Twelve Ideas for Developing a Provincial Youth Sailing Team in Québec (Part 1)

For a few years now, there has been talk about reconstituting a provincial youth sailing team in Quebec. Here are some ideas for doing so, which are not only adapted to the situation in Quebec, where competitive sailing is a little practiced sport, but which also rely on the methods used where high performance athletes are regularly produced.

These ideas focus on youth sailors aged 12 to 18 and aim at making them more successful without hurting their schooling, which typically becomes more demanding as the years go by. The considerations discussed here are diverse, from the choice of boats to annual planning and cost control. These ideas are the result of many discussions and reflections on the subject in recent years. They aim at offering practical solutions that address the needs of athletes, coaches, parents, as well as club and provincial officials.

Find here the original document in French. Trouvez ici la version originale en français.

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CONTENTS

I. Strategically Position the Provincial Team between the Club and Federal Levels
II. Initially Limit to 4 the Types of Boats Eligible for the Provincial Team
III. Adopt a Light and Agile Structure
IV. Develop Specific Annual Plans
V. Participate in Well Chosen International Competitions
VI. Reconcile Competitive Sailing and School Requirements
VII. Extend the Sailing Season with Training in New England
VIII. Organize Winter Training, with Priority During School Holidays
IX. Use the Winter Period for Physical Preparation and Theoretical Training
X. Control Annual Costs with Good Planning
XI. Develop Professional Communications about the Team’s Activities
XII. Seek Public Funding and Sponsorships

ADDITIONAL NOTES

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I. Strategically Position the Provincial Team between the Club and Federal Levels

The practice of competitive sailing is limited to a few clubs in Quebec. And yet, the province regularly produces high-level athletes, who will then be able to progress at the Canadian and international levels. Sailing athletes’ development is typically at the club level. But at a certain point, the majority of clubs are no longer able to support their best athletes, due to lack of coaching resources. Also, to progress, it is essential that the athlete trains with several other athletes of his level, or a higher level. It is at this stage that a provincial team composed of the most promising young athletes from different clubs is justified. The young athlete will remain a member of his/her club, but will train the vast majority of the time with the other athletes on the provincial team. As indicated below, a limited number of places are available within this team, in order not to degrade the clubs and also to make sure that the provincial team will really have a higher level than the clubs.

II. Initially Limit to 4 the Types of Boats Eligible for the Provincial Team

It is essential to strategically choose and limit the types of boats that are eligible for the team.

For single-handed sailing dinghy, it is first and foremost the Laser Radial, of course, which is very well established in clubs, both at the provincial and Canadian levels. There would be a specialized Laser coach who would be assigned to the Laser Radial group/squad, which would consist of up to 8 athletes. While initially, best Radial sailors would be part of the sub-team, or squad, it will progressively be mostly made of sailors graduating from the Laser 4.7 squad.

The second type of single-handed boat is indeed the Laser 4.7, which is the normal passage between the Optimist and the Laser Radial. Neglected for many years in Canada and Quebec, the Laser 4.7 is highly developed in Europe, and is progressively being established in Canada, with growing fleets including Nova Scotia, British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. Including the Laser 4.7 is essential, to accommodate the most promising young people of the Optimist, without compromising their talents. The 4.7, unlike the Laser Radial, which requires a much higher physical weight (minimum of 145 pounds), is suitable immediately after the Optimist. With the Laser 4.7, athletes in Optimist have a real option for single-handed dinghy sailing and can avoid staying too long in Optimist, where it is not possible to be competitive beyond about 110 pounds. Athletes in Laser 4.7 will stay in this group for one, two or three years, before transitioning to the Laser Radial, or to a double dinghy, if their weight remains insufficient for the Laser Radial. At the international level, the Laser 4.7 is a U18 class, and therefore the maximum age to participate in competitions is 17 years. This rule should also be imposed on the provincial team. To begin with, the 4.7 squad would be composed of up to 8 athletes, but it would be possible to increase the number thereafter.

The third boat is the Club 420, which remains the most common double-handed dinghy in Quebec, Canada and North America. There have been recent attempts in Canada and the USA to introduce the International 420, but there is no substantial movement in this direction, and participation in regattas remains limited in the i420. To be competitive in Club 420, it will be necessary to find arrangements with the clubs so that the selected athletes can use, as far as possible, quality boats, competitive, belonging to their club. However, it will be likely necessary for some athletes to purchase new or lightly used boats. The Club 420 is not an international class, but it offers many racing opportunities in the North American context, including the national and North American championships. To begin, there would be 8 to 12 athletes and therefore only 4 to 6 boats in the team. This number would eventually be increased, to have more abundant fleets for training, which would require a second coach, or a coach assistant.

The fourth boat is the 29er, which has recently experienced a resurgence of popularity in the province, but which is also growing internationally, especially in Europe. The 29er is the logical springboard to the 49erFX and the 49er - two Olympic dinghies. Like the Club 420, the 29er offers the opportunity for athletes with a body weight too low for sailing single-handed, since these boats advantage to have as helm an athlete of moderate weight. As with the Club 420, there would initially be 8 to 12 athletes and therefore 4 to 6 boats in the team. This number would also be increased in the long term, to have a larger fleet for training. This would also require the intervention of a second coach, or a coach assistant.

It should be noted here that the fifth type of equipment that would be desirable, from an international perspective, but that is unfortunately not currently popular enough in the province, is windsurfing. The equipment to be used is the Techno 293 and Techno 293+, very popular internationally and very affordable. The RS: X, which could soon lose its Olympic status, would not be used. Windsurfing could be added to the program after a year or two, just like kiteboarding. At the Paris Olympics in 2024, windsurfing and kite boarding are expected to have 3 in 10 sailing medals - which demonstrates the importance of promoting these disciplines in the province and in Canada in general. Also to be followed is the evolution of windsurfing to windfoiling - a discipline that is attracting international attention and could become Olympic.

For other dinghies, such as the Standard Laser, the 49er, the 49erFX, the 470, or the Nacra 17, it is not desirable to include them. The number of athletes involved is too small. Athletes opting for these platforms will typically be 18 years old or more. Their level of performance in sailing should be then sufficient to seek support at the federal level with Sail Canada.

As for training locations, it will be necessary to find the most practical solutions for everyone. There would be 2 or 3 clubs particularly involved. Currently, for example, the 29er is mostly practiced at the Royal St Lawrence Yacht Club. This would be the logical place for training the 29er crews of the provincial team. It will be necessary to see where to organize the Laser 4.7, the Laser Radial and the Club 420, which should be done, however, initially on the West Island of Montreal, where the majority of the top athletes are currently training. Eventually, it will be possible to replicate the model in other locations, typically near large urban centers.

III. Adopt a Light and Agile Structure

With the 4 types of boat, and the 8 to 12 athletes planned for each of them at the beginning, we talk about a total of 32 to 40 athletes and 4 coaches. This would be the bare minimum, but it should be added to it a Sporting Director, a position that is standard in most sailing clubs with competition teams, and that would support the work of coaches.

The Sporting Director's responsibilities would include all forms of planning at the (sub) teams and individual athlete levels, logistics coordination, partnerships, etc. He/she will also have a responsibility for communicating with parents, clubs, etc. The Sporting Director would be regularly present on the water to support the coaches, and could also produce quality audio-visual material for both training and communication purposes. The position of sporting director would be funded from the team's budget, since it appears that the provincial organization, Voile Québec, does not presently have funds for such a position.

As for coaching, it will be necessary to recruit the best coaches available for each type of boat. It is essential to have international level coaches. Otherwise, participating in the team will not make sense for the athletes. An objective selection of coaches, based on their knowledge of the boat they are applying for, and the results achieved with athletes in the past, should be made.

There would be a lot of autonomy left to the 4 "sub-teams" / squads for the development of their training and competition programs. We must indeed expect that the regatta programs for the 4 types of boat will be very different.

The impartiality of the team leadership will be essential. It is expected there will be many applications for membership of the team, this for just a few slots. This is the whole idea: an elite team, that would not negatively impact the programs in the clubs. Rigorous selection criteria and systems, based for example on results at competitions such as CORK, or regattas that have been identified as selective, would be put in place.

As noted above, especially for the Club 420 and the 29er, it will be possible to increase the size of the team, and also to add for example windsurfing. All of this requires more resources. At first, it will be necessary to start with a light and agile structure, and a staff limited to 4 coaches and a sporting director.

IV. Develop Specific Annual Plans

A progression in competition sailing requires annual quality planning for each athlete. Athletes sailing on the same type of boat will generally have very similar annual plans. The main exception is the preparation and participation in major international championships - Europeans and Worlds - where only one or a few athletes would participate.

Planning a year of sailing is often largely conditioned by the race schedule. Another super important element is the athletes' school calendar. And of course, in the context of Quebec and most jurisdictions in Canada, the inability to sail locally for 6 months of the year due to the long winter season has a clear impact on planning

The annual planning of a group of sailors competing on the same boat is generally not complex. Let’s take the example this year of Nova Scotia and its group of athletes in the Laser 4.7. Those athletes have sometimes trained in their respective clubs, sometimes together, during the spring and early summer. There were 2 day regattas in Halifax, St Margarets Bay and Lunenburg, as well as in Shediac, New Brunswick (Sail East, in the Laser Radial for lack of 4.7). Then the athletes headed to Kingston in early August to compete in the Canadian Youth Championships in the Laser 4.7 (a successful regatta with more than 60 participants) and the subsequent Laser 4.7 World Championship. For training in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, there were usually about 10 athletes. For regattas, there were twenty. The program was developed by Agustin Ferrario of the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron, who advises provincial officials and regularly accompanies Canadian athletes to World Sailing Youth World Championships. The program was simple and flexible, and achieved its goals. It even allowed a guest athlete from Quebec to participate, resulting in a place of 3rd Canadian athlete at the Canadian Youth Laser 4.7 Championship, this only after a few months in the 4.7.

The example of Nova Scotia shows the autonomy that each group / sub-team must have. Only for winter training, and possibly spring and fall, and certain events, such as provincial championships, would the entire team be in one place.

If the planning of the season will largely determine the training and competitions of each athlete, it is also appropriate to have tailored individual plans, to take into account factors such as school obligations, budget constraints, participation in certain competitions, or non-participation, motivated, in certain competitions or practices.

V. Participate in Well Chosen International Competitions

The example shown above for the Laser 4.7 shows the importance of good planning, which in this case was excellent and actually enabled the athletes to be reasonably competitive at the worlds - most having finished in the middle of the silver fleet.

Choosing competitions to participate in is very important, for several reasons. First of all, as it often takes a lot of time for travel and to participate in regattas, the competition has to be worth it. Then there is the question of costs, and some destinations are obviously much more expensive than others. It is also important to ensure that there are enough competitions that contribute to the selection mechanisms in place for certain classes - for example for the Laser 4.7 and the Laser Radial, there is a "Grand Prix" managed by the North American Laser Class Association. Collecting points for that Grand Prix is needed to qualify for the world championship.

It is important to emphasize here the importance of Europe, where most youth sailing competitions take place. Sailing is a sport much more practiced in Europe than in North America

To participate in high level races, in the Laser 4.7, the Radial or the 29er, it is quite inevitable to travel in Europe. It is only the 420 Club that has all its competitions in North America, since elsewhere in the world, it is the 420 International, or i420, which is used for 420 racing.

So, for 3 of the 4 types of boat, an annual trip to Europe will be justified - knowing that the cost implications - boat rental, international travel - are substantial. Decisions to participate or not in competitions in Europe will have to be made collegially, and should not be forced on athletes / families.

It must be noted that participation in international high level competitions is important, even if one cannot typically hope initially to make it in the Gold Fleet. Only by being internationally exposed can an athlete gradually understand its deficiencies and, ultimately, hope to remedy them.

After much practice and real progress at the local and provincial levels, participation in international competitions, especially in Europe, is justified and needed for the further progression of the athlete.

VI. Reconcile Competitive Sailing and School Requirements

It is necessary to plan sailing activities, whether training or competitions, according to school schedules and requirements.

If there are few school constraints when the youth sailor is 12 or 13 years old, things change quickly afterwards, with the school pressure and the requirements of good marks for the continuation of studies beyond high school.

Certainly, there is now a sailing / study program in one school in Quebec, and some schools also offer more flexibility than others, even up to special catch-up sessions for high performance athletes who have been absent. But in general, there is little flexibility, and the planning of sailing activities needs to be adapted to the school requirements.

The following proposals, to extend the sailing season, and to train in winter, respect this important consideration of reconciling high-level sailing with schooling requirements.

It should be noted that some schools have particularly favorable schedules to allow after school sailing, for example once or twice a week, during the few months of the school year when it is possible (September, October, May , June). This is something that should be much more encouraged and should also be integrated into the activities of the provincial team.

See part 2.
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