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Sally Pearson launches kids athletics

Sally Pearson Kids

It’s not usual to see kids lining up to hurl something at a poster of one of Australia’s most popular athletes, but if Kim Mickle had been at Melbourne’s Loreto Mandeville Hall on a sunny Wednesday morning she would not have minded one bit.

For one thing, a woman who described herself recently as “just a little kid from Perth who likes to throw things” would be pleased to see young children doing just that. For another, the Mickle poster was the target for the throws exercise in a demonstration of the IAAF / Nestlé Kids Athletics initiative.

In the presence of four current Olympic or world champion athletes – Sally Pearson, Natasha Hastings, David Oliver and LaShawn Merritt – more than 100 children participated in the athletics-based clinic to kick off the program aimed at increasing participation in track and field. The four athletes joined in the activities to the obvious delight of the kids.

The program already operates in some parts of Australia – northern Queensland and some of the remote communities – and in the Oceania region. But the country’s unique system of Little Athletics, a modified athletics program for children from five to 16, presented some special problems.

Athletics Australia chief executive Dallas O’Brien said yesterday the IAAF / Nestlé Kids Athletics program would be offered to Australian children as part of the national after-school care scheme.

“The program will help Australian children maintain a healthy and active lifestyle, while providing a key introduction to the fundamentals of track and field that may encourage a young athlete to join their local Little Athletics centre or athletics club.”

O’Brien said the program would offer opportunity for both Little Athletics centres and local clubs to encourage and recruit new members, a situation he described as “win-win” for both.

The national roll-out of the programme will occur in several phases over this year. The first is a pilot scheme involving six Victorian schools, four in Melbourne and one each in the major provincial centres of Ballarat and Bendigo. After a second consolidation and feedback phase it will then be rolled out in other states.

O’Brien said he was sure a successful roll-out would see “a higher level of engagement in our sport by school-aged children. That’s a positive step towards developing our next generation of Australian talent.”

Projected results for the pilot year of the program would see the completed training of 250 development officers and coaches, and the participation of 950 schools and 20,000 children (plus a further 5000 through the ‘fan zones’ at Australian Athletics Tour meetings).

Nestlé will be the key sponsor of the ‘fan zone’ at the Melbourne IAAF World Challenge meeting on Saturday, 22 March, after earlier involvement in Perth and Sydney.

Nestlé has been the main IAAF Kids Athletics worldwide sponsor since 2012, which has already seen programmes supporting children’s athletics participation introduced in more than 80 countries.

Katrina Koutoulas, Nestlé Oceania head of nutrition, health and wellness, said: “Nestlé is committed to enhancing the quality of children’s lives through helping parents provide tastier and healthier food and encouraging active, healthy lifestyles.”

Yvonne Mullins, the executive director of the Oceania Athletics Association, also welcomed the introduction of the program.

“The Oceania Athletics Association is really excited to see its biggest federation take this on,” said Mullins.

“IAAF Nestlé Healthy Kids Athletics has been introduced in North Queensland and remote communities but it is good to now see the national federation take it on.

“It is a world project and really important to the kids coming through. It’s working already in the islands and we’re very fortunate to have Nestlé as a sponsor. It is a very important development tool.”

Len Johnson for the IAAF

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