Marianne’s goal is to get children active

Active Schools Coordinator Marianne O'Brien
Active Schools Coordinator Marianne O'Brien

They might now be a distant memory for some, but Berwickshire’s new Active Schools co-ordinator said the London Olympics have had a lasting impact on Borders children.

Marianne O’Brien has not long been in the position she took over from former co-ordinator Magnus Moncrieff, but is already making positive strides in helping Berwickshire’s youngsters to find their sporting feet.

Marianne is Active Schools co-ordinator for the area she refers to as ‘the Duns cluster’- covering the likes of Chirnside, Swinton, Greenlaw and the town itself.

Originally from Dunbar, but now living in Edinburgh, Marianne said she knew the Borders was an area with a proud passion for sports but her main aim was to give youngsters an opportunity to try pursuits they don’t normally get to take part in.

“In this area the two sports that are most prominent are of course rugby and football but for those who aren’t particularly good at those or particularly sporty at all there are other sports to discover,” she explained.

“Kevin Cook, a Team GB fencer has been down from Edinburgh to take some sessions and such was the response that there’s now talk of him setting up a fencing club in Cockburnspath.

“As someone who’s loved sport all my life, I think children these days are very lucky with how many activities there are available for them to try. When I was at school we were lucky if we’d get an hour of hockey after school!”

Headlines such as ‘British children are lazier than ever ‘kids aren’t getting enough exercise’ have become common place in the media but while she didn’t want to generalise, former Dunbar Ladies hockey player Marianne said the Borders youngsters seem very keen to get active.

“As well as getting out there and meeting children at different events the main part of my job is organising the activities for them.

“And I find it very rewarding to see children’s faces when they are enjoying the different sports.

“I can’t speak for all children but I know the ones I’ve met so far all seem exceptionally keen to try as many sports as possible.

“It’s great for them to give something a go. As well as them keeping fit, for me it’s all about them having fun.”

The 2012 Olympics, while centered around London, made an impression on the whole of the UK and Marianne said it was clear that the event had struck a chord with local children.

“I think it created a buzz about sport in general she continued.

“Children were seeing sports they hadn’t seen before and became more aware of athletes they’d never heard of.

“We’ve introduced some of the sports to our programme - handball seems to go down well and the kids seem really keen to play water polo when we’re in the pool.

With all manner of sports now capturing children’s curiosity, Marianne admitted that finding the right number of instructors had proved difficult.

“Gymnastics has proved rally popular since the Olympics with every session we do selling out.

“Unfortunately at the moment we have one trained coach in the area but it would be fantastic to get some more.”

Working with local coaches and groups was something that Marianne said was essential and she was keen to strengthen links.

“There’s some great clubs in the area, most recently I’ve been working with Duns and Lennel tennis clubs to get some tennis sessions in primary schools.

“My job is very hands on and I absolutely love that part.

“As much as we’ve got our computers to try and pull everything together and arrange events, there’s nothing like actually getting out there and meeting the kids themselves.”

With summer not too far away, Marianne and her fellow school co-ordinators have been busy putting a varied programme of activities for children to get involved in during their break from school.

And as well as getting to play a sport they love or try something new, Marianne said going along to one of the activities was a great confidence builder.

“You see children coming in for the first session, realising they don’t know anyone and looking like they want to go home but by the end of the session they’re having a great time. Our programme leaders are great at bringing the children out of their shells.

“Sport is a great way of uniting people and building friendships and the focus of all of the activities is having fun.”

As well as being an Active School co-ordinator for Berwickshire, Marianne runs fitness classes in Edinburgh and said a lot of the sessions adults enjoyed were also ideal for children.

“One of the big things at the moment is Zumba and there’s a version for kids called Zumbatonic which we ran recently at Duns Primary with a local instructor. The pupils seemed to be loving it so it would be great to be able to do some more.

“It’s a very rewarding role and I take a lot of pride in my job. I’ve got a real passion for sport and it’s great to be able to share it. Getting kids involved in sport from a young age is a great thing as in some cases it can lead to a lifelong participation.

“It’s great that in a rural area like Berwickshire children still get to experience such a variety.”