29er Performance Pathway: Part 2 - Academy Concept

After deciding that the 29er was the class to pursue, the next challenge for my boss and I was to sell our vision. Not to the Board of Directors but to sailors!

I had taken for granted how lucky I had been sailing in New Zealand. How lucky I have been to have a father that played a critical role in carefully selecting which boats I sailed and when. Sailing, at least in my opinion, has a very narrow performance pathway. Learning the right skills at the right time is critical to ensure you remain sharp and at the top of your age category nationally.

For me the pathway after Optimist was clear. P-Class, Starling then into the 29er before committing to the Laser Radial in my last year of youth. Whether I was consciously aware or not, I found myself on a pathway, competing against the other best sailors in New Zealand summer after summer. It was a fantastic journey and one that took my brother and I over the country.

My point is simply that a combination of Yachting New Zealand and my father (parents)  did such a good job of channelling not only me, but all of my friends, down the pathway of success in sailing. Little consideration was given to actually what class you sail. It was natural for us to progress towards the 29er or Laser, it was only a matter of time. 

Trying to convince sailors that sailing an ISAF youth Worlds class will expose sailors to great learning opportunities and development was more difficult than I thought. Sailors sticking to traditional “sub-youth” classes is understandably an easy option for many, but it  certainly comes with the risk of stagnating a sailors development at a critical time in their career.

Thus, to try and make a hard decision easier we began the 29er Academy. The concept of the Academy was simple: put together a comprehensive three month training programme with club owned boats, exposing young youth sailors to the 29er class and the demands of youth sailing.

With four club boats purchased over the winter we advertised 8 places with training beginning in April 2017. The programme, in short included…

  • 4 club owned boats

  • 40 on the water sessions across 3 months

  • No pre determined teams – only preferences

  • Sailors gain the opportunity to both skipper and crew during the first month before the natural formation of teams.

  • 2 months of domestic training followed by an international regatta

  • Spring Programme – April, May, June (HSS DTSW Regatta)

  • Fall Programme – August, September, October (KSSS Olympic Regatta)

So in April, 8 young sailors that had never set foot in a 29er began the Academy programme. Unfortunately early on we lost a sailor due to an ambitious Zoom-8 Campaign (more on this later), leaving 7 sailors to rotate and learn the boat as they progressed from swimming to racing.

At the end of June the 3-month programme draw to a close. After approximately 40 on the water sessions and an international regatta under their belt it was decision time for sailors – were they motivated to continue in the class and purchase their own 29er? Or would they pursue other classes?

Of the 3 ½ Teams that participated, 3 decided to purchase their own 29ers.  A great outcome for our first intake.

August 2017 our second intake, or Fall Academy began. With interest from more than 10 sailors, we went out and sourced a fifth 29er to charter off neighbouring club, HSS, bringing our Academy fleet to 5. In addition, we had three returning teams from the Spring, plus two additional teams – one that returned home, and one new team from a neighbouring club. This brought our domestic 29er fleet to 10 teams.

What is special about this programme is that it welcomes sailors from all across Finland. It doesn’t require membership. We’re very proud to have sailors from BS, MP, HSS, HSK and NJK taking part in our programme. It’s fantastic to have a programme that brings sailors together for the purpose of learning, development and reaching potential.

Naturally, with the range in ability of 20 sailors across 10 teams we have had to take the programme one step further by introducing the 29er Performance Pathway Programme - A specific track for those sailors graduating from the 29er Academy with the motivation to perform on the world stage… more in part 3.