An excellent post that does a great pointing out why junior sailing has been such a disaster over the years.
“Deplorable state of sailing” is perhaps too harsh. Yes, it is not what it used to be when all the old farts who inhabit these threads first started out. But that is not something specific to sailing. Many sports have suffered the same fate.
But there are a couple of things that many feel have done more to damage sailing than helped it.
Much/ most/ all of this can be associated with a broadly defined concept of “Olympic pathways” that seems to predominate the thought process of National bodies.
If one grew up with sailing that was ‘club focused’, and think that way (as I do), the sense of betrayal and abandonment is all the greater.
Start with learn to sail courses. Traditionally these were run at club level by putting a number of beginners in a suitably docile boat with a more experienced sailor. Forward thinking clubs usually used their intermediate juniors as their in boat trainers (obviously looked over by someone in a motor boat). That provided three benefits in one. It spread the training load, gave the juniors a sense of having a duty to put back into the volunteer club and gave them a sense of confidence and achievement at teaching. And better still the glow it gave the parents of those juniors when a trainee adult went up to the parents and congratulated them on what a fantastic and competent child they’d raised was something to be seen.
But NO said the national body. That’s not how we’ll do it. [As I understand it] to get our Olympic support money from the Government we need a more structured system than that. So this is what’s going to happen (if you want an accredited sailing school) –
- All instructors and assistant instructors must be accredited by us. Taking into account the training they must receive from us, that will cost you heaps per instructor (so there goes your ‘spread the load, train the kids’ system)
- You will use a system where you put kids who’ve never been in a boat before, kick them off from the beach and tell them to come around a buoy and come back. A great system for a professional instructor wanting to deal with a big class to make money, but hopeless for a club using the old system and indeed a hopeless way of teaching because –
- It scares a lot of kids witless not to have the comfort of an on board instructor; so you’ve immediately filtered out a certain part of the possible sailing group
- It doesn’t allow for a club operating in a 4 knot tide or with ten layers of moored boats off their beach.
- They then pushed for the adoption of the Optimist Dinghy as the boat to be used for this. Something that must have been designed around 1700 (purple font), can’t take more than one person (so no sailing with a friend), something where you have to be taught to sail and bail at the same time and something where when you capsize they come up full of water (assuming the scared witless kid doesn’t just swim back to the beach). Why? Because its an international class and so offers a better Olympic Pathway. This at a time when many clubs were moving into junior classes with self draining cockpits and that could be sailed one or two up. And the difference is that when these boats capsize – after the first time – the kids love it.
Secondly, this ‘pathways’ program seeks to drain the clubs of sailing talent to put them in high performance programs. Bottom line is, the top guy goes through for special training, the rest end up as so much cannon fodder; dispirited, no longer tied to their clubs and usually lost to sailing.
Thirdly, there’s a sense the bureaucracy all this has created (where the administration was previously slim and somewhat volunteer) now seemingly have a number of KPI’s that impact on clubs. The recent requirement that everyone racing in every race must be a member of a club (and thereby affiliated with the National body) was viewed by many as effectively a way of artificially boosting ‘membership’ to meet KPI’s. Much of the mucking about with learn to sail courses one suspects was also KPI driven.
Fourthly, this administration heavy body seems to drain money from clubs without offering anything meaningful back in return.
Some have additional beefs which go to specific incidents, but mine really goes to the way they have pulled clubs apart over the last 25 years. Sure they held ‘public meetings’ about all this, but completely ignored the many voices like mine that objected to what seemed to be their irrational plans.
So it is very possible you’ve had a good experience. That’s great. Whether US sailing has done the same, I don’t know. But even if it has you have missed out on ‘what might have been’. Or maybe you have operated through a club that forgot about accreditation because of its adverse operation and continued with the old ways.