RYA reboots youth program to help sport

Published on February 24th, 2020

The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) is the national governing body for boating in the United Kingdom, and under their reign have advanced the island nation’s youth sailing program into an absolute Olympic juggernaut.

But with the continued escalation of youth development in all sports seeing few limits, the RYA found itself complicit in the trend. Their squad system had provided eligible young sailors an opportunity to develop skills through World Class coaching and support, but the program had  grown to have an adverse impact on the broader sport.

“These development squads would remove the athlete from the broader sailing community,” observed Andrew Coutts. “They’re harvested off from the clubs and associations that initially developed them and silo’d in isolation, providing very little feedback and sharing little of the valued experiences with their local community. Beyond some reflected glory, the return to the grass roots of the sport was questionable.”

Recognizing this, the RYA has unveiled plans to reinvigorate junior racing in the UK by placing more emphasis on regional and club racing.

“Our current program has been hugely successful since inception over 20 years ago, and while there has been detailed evolution it is largely unaltered since it began,” explained Mark Nicholls, the RYA’s Youth Racing Manager. “But times change and what was required then is different to how we can best support young people today, taking into consideration changes in society and the reality for parents.

The revamped British Youth Sailing program will see the current system of U16 national and zone squads replaced with Regional Training Groups (RTGs) from autumn 2020.

These changes have been devised to address challenges facing the sport including declining participation at club level, increasing regional disparity, an over-emphasis on results in junior age groups and the increasing costs and environmental impact of training and racing nationally at a young age.

“While this has been a long time in the planning we are excited to make this change and work to ensure we can position our program to be as successful over the next 20 years as it has in the last 20, and maintain our place as leaders in developing the world’s best young sailors,” said Nicholls.

Each of the six RYA Regions will boast its own RTGs, delivering national-level coaching regionally to arm young sailors with the skills they need to transition into youth classes, and prepare the most experienced for international competition.

They will promote inclusive and accessible training across the UK with the ultimate goal of encouraging more young sailors to take up and stay in the sport. Training will be adapted to meet the varying needs of each group and will be delivered by experienced junior and youth coaches.

British Sailing Team members will regularly attend RTGs to inspire and mentor young sailors. Integrated support will also come from RYA Racing resources developed by experts in Sports Science and Medicine and Coaching Development.

Sailors will be invited from clubs and class associations, with the 2020 British Youth Sailing Regional Junior Championships being the first major opportunity for sailors to show aptitude for inclusion.

Training will take place once a month between October and April each year as a supplement to sailors’ normal club and class racing and training activity.

Coaching will be delivered to the same standard as national junior squads, and will promote British Youth Sailing Values and Behaviours to nurture a lifelong passion for sailing.

British Youth Sailing Recognized Clubs and class associations will be able to apply for support to create accessible local training opportunities for young sailors that can help underpin and prepare sailors for RTGs.

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