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'Sky Sports mentors make a real difference to pupil achievement'

By Oli Burley.   Last Updated: 24/10/12 10:21am

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Darren Campbell says there's never been a better time to join Sky Sports Living for Sport!

The former sprinter is an Ambassador for the free initiative which sends sports stars into secondary schools to inspire young people.

Over a third of UK secondary schools have enrolled on the scheme so far - including 700 schools so far this year alone - but if your school isn't one of them don't worry because you can still sign up or nominate a school via www.skysports.com/livingforsport

Darren explains why you should... Watch Darren on Sky Sports News

skysports.com: Why are you so passionate about Sky Sports Living for Sport?

DARREN: Living for Sport is about empowering, inspiring and motivating young people to believe in themselves - it's exactly what I needed when I was growing up on a council estate. I had no problem attending school, but I was disengaged; I just didn't want to listen to the teachers and felt they'd written me off. So I know how valuable it would have been to have had a Living for Sport mentor come in, speak to me and give me an insight into what it takes to become successful. Developing self-confidence and belief early on would have been invaluable in helping me overcome my problems.

skysports.com: Is that what makes Living for Sport so popular?

DARREN: It works because it's genuine; this is a scheme that believes in a clear, positive message. If I've learnt one thing from working with young people over the years it's that you can't pull the wool over their eyes and Living for Sport is honestly there to help. The mentors are allowed to go into classrooms and mentor which is great not only for the kids but also for the mentors themselves, because ultimately that's their passion. There aren't camera crews following them around; they are able to go and have an honest conversation with young people. That's what makes the scheme work - the people who go out and try to inspire believe in the scheme.

skysports.com: So this isn't about finding the next sports star?

DARREN: That's right - sport is the hook we use to improve attainment across the board. When I first became an Ambassador four years ago it was all about working with disengaged young people. I'd go into schools and tell my story and try to inspire those pupils. Since then I've seen the scheme grow and grow and grow and it's now not just about disengaged young people, it's about all young people and giving them the tools to go out and express themselves and be the best they can be.

That means success can be judged any manner of ways. If I can help change one person's life, then I consider myself successful. Living for Sport doesn't have to be about running around and being a sportsperson; it's about helping young people learn the life skills necessary for them to go on and be successful in whatever they wish to do.

skysports.com: How important are the mentors as role-models in that process?

DARREN: They are so valuable. The scheme doesn't work without them; the fact that they give up their time to go to schools shows that they love what they do. They go into classrooms and share their stories of adversity and by explaining how they got past those challenges they really give the pupils the feeling that anything is possible. You see their mind-sets start to change.

I've watched the number of mentors involved in the scheme rise up to its current amount, which is 50, and heard many of their personal stories. People say that my journey from council estate to Olympic Champion is inspirational, but trust me, I've been very close to tears a number of times listening to the experiences that some of our mentors have had.

Adversity is something that everybody goes through at some point in their life. The one thing that sport teaches you very early on is how to deal with adversity. It's such an important skill: teaching young people that things can go wrong but when they do you need to get back out there and try again and keep going. My life changed when I saw Carl Lewis win four gold medals at the 1984 Olympics but from dreaming of Olympic gold to winning Olympic gold took 20 years. There was a lot of adversity and hard work in between but having been involved in sport from a young age I had the tools to help me come through those difficult times.

skysports.com: What stories have had the biggest impact on you?

DARREN: There are too many! If there is a difficult part of being an Ambassador, it is nominating candidates for the yearly awards shortlist, then whittling it down! I've been into schools where young people won't initially even say hello to you; then you go back in three months' time and they are actually putting on a P.E session for younger pupils.

One of the most powerful stories I've heard came when I was watching a video about a young man who spoke about being in and out of care; he was looking after his young brother at the same time and was starting to lag a little bit at school, but the scheme really helped to raise his self-esteem. At the end of the video he turned around and said 'I now know what I'm going to be when I grow up - I'm going to be a social worker'. He'd been through adversity in his own life but had decided to use that to motivate other people.

skysports.com: Why should schools that haven't enrolled so far sign up?

DARREN: Firstly, because it's free! You've nothing to lose. I'd be disappointed to find out that there are schools out there who know about the scheme but haven't tried it. I'd think they weren't trying to address real issues that go on within schools and aren't taking into consideration the feelings of young children. The scheme has been successful for 10 years; it has constantly tweaked itself along the journey to keep up-to-date with the needs of young people as they progress.

skysports.com: There is also a Living for Sport award for teachers, isn't there?

DARREN: I've got to say that the teachers are the best endorsement. If they don't buy into it, the scheme can't be successful. Teachers work hard, often with few resources and even less time. They are expected to know every single thing that is going on with every single pupil, which is as difficult as it sounds. Over 10 years the scheme has shown how quickly it can create a change in a young person. That's what makes it powerful - how quickly the change occurs. Sky's involvement - and that of the mentors - often seems to raise their energy levels.

skysports.com: How does the scheme reflect your own sporting philosophy?

DARREN: In life it's not about where you start, it's where you finish. Young people sometimes believe that school is boring, that they are forgotten and that teachers don't care about them. In those cases it's important that Living for Sport is there to help the teachers instil some belief and the way that we can do that is by telling our story. The mentors put the young people at the forefront of everything they do; that's what makes it work. They really, really care and really, really want to make a difference.

If you're interested in signing your school up for the Sky Sports Living for Sport scheme you can find out all you need to know at www.skysports.com/livingforsport

Darren discusses the Six Keys to Success for a brighter future... Click here.

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