Saturday, 27 March 2010

Boot madness!

Whatever happened to traditional black football boots? In a photograph of a park team in the local newspaper last week, I counted that six out of the eleven players were wearing coloured boots. And I don't mean red laces or a white tongue, I mean full on, visible from space fluorescent yellows and brilliant blues. The bright green number that Wayne Rooney wears at the monment looked a popular choice as well.

Now is it me, or do you actually have to be a pretty good player to get away with boots like that? As far as i'm concerned, some overweight, middle aged bloke trying to do step-overs in his Wayne Rooney boots on a Sunday morning makes himself a prime target for some particularly crunching tackles. Then again, if they're all wearing them, maybe not!

How long 'til those buffs catch on?

Monday, 1 March 2010

When is a sport not a sport?

What exactly is it that makes a sport a sport? I had this debate with a friend over a game of snooker the other day, and after much animated discussion we still could not agree.
"It's not a game, it's a sport!"
"No, it's a bloody game!"
So as I wandered home, I pondered this deeply philosophical question, and came up with a list of possible criteria.

Skill - Does sport have to involve skill? Most sports do require skill in some form, but what about things such as distance running? Running is not in itself a particularly skillful activity, but it is undoubtedly a sport.

Physical exertion - Does sport have to involve physical effort? The Olympic motto is 'faster, higher, stronger', although it could be argued that the plethora of Olympic 'sports' means that this is now a bit of an anachronism. Has sport moved on from simply being a measure of physical excellence?

Competition - Does sport have to be competitive? Competition is basically what makes sport exciting and inspirational from an observer's point of view. However, a casual kick-about in the park or a jog round the block to keep fit is surely still sport, even though it isn't competitive.

Rules - Does sport have to be organised and played according to rules? I think competitive sport does, in order to ensure fair competition, but what about 'freestyle' sports or activites, such as parkour?

For me, I think that the basic divide between sport and other activites is physical exertion. At the same time though, there are physical activites I could think of which I wouldn't class as sport.

So what do you think? What makes sport sport...

Saturday, 9 January 2010

App launch article

TECHNOLOGY is not normally associated with an active lifestyle. Whether it is kids slumped in front of the telly or frantically tapping at the games console controller, the image conjured up tends to be one of slovenliness rather than healthy activity.

In this age of rising obesity, sedentary activities are viewed as part of the problem. So it comes as something of a surprise to learn that one innovative Sheffield firm views technology as a key part of the cure to the country’s size problem.

Martin Spence is the founder of Xoolon, an online sports academy based in the national city of sport, which aims to harness new technologies to get kids active again.

“Technology and physical activity don’t need to be mutually exclusive,” he said. “We can provide a simple and fun way to record and share activity, which really gets kids involved in the process.”

Xoolon has developed and released an app for the iPhone as the latest part of its project to improve the health of the nation’s youth.

Martin feels that the only way to engage young people in a healthier way of life is to tap into things that they are interested in and use on a day-to-day basis. He has concluded that the incredible popularity of social networking sites and prevalence of mobile phones provides the best means to get kids’ attention.

The new app allows kids to measure and record physical activity and instantly upload and share their results with others on Facebook, Twitter and e-mail via their mobile phone.

They can do this in their own time, or after a training session or PE lesson.

“Kids are generally forbidden from using technology at school, unless it’s in a strictly controlled environment,” said Martin.

Naturally, this makes letting them loose on mobiles and the internet a great way to capture the attention of these ‘technology natives’.

“They love the chance to have a play around, and they’re naturals when it comes to using the technology. They’re online and uploading results in no time" said Martin.

“Millions of people interact with each other via social networking sites, like Facebook. They share pretty much anything on there. All you need is internet access, and the fastest way to get people online is through mobile phones.”

The app is designed to complement the Xoolon website, which already allows schools and sports clubs to upload and track their pupil’s sporting statistics and develop individually-tailored sports regimes.

For Martin, the crucial elements of Xoolon are that it makes physical activity a shared experience, introduces a competitive element and associates it with something cutting-edge. This means that kids enjoy using it and have an incentive to carry on.

No matter how attractive the product, though, the scale of the problem makes tackling it a huge challenge.

According to Department of Health figures, child obesity is at its highest ever level and rising, as are obesity related health problems. Meanwhile, levels of physical activity are dismally low – a sure-fire recipe for a public health disaster.

Martin is unequivocal about the problem.

“Obesity used to be a social stigma, but it’s becoming acceptable because it’s normal,” he said.

“Many kids are doing less than an hour of physical activity a week - and that’s including walking.

“The level of fitness of many young people is extremely low. Inactivity has reached such a high level that obesity is the natural outcome.”

The government, stunned into action perhaps by the looming economic cost of rising obesity, has launched its own Change4Life campaign aimed at altering people’s lifestyle habits.

Its tendency to present things in terms of simple ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ is not something which Martin feels will be effective in the long-term.

“This is just an attempt at a quick fix, a short term measure. We are decades from changing habits – quick fixes are no good,” he said.

“We need an entire culture change, where physical activity is part and parcel of kids’ everyday lives and they are motivated to look after themselves.”

If Xoolon catches on, maybe technology, rather than being viewed as part of the obesity problem, can be the key to realising this vision.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Athletic Inspiration

The World Championship Athletics in Berlin was one of the best I can remember.

Tainted by drug scandals and performed in front of increasingly sparse crowds, athletics has needed a shot in the arm for some time and hopefully this excellent championships can go some way to providing it.

Usain Bolt is nothing short of a phenomenon, and his sensational double world record cements his status as the most famous sportsman on the planet. Outrageously talented and effortlessly charismatic, he could fill any stadium anywhere in the world. He is the best thing to happen to athletics in a long time.

There were other great moments too. One of the most dramatic was when German high jumper Ariane Friedrich ran up in a completely silent stadium, before sailing over the bar and being greeted by a sudden eruption of noise.

As a Sheffield based company, though, we have to give the biggest mention to Jessica Ennis, who led from the front to become the new heptathlon World Champion. She took up athletics after attending a summer athletics week at the city's Don Valley Stadium. It just goes to show what the possibilites are if youngsters can be encouraged to give sport a go.

With superstars like Bolt and role models like Ennis, now is the perfect time to get more young people involved in athletics. The London 2012 Olympics represent a once in a generation opportunity to inspire young people to take up athletics and leave a legacy of a more healthy and successful nation. And if they're half as good as Berlin, we're in for a treat.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Xoolon to launch new app!

PCs, mobile phones, MP3s. In recent years these products have transformed from relative luxuries to lifestyle essentials. Whether it is for making videos, taking pictures, listening to music or simply chatting, they are a ubiquitous part of modern life. For the current generation of young people, their presence is a given and using them is second nature - they are unafflicted by technophobia!

At Xoolon, we think that this represents a fantastic opportunity. That is why we are developing a new app for the iPhone and iPod touch, which will be available from Apple's app store.

By tapping into technology savvy young people and making the whole Xoolon experience more interactive, we feel that we can add another level of interest to our project and entice more young people into doing sport. The new app will enable youngsters to easily set up their own Xoolon games, record, submit and compare results and share them along with their thoughts via facebook, twitter and e-mail. It will also allow the quick and easy submission of scores after school or a training session so that an accurate and up to date record of sporting progress is maintained.

Our experience in schools suggests that young people are very keen to use this technology. Within minutes of letting them loose they are uploading results and comparing with friends - with the competitive spirit very much in evidence! Even those who would not normally be 'sporty' get sucked in by the excitement which is generated, and want to have a go themselves. This demonstrates to us that phones and computers can, within the right context, be very valuable educational and motivational tools. They are not just the unwelcome distraction which they are often viewed as. Sometimes the kids just need to be freed to have a go!

We are very hopeful that by intertwining sport and technology, we can get more kids engaged in sport and take Xoolon to a new level - we certainly think that this is the way forward.

What do you think - do you agree? Do you think the app is a good idea? We'd love to hear plenty of feedback on this, so leave your comments below!

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Poll reveals extent of inactivity

A poll commissioned by the government's Schools Department has revealed the extent of inactivity amongst five to 19 year olds. The results, published last week, show that 23 per cent of children and young people participate in no organised sport whatsoever, with that figure rising to 58 per cent among 16 to 19 year olds.

The results are something of an embarrassment for the government, coming two years on from its pledge to get all young people doing five hours of sport a week. They also give further ammunition to those who argue that deep-rooted change is needed if Britain is to get more young people active and limit the extent of an impending obesity crisis.

Schools Minister Ian Wright said that the design of the poll could have distorted the results. Mori (which carried out the poll) asked respondents how much organised sport they had taken part in during the previous seven days. Wright claimed this could have led to anomalous results due to 'one-off timetable changes or absences'. This is a somewhat unconvincing explanation given that the poll was carried out over the whole of 2008 and included some 12,000 children - more than enough to smooth out any anomalies.

In reality, the results are the product of PE and competitive sport being long undervalued in the curriculum, too little collaboration between schools and clubs and a lack of creative thinking when it comes to engaging young people in sport. Unless or until the government starts focusing its attention on these essentials of a strong sporting culture, rather than cringe worthy nanny-state adverts telling us not to sit on the couch stuffing our faces, then this sorry state of affairs will continue.

The full findings of the poll can be viewed at:

Monday, 27 July 2009

More Tour...

Further to the previous post, it was also very encouraging that there were no failed drugs tests during this year's Tour. Cycling is a sport that, at best, has been severely tainted by drugs, and at worst completely undermined. You know a sport is in trouble when your first thought on seeing the victor cross the line is 'is he on drugs'?

A clean Tour this year represents the first step on the road to recovery. If the Tour can remain clean for the next few years, then perhaps the world's top cyclists can once again become figures of inspiration rather than suspicion, and cycling can regain its credibility.