Seriousness in the Sport of Sailing

Published on August 22nd, 2017

Are we taking ourselves and our sport too seriously? Scuttlebutt editor Craig Leweck takes on the topic for Sailing World magazine.

Performance is importance in competition, right? Of course it is. Each sport might vary in its approach, but support in any way is critical to athletic competition. There are coaches and trainers and layers beyond that, and winning formulas are copied and improved upon. But excellence doesn’t come cheap. Investments must be made. Success is not accidental.

This is especially true with amateur sailing. The big paydays seen in other sports don’t ever happen in ours, but if winning remains important, we don’t have to look far for examples. One must simply get the best athletes, equip them with the best gear, provide them with superior support, and guide them with brilliant coaches. “Winning is all in the preparation,” says five-time Olympic medalist Ben Ainslie.

While sailing has competition rules, there are no defined preparation rules. And like most everything, investment in preparation continues to creep ever higher. Without restrictions, one’s approach to a recreational sport can become quite professional. Depending on your type of sailing, pursuing the pickle dish has gotten seriously expensive.

There are those who will always play harder—always have, always will. However, I fear we are teetering on the edge of taking ourselves too seriously. Even respect for the game is getting lost in the fog of winning at all costs. A new level of support is coming out of the shadows and onto the podium. I’m seeing far more photos of winning sailors accepting their trophies alongside their coach, and I am struggling with the optics and the message.

There is a heightened urge for improvement. It’s not just sailing; it’s in all sports. Maybe it’s fueled by helicopter parenting, but I wonder how it impacts the ability for people to get into the sport, or stay in the sport. While it is hard to say that knowledge is ever bad, can standards get set so high that people aren’t willing to make the commitment?

Coaching for sailing has become exceedingly professional with standards, certifications and analysis tools. From learn-to-sail classes up to elite competition, coaching is now a well-paid, protected profession that has requirements to entry and provides a highly valued product. It is no longer just the best summer job I ever had, but now a full-fledged occupation that will continue to make its mark in the sport.

It’s impressive witnessing the scale of support now seen at the upper end of the sport. The hundreds of RIBs at the Rio Olympics made me wonder about the carbon footprint of our sport. During the World Cup Series in Miami, I followed the 49er skiffs around the course, watching coaches with cameras do the same. With no restrictions on contact outside of racing, sailors and their support would meet after each finish for a debrief with iPad video review.

Full report… click here.

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