Over the weekend the first (of two) 29er domestic qualification regattas were held in Helsinki to select the female and male Finnish representatives for the Youth World Sailing Championships held in Texas this July. The Youth World Sailing Championship, long regarded as the Olympics of youth sailing, is the ultimate sailing event for any sailor under 19 to participate in and win.
In previous years Finnish 29er teams have been required to travel abroad to compete in an international selection event, often including a EuroCup event or European Championship, should timing permit with the Youth World Sailing Championship dates. With no competitions fitting the 2018 timetable this presented the opportunity to push for a domestic qualification series that would reduce cost; increase participation; foster sustainability and support local clubs. As a coach this is something I pushed for and promoted. The Finnish Sailing and Boat Association (SPV), and the 9er Association (of which I later became a board member) supported this philosophy, assigning 18 races across two domestic regattas to decide the Finnish representatives.
My passion to build youth sailing in Finland is pretty clear. When comparing ourselves to neighbouring Sweden there is a lot of work to do. I only know the half of it; however domestic competitions such as these are an important stepping stone in building the youth sailing fleet in Finland. Consider my following reasons...
1. Participation: Domestic regattas' encourage active participation. With a relatively young 29er fleet in the early stages of development it made sense to have a competition on home waters that didn't require a sizeable investment to travel offshore. It gives young teams just starting an incentive to compete and ultimately learn off the older, more experienced teams at a fraction of the cost.
2. Competition: Participation breeds competition. As a fleet grows, the motivation and the difficultly of winning becomes greater. Sailors invest in new equipment and train harder in an effort to get to the top, ultimately leading to more competitive results abroad.
3. Sustainability: Domestic competitions support sustainability of a class in a couple of key ways; Firstly, through domestic exposure, racing at home helps build an important class profile. Through exposure sailors become attracted to the class and recognise it as an important progression from the junior classes of Optimist, Zoom 8, Europe or alike. This is the first step in building a performance pathway where sailors shift from a junior class to a youth class where they learn and develop important racing skills and techniques; Secondly, domestic competitions bring sailors together, building lasting relationships. These lasting relationships ultimately lead to a stronger sailing community and more competitive racing environment where work ethic and camaraderie breed success. These two factors interact to help build a sustainable youth sailing cycle.
4. Clubs: Clubs function for the benefit of the community. Whether it be through junior learn-to-sail programmes or adult education courses clubs play a critical role in the introduction and development of sailing within the community - recreational or competitive. Domestic regattas support clubs through; a) bringing the community together, spurring activity and participation; and b) financial means of a competition fee to help support future investment in grass-roots activity.
The opportunities that the 29er class provide are exciting. I hope that SPV and local clubs will continue to support and promote the class. Through my position at the 9er Association and as a coach I will do my best, along with many others (who do a lot more work than I), to continue to build the class in Finland and help build the platform for youth sailing success and beyond. With 8 teams lining up for the first regatta over the weekend, I hope to see it grow to 11 at the second qualification event in two weeks time. With five domestic regattas throughout the season plus the 29er European Championships in Helsinki this August, it's going to be an exciting season of racing, learning and development.
Good winds, Sam
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