection. Hopefully, this enrichment opportunity will be mentioned in the report that follows.
Initiatives like this provide a massive injection of interest into our sport, as has the Bowls’ Big Weekend which has been so successful. If more schools, clubs and community hubs can embark on similar projects, we can provide the lifeblood for future generations of bowlers.
“The latest member of the junior recruitment team is Aaron Giles, who has spearheaded the dynamic and incredibly successful after-school outdoor junior bowls club in Kesgrave, just outside Ipswich”
Caption: John leading one of the coaching sessions