A day in the life of... Fenland's community multi-sports coach Sam Darlow

ON a bright, sunny, September morning at Murrow Primary School, Sam Darlow is putting a group of seven and eight-year-olds through their paces. It s the first week of the new term and Sam is there to give them their first basketball lesson. He is the Co

ON a bright, sunny, September morning at Murrow Primary School, Sam Darlow is putting a group of seven and eight-year-olds through their paces.

It's the first week of the new term and Sam is there to give them their first basketball lesson.

He is the Community Multi-Sports Coach with Fenland District Council's Sports Development team and Murrow is one of 10 primary schools that he visits each week through "Wis Gets Physical", a project which he has set up with the Wisbech primary school head teachers.

Today he's introducing the children to the basics of the sport. Having demonstrated what he means, he splits the class into groups of three to practise. He circulates among them, tailoring his coaching to individuals' differing abilities and needs.

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His explanations are graphic. "Make your hands into a W shape and put them behind the ball," he tells them. "That stops your arms flapping like chickens. We don't want to look like chickens; we want to look like basketball players."

As the hour-long session continues, he takes the group through the different passes and a decision-making exercise where the children have to work out when is the best time to use each one.

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"It's always a fine balance between giving time to the group as a whole and to individuals, particularly those who find it difficult for all sorts of reasons," he says. "I try to make sure that every child gets some one-to-one coaching throughout the session."

He combines patience and encouragement with the occasional sharp word to anyone he sees messing around.

He explains that towards the end of term there'll be two basketball festivals at the Hudson Leisure Centre in Wisbech and he'll be choosing 10 players from each of the schools he visits to take part. "It won't be the 10 best players," he says. "It'll be those who work hardest to learn what you can do to improve."

For the two festivals Sam plans and organises all the fixtures and arranges for umpires and volunteers to be present, as well as Chris Parker, the Community Basketball Coach, so that he can refer all interested members on to the Fenland Falcons, the local basketball club.

Over the rest of the day, Sam will take three more sessions - another at Murrow with the nine- and ten-year-olds, followed in the afternoon by two with the same age groups at Payne School in Parson Drove.

Each one follows broadly the same pattern but, says Sam, "every class and every child is different and the size of the groups varies, from about 20 up to 45. It's a real challenge."

"Wis Gets Physical" runs from term to term, with basketball in the autumn, hockey and tag rugby in the winter and cricket in the summer. At the end of each term there is a festival at a local club venue where the children get to meet coaches and volunteers from the club, forming a link if the child wishes to continue playing that particular sport.

When Sam is not coaching in schools he is out and about in the community, setting up links between clubs and groups, writing systems of work and session plans or attending courses and meetings to improve his own knowledge.

He loves the job. He joined the Sports Development team in 2005, immediately after completing a two-year National Diploma in Sport at the College of West Anglia. "I was straight out of college and got thrown in at the deep end as the current sports development manager had left so I helped to run the whole department until the present Sports Development Manager was employed four months later," he says.

"I suppose what I'm most pleased about is the growth we've had since I came. When I started there were only six schools involved in the Wisbech area, now there are 12 [two are coached by Verity Allen, another member of the team]. So we've basically doubled our numbers in four years, and the amount of children benefitting from quality Physical Education within the Wisbech area.

"All the head teachers give a terrific amount of support and I've got a good relationship with all the schools.

"I've now got some children who'd never participated in sports before they received coaching from myself playing for senior teams - I have ended up playing against a few of them. Normally they're better than me!"

He doesn't say so, but that, of course, is the greatest tribute he could have to his coaching skills.

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