Tayside Judo, in collaboration with Perth & Kinross Active Schools, has launched a comprehensive and long-term project aimed at positively impacting the lives of young individuals.

Commencing in Easter 2023 at Perth Grammar School, the project encompasses a multifaceted approach. It focuses on providing opportunities for community integration and restoration, enhancing mental health and wellbeing, offering diversionary and alternative activities to school pupils, fostering the development of employability and broader life skills, and ultimately contributing to the creation of stronger communities.

The two coaches from Tayside, David Scobbie and Aiden Moffat, have been working with the group following successful taster sessions. David said: “It all stemmed from a conversation with the Active School’s Coordinator Bartosz who knew we were delivering judo in primary schools as taster sessions. He told us there was a group of secondary school kids with complex needs and he thought judo would be good for them. We did a couple of taster sessions with them and the school saw the value in it and invited us to come back and do a permanent block.”

Active Schools Coordinator Bartosz explained, “The initial 12-week program features a group of 10 young individuals with ‘high tariff’ needs, hailing from intricate and diverse backgrounds. These young people exhibit mental health challenges, have been referred to CAMHS Tayside (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services), and are currently following part-time or alternative timetables at school.”

The project aims to deliver judo and strength and conditioning sessions to targeted pupils every week over a whole academic year. During those sessions, Tayside Judo educates young people about respect, and the importance of being a responsible citizen, utilising the judo moral code.

Working with pupils who come from often complex and diverse backgrounds, Tayside Judo has created sessions that are fun and engaging for students whose attendance at school averages 45.56%.

Support staff, teachers, an Active Schools Coordinator, the Pupil Intervention Team and our two judo instructors, David Scobbie and Aiden Moffat, have worked tirelessly to create the best possible programme and the benefits are already apparent amongst the group of pupils. There have been cases of students, who previously were involved in conflict outside of school, learning to step back and not turn to violence. Support staff stated that one such pupil would be the first to join the fight before the judo programme had started. The pupil himself stated: “Judo is the only thing that keeps me coming back to school”.

David was on hand to collect the Perth & Kinross Sport for Change award.

The coaches have also noted changes, David said: “At first none of the kids wanted to be first up at the risk of embarrassing themselves and be the ones who get thrown or be the one unable to do a technique so instead they’d hide behind an act of being boisterous or loud and try not to take part. But now, everybody is engaging well and all are taking part in the session and they talk to the support staff a lot better. They’ve improved their timekeeping whereas before teachers were chasing them up around the school trying to find them but now they’re so keen to get there. Nowadays they are in before us and setting up the mats.” Aiden adds, “I think it also offers them a place to vent their frustrations.” For a lot of these guys, they think they have nowhere to turn, but the mat is a safe place for them to do it.”

Originating from the city of Perth, both coaches share a common background that has significantly bolstered their bond: “I think it helps, coming from the same area and being close in age, we’re relatable to them,” says Aiden. “So we have had similar backgrounds, making it easier for me and David to relate to them. I’ve been through stuff and maybe done things I shouldn’t have done that they’ve done too, but judo steered me away from it. Firstly, training four times a week, I was too tired to get up to any nonsense, but you also learn discipline and you start to take care of yourself more.”

Both Aiden and David are not only a credit to the community, but a credit to the sport. The pair embody the judo values. They demonstrate a profound respect for the students they work with, acknowledging their diverse backgrounds and challenges. They have used judo as a platform to create a supportive environment where students feel valued and accepted, fostering a sense of belonging and self-worth. They openly reflect on their own experiences and want to steer students away from negative paths and show how judo can have a profoundly positive impact on wider society.

The school have shared that the pupils generally have improved their listening and talking skills, with them having opportunities to listen to various instructions, observe demonstrations and thereafter execute those instructions and respond verbally if more information is required. This has had a positive effect on the rest of their experience in school, with teachers stating the pupils involved are showing signs of compliance and on days they are training, come in early to help set up the equipment on the day – a pattern of behaviours that had not been prevalent in the group before.

The beauty of judo has certainly not been lost on the participants. “The kids understand judo is so different to anything they have ever done before, it’s a clean slate” says David. “If we were to take a football class for them, some of them would already be pretty good but with this it’s a level playing field with no one having experience in the sport, it’s a fresh start for everyone. “They also like the action of it, we can entice them in with the demonstration. It’s such a disciplined sport that they don’t get the chance to do anything unless we know they are fully focused as a safety precaution, as a coach this helps us create a better learning environment and the kids have been fantastic to work with.”

Aiden Moffat still competes nationally when not coaching. Pictured here at the Riga Senior European Cup.

The pairs work is a shining example of how judo can be used to make a positive contribution to society, the impact the classes have had on their community is clear for all to see. With the sessions drawing kids back to school and positively impacting their education. Both coaches are supporting wellbeing and resilience in communities through physical activity and sport, also offering opportunities for young people.

Reflecting on the transformative journey of the pupils, David  shares: “The kids were always likeable and always had potential but they were getting in their own way. A lot of people in their lives had written them off and not given them the time of day, it’s so nice to see them gain respect for themselves and others. They’re also keeping tabs on us, asking about our judo activities outside the school and keeping track of how Aiden is doing in his competitions. You also hear things about what they’re getting up to out of school; they’d often be getting into trouble but now they don’t want to get into confrontation, you can see the shift in their mindset. It’s fantastic to see”. Aiden also notes changes in the pupils personality, “It’s great to see that once the pupils have completed a task or drill that we’ve put on for them, they start to respect themselves, you can see they have a bit of a buzz around themselves and it’s just about getting them to stick with that, we want to teach them to learn to respect themselves by being disciplined.”

Their excellent work in the school has not gone unnoticed, Tayside judo were recently awarded the Perth and Kinross Sport for Change award. By providing young individuals with opportunities for personal growth and development, their sessions not only promote physical fitness but also instils valuable life skills such as discipline, respect, and resilience through judo sessions tailored to address the diverse needs of participants, Tayside Judo creates a supportive environment where individuals from all backgrounds can thrive.

The success of Tayside Judo’s training sessions is not just measured in improved attendance or enhanced skills but in the remarkable shift in mindset and behaviour, signalling a positive trajectory for these young individuals. As the academic year starts up again, the Tayside Judo team, alongside the ever-committed staff at Perth Grammar School, remain committed to nurturing these positive changes and fostering a supportive environment for these students to thrive both on and off the mat.