Bryan McCann: Making a difference through sport

Friday 17 May 2019

Dr Bryan McCann
After being named one of the Nation's Lifesavers for his work creating the Aberdeen Youth Games, Dr Bryan McCann shares how the programme came to life.

What is the Aberdeen Youth Games?

The Aberdeen Youth Games (AYG) is an innovative, city-wide physical activity and health programme which aims to increase physical activity and promote health amongst young people in Aberdeen. Delivered in partnership between Robert Gordon University, Sport Aberdeen and North East Scotland College – and funded by The Wood Foundation – the programme sees over 100 students from a range of subject areas deliver activities and projects to over 6000 pupils annually from every primary and secondary school in Aberdeen City. 

Pupils receive sport coaching sessions, participate in design competitions and receive positive health messages throughout the academic year, and students gain invaluable work-related experiences whilst making a positive contribution to the local community. 

The programme culminates each year in the exciting Aberdeen Youth Games Festivals of Sport. The Secondary School festival sees over 200 pupils representing each school compete in a wide range of sports. The Primary School Festival sees over 1,500 pupils participate in a fun, exciting celebration of sport delivered by students and volunteers.


How did you create the programme?

The programme grew from the 2nd year BSc (Hons) Applied Sport and Exercise Science placement module in 2012/13. I was tasked with providing the students with a meaningful, exciting placement, and I approached the Aberdeen Active Schools team at Sport Aberdeen to explore possibilities. The Active Schools team agreed to place the students in schools across the city for four weeks and the students hosted three small festivals at the end of their placements. 

Having agreed that the format worked well, we then applied for funding from the Celebrate Fund, which was part of the Commonwealth Games, to host a larger festival at the end of the 2013/14 games.

The first year was fantastic – a Gray’s School of Art student designed a logo and an AYG baton was designed in a school competition and created by another Gray’s student before touring every participating school. Importantly we also gained two amazing ambassadors – Dame Katherine Grainger and Sir Ian Wood – and our festival had a Commonwealth Games focus. 

The first year of the Aberdeen Youth Games was so popular that we were successful in gaining ongoing funding to run the programme on an ongoing basis.


What has it been like to see the Youth Games grow over the years, with more young people, students and ambassadors?

The AYG has become a feature in the landscape of Aberdeen – we are in the 6th year and the programme continues to grow. The growth of the programme is a testament to the fact that we have tapped into a great model. Having started working with 3,500 pupils, we now deliver to over 6,000 pupils annually. Our AYG Ambassadors include high-profile athletes and supporters who promote the programme and inspire all of the pupils and young people.

I believe that the success of the programme reflects the importance and the value of partnership-working. Together with Sport Aberdeen and North East Scotland College, we have identified even more opportunities for young people to get active and then embedded projects within student curricula to address these opportunities. 

It really is about focussing on the mutual benefit of activities – Sport Aberdeen gain students to deliver activities to thousands of school pupils every year, and the students gain a huge amount of experience to enhance their learning and employability. The AYG also inspired another project – RGU GO: India – where students from RGU travelled to India to deliver a similar project to school pupils in the local community alongside students from Manipal University.


How important do you think it is to engage young people with physical activity?

There is a lot of research demonstrating the benefits of physical activity throughout all stages of development and in all aspects of life. Being active reduces the likelihood of developing health issues, can help individuals cope with health conditions, can enhance productivity and can help people live happier, more productive lives. 

Instilling physical activity habits at an early age is important, and demonstrating to young people that being physically active can be a fun and positive experience makes it more likely they will be active later in life. Hopefully the AYG is making a bit of a difference and that our students acting as role models, delivering fun and engaging activities alongside health messages will encourage young people to be more active.


What impact is the Youth Games having on the wellbeing of young people across the city?

With a project this size it is difficult to demonstrate impact, although we have plans to try and better track this. Getting young people more active more often is never a bad thing, and we hope that our students delivering positive health messages about nutrition and the benefits of active lifestyles will contribute towards more positive wellbeing for Aberdeen’s young people.


How do the RGU students involved in the programme benefit?

Students from our BSc (Hons) Applied Sport and Exercise Science and BSc (Hons) Sport Coaching courses gain a wide range of benefits from being involved in the programme. They gain training and qualifications in a range of sport-related activities, such as sport coaching and first aid. They are then able to apply their learning from courses in a real-life context, not only strengthening their understanding of course content and its application in the real world, but also broadening and deepening their transferable skills. 

Students have gone on from the placement to gain paid and voluntary roles with Sport Aberdeen and have used the placement as a springboard to gain entry to other amazing extracurricular opportunities and graduate destinations. 

Most important for me is that the students gain insight into the positive role they can play in the health and wellbeing of society – both in terms of promoting physical activity amongst pupils during placement or in their future careers.


What is next for Bryan McCann, as you work to improve the physical wellbeing of people in the region?

My main priority in the coming years in relation to the Aberdeen Youth Games is to continue to strengthen the programme and grow it where possible. We are exploring some exciting opportunities to enhance the quality of AYG activities and the impact we make.

I plan on underpinning this with new research activities, in partnership with colleagues from RGU and elsewhere, to gather high quality and important information about the physical activity behaviours of pupils and the broader community. Such insights will not only help us improve the Aberdeen Youth Games as a whole, but perhaps also test interventions and strategies aimed at enhancing health and wellbeing in the city.

The Aberdeen Youth Games has the potential to be an incredible vehicle for both investigating physical activity and promoting it, and I hope we can maximise on that potential.

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