Q&A with Gabby Logan about children and sport

GabbyGabby Logan joined us for a Q&A in May 2011 to answer your questions about children and sport.

She is an ambassador for Lloyds TSB's National School Sport Week, which is hoping to get as many schools as possible participating and is offering parents and children a chance to win tickets to London 2012 and carry the Olympic Flame in the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay.

Gabby Logan is a former international gymnast, and has worked as a sports broadcaster since 1996. She hosts many programmes for BBC Sport, mainly focusing on football as well as a lunchtime show on BBC Radio 5 Live.

Competitive sports | Sport and PE in school | Special needs and sports | Other 

Competitive sports

Q. lljkk: My daughter is very good at swimming and the instructors are talking about her participating in the local competitive club, but she is afraid of competition pressure. Is there a way to make competition low-pressure, or is that pointless?

A. Gabby Logan: It's always very difficult when you're young to overcome the pressure that comes with competing. However, in my experience, once you've done it once, it becomes a lot easier and after a few times just feels natural. The best way to overcome pressure is for your daughter to just focus on her own goals for her swim and try to ignore the fact that she's taking on others.

It will be difficult at first, but once your daughter has done it once, she'll never look back. I remember Rebecca Adlington telling me that she was never the best in her area when she was a kid, which made her more determined, so your daughter shouldn't get disheartened if things don't always work out in competition. It is all about experience, and fun.

Q. JoanofArgos: My 10-year-old daughter quite enjoys kicking a football around with her dad in the park, and goes to football club at school. She's not as good as her friends, though, and is always reserve/play-half-the-match/B-team material. Now she's been put permanently in the B-team. I accept sport is competitive, but she's not a natural.

If I suggest she tries another sport, she sees this as me confirming that she's "rubbish at football". Every time I collect from football club, she's upset and humiliated, but she still doesn't want to stop going. Should I find her another sport against her will, or just keep mopping up the tears?

"By being active yourself and getting out there with her to try new sports, you can be a real inspiration and potentially the catalyst to help her discover a new sporting passion."

A. Gabby Logan: First, it's great your daughter has discovered a passion for a sport at such a young age. It's not often that youngsters are so passionate about competing, so I would encourage you to do all you can to keep her interested and playing as much sport as possible. However, with her being so young, there is no better time to get her out there trying different things, so I would suggest encouraging her to give other sports a try.

Most top coaches say they'd rather kids play loads of sports until they get to an age when it's obvious they have talent in one area. With London 2012 coming up, there is a unique opportunity for our nation's youngsters to be inspired by the Olympic and Paralympic Games and to discover a passion for something that they wouldn't ordinarily have tried. By being active yourself and getting out there with her to try new sports, you can be a real inspiration and potentially the catalyst to help her discover a new sporting passion.

Q. friendlymonica: I agree there doesn't seem to be any encouragement to take part in sports for fun and enjoyment as they grow up, and they then have to start 'being good enough' for the team. My daughter is in the county's athletic team and plays football, and other sports, and I don't think competition should ever be discouraged, but surely it should be on a level playing field? 

A. Gabby Logan: For me, sport is all about fun and enjoyment, and I think we, as parents, can play an important role in encouraging children to take part for that reason. It's not all about 'being good enough' and sport should be as much a recreational pastime as it is a competitive one. I love playing sport and being active with my kids, and I am always challenging them to try new things and be the best that they can be. I do think it's important to learn how to lose and win, sport can teach kids a lot. 

Sport and PE in schools

Q. madwomanintheattic: Gabby I started a BA in Physical Education, with the goal being to get all children to take part in and enjoy exercise, rather than to nurture olympic excellence per se. Sadly, I left the course after discovering that the PE teaching ethos was rather different.

I now have three children of my own, who all enjoy different sports, with varying degrees of ability as one of my children has cerebral palsy. We have spent time and a lot of money making different activities accessible. None, however, have reached secondary school age, where gendered pressures are rife, and the competition really begins. What are your views on school PE, Gabby? Will the Olympics help to put the 'fun' back into exercise and sport for its own sake? Or will they serve to reinforce the 'last one picked for the team' school PE mentality?

A. Gabby Logan: School PE is a very important part of a young person's life. I think the Olympics and Paralympics will really inspire children to try new things by giving them access to new sports which they previously would not have had the opportunity to try.

I don't think the 'last one picked for the team' mentality is evident across all school PE and, from what I've witnessed, the fun element is still as much a part of lessons as competing is. There are always going to be children at any school who want to be competitive, and I think it's important that schools recognise this and give children the opportunity to compete against each other.

It's important to get the balance right though, to ensure children don't feel too pressured into competing while still at school. School PE should be about fun and enjoying the break from the classroom, with after-school activities designed to add a layer of competitiveness for those who really want to progress to the next level.

"It's important to get the balance right though to ensure children don't feel too pressured into competing whilst still at school."

Q. StickyFloor: What can be done about the pathetic state of sport in many schools now? At my twins' primary school, they do sport for 30 minutes a week, sometimes an hour if they are lucky. And it's barely sport in my view - competitive sport is not allowed because our borough feels that the less-able kids would be left out, so instead they spend their time doing circuit training, throwing balls and bean bags, and other equally tedious stuff.

Sports day is so pitiful that this year we're starting a petition to the Head to introduce some proper races and just let the kids run. How do we expect the kids to be active and interested in sport if the school offers them half an hour of pom-pom waving and standing on one leg each week?

A. Gabby Logan: I think it's a shame that your twins' school only allows 30 minutes of sport a week. PE and school sport has been proven to play an important part in a child's development and schools need to recognise this in order for their pupils to be able to achieve success.

If a school is against children playing sport, then it's our job to encourage them to try new things and give them the opportunity to take part in sport outside of school. As research has proved, parents are one of the most important factors in children taking part in sport and we have to ensure we're playing an active role if we are to achieve the government's targets of our children doing five or more hours of PE and sporting activity a week.

I think parents can really put pressure on schools to increase sport by offering to help out with clubs. I know it takes time but I think it's time worth investing.

Q. friendlymonica: I have never understood why all kids are taught PE together, regardless of their ability. Kids who aren't sporty are made to feel useless and are never going to enjoy an activity where they are always last. Why not let them compete against other kids of the same ability so they have the chance to shine and gain confidence, instead of putting them off for life?

And how can those at the top progress if the teacher must always help those who are struggling? I understand this would be expensive to fund, but the diseases this can contribute to, such as heart disease, obesity and diabetes, will be more expensive to treat. 

A. Gabby Logan: I understand your point about mixing talented children with those who are less talented, but in my opinion that is why after school sport classes exist, to give children the opportunity to improve their skills and compete against others of a similar ability level.

School PE lessons should be all about giving children the opportunity to try out different sports and make kids who aren't sporty feel like they can take part in sport without having to feel embarrassed. 

Q. StarlightMcKenzie: How do we address the bullying that appears to be suffered by children who were just not born with particularly long legs, by children but also by some PE teachers? I've done quite a bit of voluntary support for victims of bullying and a common theme tends to revolve around PE lessons.

A. Gabby Logan: Unfortunately, bullying at school is something that exists across all classrooms and the PE lesson is just one part of problem that everyone is trying hard to overcome. With the competitive nature of sport, children do tend to be more open to being bullied for their abilities, so it is important that PE teachers are aware of this and put a stop to it early, before it gets out of hand.

We have an important role as parents as well to understand if our children are being bullied and engage with their teachers if it's causing a problem. By working together, I am sure we can overcome the problem and ensure sport at school remains enjoyable for children of all sizes, ages and abilities.


Special needs and sports

Q. Stickyfloor: One of my twins has cerebral palsy and has only some limited mobility. There is not one single sporting activity, holiday sports club, even private sporting group locally that I can take her to. If I plan months ahead, our local Riding for the Disabled group will let her do some riding, once a fortnight (due to high demand). What can be done to make sure that disabled kids have access to sports too?

A. Gabby Logan: It is important that disabled children are given as much access to sport as able-bodied ones and I think the London 2012 Paralympic Games will help us recognise this need and open everyone's eyes to the amazing abilities that athletes with disabilities have.

It's important that the government, through departments like the Youth Sport Trust and Sport England, invest in disability sports and improve the accessibility to local clubs. Your child should have as much access to sport as an able-bodied child, which is something I am sure the government is trying to improve as London 2012 approaches.

Q. lottiejenkins My son has special needs and there are very few sports groups around. Perhaps you could encourage Lloyds to fund some groups?

A. Gabby Logan: LloydsThrough National School Sport Week, Lloyds TSB is already helping children across Britain gain access to paralympic sports by taking the inspiration of London 2012 into local schools.

Encourage your son's school to get involved in the week and give him the opportunity to try out something new. If he discovers a passion for a particular sport, there may be a group around that he can go and join outside of school.

Q. chatee: I am a parent to two children, one who has a disability (cerebral palsy) and, sadly, the opportunities available to my child with a disability are very few in comparison to my other child. If you add into this that we live in a rural area, it means our options are reduced even further.

We have to travel 1.5 hours each way to access a disability sports coach once a month (although it has been well worth it) as many mainstream coaches are still not well-enough informed, qualified or experienced with children who have disabilities.

Please can you help to promote the work of EFDS (England Federation of Disability Sport), as through their work my child has developed a love of sport and is committed to her training. There is not enough information about the services this group offers, and me and a friend are on a mission to spread the word to as many people as we can,  so that more children with disabilities can access various sporting opportunities.

A. Gabby Logan: I think it's great what you and your friend are doing to promote the work of the EFDS, and educate as many coaches, parents and teachers as to the sporting opportunities that exist for children with disabilities.

As parents, we have an important job to do give all children the opportunity to give sport a go, and hopefully the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games can inspire more disabled children to take part in sport and provide new opportunities for them to excel.



Q. tjacksonpfc: My son and daughter both do Taekwondo. My daughter, who's nearly seven years old, competes nationally and has done since just before her fifth birthday. The school have been very accommodating in terms of time off for competitions, but we're finding the cost involved a bit much.

Would it not be possible for some kind of support if your child is competing at a national level? We currently pay £70 a month for their training, fees etc. If you add into this all the travelling to competitions, it gets very pricey, but we'd like to keep doing this as she's very good. At the end of the day, these are our future athletes, so what are your feelings on this? 

A. Gabby Logan: Parents have been proven to be a major factor in their children taking part in sport and physical activity, so it's great you have been willing to take your daughter around the country to compete. Despite the costs involved, the fact that you are being so supportive now will go a long way to encouraging your daughter to keep competing as she gets older.

Unfortunately, the price for being good at a sport is often the cost of travelling to compete and it's difficult to find a way around this until she gets older and is recognised for her talents by her NGB. There are initiatives out there, like the Lloyds TSB Local Heroes programme, that can provide financial support though, so I encourage you to engage with British Taekwando and see what opportunities exist for you to receive financial support for your daughter's talents.

Q. NerfHerder: How do we expect children to become interested in sports such as cricket, tennis, rugby and swimming if there are no facilities available for them to train on locally?
I have children of a similar age to you, Gabby, and when we began to look at schools, I was astonished to find that the seven closest primary schools to us have no grassed areas at all, and the yards were very small and crowded. There were no facilities for athletics, rugby, tennis or anything, apart from a couple of schools which had all-weather pitches used for soccer and hockey.
Our nearest pool is four miles and two bus rides away, an hour's journey each way. I swam four times a week as a pre-teen, but I see no way to give my children a similar opportunity.

A. Gabby Logan: I think we as parents have an important role to play in getting our children interested in the sports you mentioned, particularly if there are no local sports facilities. We can pick up a bat or ball and visit the local park to play sport with them, and hopefully help them discover a passion for a particular sport.

I think it's worth mentioning that some of the most talented sports men and women around the world grew up in poverty or war-torn countries (like the Serbian tennis players). There is always a way through, and often being too cosseted can diminish the passion to improve. I remember training in some grotty gyms in my time.

The government is working hard to increase the opportunities for community sport in this country and I am sure you will see new facilities open in your area soon. It is important for you to be proactive in finding opportunities for your child to play sport both in and out of school.

Q. Cattleprod: How do we encourage girls who show an aptitude for sport to consider it as a career when there is still such a huge disparity between many men's and women's sports with regard to pay, exposure, opportunities and respect?

There is no other industry or sector I can think of where it is acceptable for females to be paid a fraction of what males in a similar role receive. Gender equality laws don't seem to apply and I'm worried it might put girls off sport as a career if they know they will be regarded as 'second-class citizens' in many cases.

A. Gabby Logan: I think the situation is changing and gender equality is starting to become apparent in a number of sports. At Wimbledon, for example, women's prize money is now equal to those in the men's draw, and with initiatives like the Women's Premier League getting going in football, I can slowly see the equality gap closing across the board.

A career as a sportswoman could be the most rewarding career and the job satisfaction from doing something you enjoy every day cannot be underestimated. In many cases, women are starting to earn as much as the men and as a parent you can play an important role in encouraging them to pursue a career in sport.

Q. iklboo: My son is six in November, and loves trampolining. He can do seat drops, knee drops, knee tucks and a full 'spin' in the air (not a somersault, more like a dancing spin). He's never done formal trampolining, but there is a trampolining club nearby that takes children from the age of six. Is it a good sport for little(ish) ones?

A. Gabby Logan: Age and size should not be an issue in any sport. As long your son is enjoying the trampoline (which he clearly is) you should keep encouraging him to take part. As soon as he turns six, I would get him along to your local club.

Q. mousymouse: My son is four and loves running. Mainly just running around, but sometimes he asks me if he can come running with me and then we run a few times round the block (maybe half a mile). Should I discourage it? He doesn't have proper trainers (yet) and I wonder if it is just too early, even if there is no pressure involved.

A. Gabby Logan: I don't think you should ever discourage your child to go running with you, but as he is still young and his body is developing, it is important you look after him. If you can afford to buy him some proper trainers, I would suggest doing so - that way you will be providing him with the best level of support and protection when he goes running with you.

Q. Cortina: Matthew Syed believes that innate sporting talent is a myth and if it exists it isn't widespread and makes little difference long term. He says you may be limited by your 'hardware' - in other words lack of sufficient muscle fibres in legs for competitive running, being too short for basketball, and so on, but that's it.

What he says is most important is your 'software' in other words you have, your mental strength, tenacity and most crucially, how often you practise. He cites the example of Tiger Woods (and many other compelling examples) already having hours of golf practice under his belt before most others even picked up a golf club and thus a major advantage. Do you agree?

A. Gabby Logan: I love Matthew's book, I couldn't put it down, but as one of my colleagues at the Times said, "You can tell Mathew doesn't have kids." A lot of Matthew's book focuses on the importance of practice. My friend was joking, of course, but I think most parents know that encouraging kids to practise at anything they don't want to do can be a tough job.

"When I was training 35 hours a week as a gymnast and combining that with my studies at school, I needed my Mum to help me get to the gym, to be able to make me good meals and support me at home, but I was the one pushing myself."

I think the motivation has to be there for the child from within, and then I really do believe that parents make a huge difference. When I was training 35 hours a week as a gymnast and combining that with my studies at school, I needed my Mum to help me get to gym, to be able to make me good meals and support me at home, but I was the one pushing myself.

I can also cite Nick Faldo who didn't pick up a golf club until he was 13, or Theo Walcott who didn't start football until he was 10, so there are plenty of examples of sports stars who don't conform to the Bounce theory.

Q. toughdecisions: In the run-up to the Olympics, please could you engineer a significant improvement in the behaviour of sporting 'celebs', at least while they are participating, like no spitting, and no swearing that can be lip-read on TV? Then maybe they would be fit to be role models to our children, who hopefully will be inspired by the Olympics to embrace sport and a healthy lifestyle.

A. Gabby Logan: The nature of being a top sports star, unfortunately, means you are always in the public eye and sometimes, this means that some unsavoury behaviours are caught on camera. I cannot engineer a change on my own and the majority of sporting 'celebs' are generally well-behaved when in front of a camera. For the select few that aren't, it is both their own, and their club's, responsibility to ensure they are being a positive role model for young people taking part in sport.

There is no doubt that the London Olympics and Paralympics will prove a positive inspiration for children to take part in more sport, so I hope to see all athletes on their best behaviour when in front of the camera in just over a year's time.

Last updated: 9 months ago