Already going for Gold

TheDailySail takes a look at what the RYA is up to at the new Weymouth and Portland Sailing Academy

Friday October 29th 2004, Author: Andy Nicholson, Location: United Kingdom
Great Britain has been top sailing nation at the past two Olympic Games. This time frame neatly coincides with the tenth anniversary of the National Lottery – and the resultant funding that has flowed into the coffers of the Royal Yachting Association.

That is the simple equation. The complicated one involves countless sporting agencies, committees, projects, sponsors, coaches, RYA squads and not forgetting the talented sailors that have ultimately resulted in Gold, Silver and Bronze.

Campaigning at the top level costs a lot of money – and the top Team GBR sailors manage serious budgets through the four year Olympic cycle. This is what the world sees. Well organised, well financed British sailors doing the Olympic regatta circuit all paid for by the RYA and the hefty amount of cash that the Lottery supplies. No wonder they get all those medals.

This is far from the truth - the handout of cash anyway. What the world doesn’t see is the 70 sailors at the second RYA run Olympic Development Squad training camp.

Held last week at (the part Lottery funded) Weymouth and Portland Sailing Academy, the sailors, coaches, trainers and RYA staff put in a solid week of graft at this recently opened facility. Yes, just two months since the Olympics concluded, 70 new heir-apparents are putting in the hard hours.

The week long camp was one of six that are conducted through the winter before the main sailing season starts again in March next year. Those attending are mostly on D-Level funding; this sits underneath the Olympic Team and the broader squad of World Class Performance sailors.

The demographics of the ODS are principally medallists from Youth or ISAF worlds, achievers of a high standard at an Olympic class regatta - through to those sailors that fit the bill or who have caught eye of the RYA. If you meet the required standard you will have most probably received a call by now.

The squad does not exist solely to churn out the next Ben Ainslie or Shirley Robertson. Barry Edgington (left), who is the ODS Manager explained what the goals are: “Achievement comes in many different forms. It’s a big step for the young sailors going from Youth to Olympic, until they have actually done an [Olympic Class] event they don’t know what the step is. The main thing we are trying to do is to cater for those on D level funding who are looking to move up.”

The age group of the sailors is also a factor, with most falling between 18-25 years. “Our sailors are very often university level individuals,” says Edgingtion “and they are trying to obtain degrees as well. So a lot of them cannot put a lot of time into it and so goals are different.”

The sailors also have to contend with what Edgington calls “Lifestyle changes”, this includes things like freedom at university, being away from home and driving for the first time. “For some there’s a realisation that sailing was great for me at youth level, but now it’s not really what I want to do” says Edgington.

The Squad and the camps are not a holiday and sailors are expected to show the right level of progress. This breaks down initially into two areas – those that you can control and those that you can’t. Edgington, continually dipping in and out of ‘Sports Speak’, calls these controllable areas ‘Process Goals’, things like fitness, technical knowledge, rules knowledge and the like. Coupled with this are Edgington's constant references to ‘Professionalism’, ‘Measure’ and ‘Goals’; “The main thing is that they have to be professional about what they do and have the potential. As long as they show that and continue to show that, then there are in good shape. The message is very clear, and I think they understand what they need to achieve in the controllable areas.”

“It is getting the balance between getting an enjoyable, aggressive environment and being completely dictatorial. Somewhere in the middle is a balance. We are not a pure physical sport, we’re more about individuals – where people can think on their own and make decisions. We want those people but they have to put the right building blocks in place,” confirms Edgington.

A sailor may stay on the ODS programme for up to two years, although this isn’t fixed in stone. What is clear is a sailor wont last long if the right aptitude and attitude are not in evidence. “Make no bones about it,” says Edginton without menace, “if people aren’t right for the programme then we don’t intend to keep them here. We are not a charity and we don’t want to hold the programme back.”

The training camps have a modular structure, with some elements specific to an individual week and others developed over the full programme. A large proportion of the time is given over to on-the-water training and this is where the new building at Portland comes into it’s own.

Now everything is housed under the one roof – from lecture rooms, dining areas, to the gym (the sailors are housed a few minutes away). Sitting right on the edge of Portland Harbour, with what appears to be every window looking over the water, time can be maximised. “It means that you can sit in a lecture room like this and you can be waiting for wind, and be doing something constructive” says Edgington.

The RYA has close relationships with a number of big sailing clubs around the country that have each benefited from an injection of Lottery cash, places like Rutland and Hayling Island for example. Weymouth and Portland Sailing Academy differs because the new facility has been very heavily geared towards what the RYA wanted out of a sailing club. Again financed by the Lottery, plus a large consortium of local and regional agencies and businesses, what now stands on the edge of Portland harbour is the RYA’s dream.

The club is privately run as a ‘not for profit business’ and the RYA has to book in it’s allotted time like anyone else. “It’s been designed to deliver,” enthuses Edgington. “It is the most dedicated centre we have got and on one of the key sailing areas that we have always used. The sailing area itself has drawn us here for decades.” Weymouth Bay, which is just a short sail to east of Portland Harbour will be the sailing venue if London wins the 2012 Olympic bid.

The location, coupled with the new building, have made an immediate impact on the productivity of the training camps as Edington explains: “There is nothing like this in the UK and certainly not on this scale. As you can see from the hangar (below), you can step straight out of a lecture and into a gym program. If it’s chuffing down with rain and blowing a gale, then you can wheel your boats in and do some technical work, there are some very practical elements to the centre that make it stand out for us. They have also made a large proportion of the building a wet area –so we can operate outside the normal club environment.”

One gets the feeling that this is the final building block (literally) in the RYA’s assault on Olympic Sailing. Apart from the obvious benefit of having a custom building at their disposal, Edgington believes there are now new gains to be had: “I think there is a psychological shift in the way everyone views their training at this centre now. You try to be as professional as you can and if the environment doesn’t match that often results in a poor mindset. We are trying to get the younger sailors to think ‘world class’ and just to have the environment actually adds to that. So it’s probably not measurable in real terms but we know it has an impact.

“If you read anything about our Olympic success you know that we are the most professional team and funnily enough we had the most medals. Obviously, the right talent, but professionalism and an understanding of what is ‘world class’, is important to these sailors.”

Next week we’ll be looking in a little more detail at exactly what goes on at the camps and also finding out what role the English Institute of Sport plays.

In the meantime, the next Olympic cycle for British sailors is well under way.

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