Joe Clarke and Helen Glover's dazzling gold medal success at the Rio Olympics shows how Scouting gives young people skills that they can take forward and use throughout their lives. Scouting's campaign, A Million Hands is helping young people develop these skills to tackle some of the biggest issues facing society.
Gold Medallist Olympians don't just appear from nowhere. Team GB is doing a fantastic job of inspiring the Nation but this wasn't where our sporting heroes began their journeys. It's worth spending a little time looking at where some of these stars got their start! Take canoeist Joe Clarke who triumphed in the Kayak A1. The effort, training and time he has given are all his own, but it was in Scouting, as an eight year old Cub Scout that he got his introduction to canoeing and first took to the water.
Scouting gives young people skills for life. In the case of Joe Clarke and other Olympians, this might be a practical skill, such as how to steer around a course, learn white water kayaking or how to recover after capsizing (Which I personally seem to do a lot of whenever I'm on the water...). But it is the character skills - determination, resilience, independence and true grit that really give Scouts the edge. Bear Grylls has talked about Scouting as a 'character factory' and Joe Clarke is one of its finest exports. It is his belief in himself and strength of character that sets him apart.
And Joe is not alone! Fellow Rio gold medallist, rower Helen Glover, got her start as an eleven year old Scout in Penzance, being the first girl in her Troop at the time. Now a quarter of the movement is female and Scouting is committed to bringing the benefits and life skills it offers to all, regardless of gender, belief, nationality or social background. 'Scouting is for everyone,' says Scout Ambassador Steve Backshall. 'It might not bring you to an Olympic final, but you never know unless you give it a go.'
But let's face it, not everyone is a natural sportsperson or adventurer (And that's a good thing!) The Scout movement prides itself on providing a huge range of opportunities to young people to develop the skills to succeed. Through our A Million Hands campaign we are offering our 452,000 young people the opportunity to develop the skills they need to succeed by making a positive impact in their communities. This means taking practical action on issues as varied as disability, mental well-being and resilience, dementia care, clean water and sanitation, to support those around them.
The key to the project is what we call the 'double benefit.' For example, some Glasgow Explorers (aged 14-18) visited a care home to talk, play cards and read newspapers with the residents. While this was a welcome boost for the residents, the young people gained from the visit too, improving their communication skills, learning to listen and grow in empathy. 'I was so incredibly impressed,' said their leader Gordon Jack, 'with the way the Explorers conducted themselves in such a conscientious, gentle and caring manner. The impact that this experience has had on the young people involved has been very rewarding.'
There might not be a gold medal for supporting communities (Yet!), but in Scouting this work is recognised by the Community Impact badge. More importantly, the experiences and opportunities Scouting offers gives young people just like me a wider view of the world, a generosity of spirit and the confidence to seize opportunities life offers and the confidence to succeed.
So perhaps the Olympic success of our Scouts is not so surprising after all. The Olympic and Paralympic values; friendship, respect, excellence, determination, inspiration, courage and equality have so much in common with Scouting's own. A huge well done to all our athletes and their supporters, you are a shining example to young people everywhere to make the most of their own lives and gain skills for life.