Is Kids Sailing Too Elitist? Should They Just Have Fun?

Published on June 2nd, 2013

By Roger McMillan
As editor of Australian Sailing + Yachting, which puts a lot of emphasis on improving skills and being competitive, I get many emails from parents of young sailors complaining that Yachting Australia and the state bodies put too much emphasis on the elite side of the sport.

“There needs to be more funding for grass-roots sailing,” is a typical refrain.

It matters not, as I continually point out, that the elite funding is given for that specific purpose (ie, to win Olympic gold medals) and that were we to disband the Australian Sailing Team that money would NOT be available for grass-roots sailing anyway. The “grass-roots” mob will not be swayed from their opinions. They also conveniently ignore that fact that the success of YA’s High Performance unit has also generated funds for “participation”.

But it seems now that they have allies in high places. The Australian Sports Commission has just released a report that says kids’ sport is too elitist and competitive and goes on to urge clubs to make it fun for poor performers.

The ASC called on clubs to “promote equality regardless of skill level”, and avoid “overt competitiveness”.

“There needs to be a focus on ease of ‘entry’ in terms of ensuring everyone feels they can join regardless of skill level or motivation,” its report says. “The underlying motivation for participating in sport is to have fun and socialise.”

However, The Daily Telegraph reports that at least one Australian doesn’t completely agree. Champion swimming coach Laurie Lawrence is quoted as saying: “”Life’s not like that, where everyone wins a prize.

Lawrence agrees that sport has to be fun but recommends a balance. “Drills are essential for improving technique, and if you haven’t got a good technique you’re never going to be good at anything. How you bend the tree, that’s how it’s going to grow.

“The best coaches are the ones who make it fun to go to training regardless of how good you are,” he said. “That little tubby kid might be a six-foot-six physical specimen once they’ve gone through puberty so it is very important that sport is fun for kids. But there has got to be a certain amount of discipline. They just can’t go to sport to muck around. If you didn’t push off properly, come back and do it again.” – Read on

Comment: I love how a champion swimming coach is part of this discussion. My guess is that Laurie doesn’t spend much time at the public swim pool, or the beach, where the majority of people swim. Same goes for sailing – most people don’t race. What does your club’s junior sailing program emphasize? Is it ‘cool’ not to race? – Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt

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