“Our sport needs a future and every centre has a responsibility to develop its future” - a strong statement and one that could have come straight out of an RYA handbook.
Except it didn’t. It came from a group of young sailors at All-Aboard Watersports (AAW) in Bristol, who developed their skills and love of sailing through OnBoard to become Assistant Instructors, Dinghy Instructors, Senior Instructors and squad racers.
Last June, six sailors became AAW’s latest crop of AIs to progress from a formal instructor pathway programme the centre put in place in 2016 to capitalize on the enthusiasm of youth and help put the sport in ‘safe hands’ for the future. So why does AAW feel this sense of responsibility so keenly?
Volunteer and AI trainer, Chris Queree, provides some insight: “Most of our young people don’t come from sailing families and don’t have access to boats or facilities. A big issue for us has always been how to develop skills in this group who turn up when they can, for as little money as possible and without family tradition to keep them interested. We owe them the chance to gain skills in the sport.”
Circle of life
AAW places huge value in young people helping young people.
The ethos of the centre’s Saturday Squad, from which their potential instructors are drawn, is ‘No Excuses’ in that if you don’t make a session, you don’t make an excuse. No one is expected to attend; the only expectation is you’re there to have fun. That enjoyment creates an atmosphere where they want to help others get the bug.
Here’s the clever bit…
AI training costs just £5 - the price of a DI handbook - with Chris, who also runs Saturday Squad with other volunteer coaches, delivering the AI course for free. This bespoke training emphasises professional attitudes, specific task training and testing sailing skills, alongside using peer group assessment and feedback.
In exchange for this almost free training, AIs teach adults on Level 1 & 2 courses (supervised by a DI), help with school groups, assist beginners with rigging and de-rigging and coach when a qualified person is in a safety boat. They also demo sailing skills and help with wetsuits, buoyancy aids, wet-gear fitting and tidying after use.
Chris and the rest of the training team, including long-term supporters Ben Palmer, Kelvin Palmer and Pete Sanders, are members of Baltic Wharf SC, which shares the same water. The club also allows a limited time of free membership for young people to sail with the adults.
Chris continues: “Having a mixed age instructional team keeps it lively; there’s value in having less of the traditional top down adult/child relationship. New young sailors see there’s a chance to do more than mess about in boats. They show respect to the AIs in asking for help, appreciate their coaching skill and see our AIs having fun in sailing. This infectious happiness spreads.
"It is the partnership of the centre and club that has allowed us to operate over such a long period and at no cost to the centre.”
Tom Garry, 15, has sailed at AAW since 2013 and is one of the centre’s most recent AI recruits. He agrees: “I think it helps when young people teach young people as it shows sailing isn't as difficult or daunting as they might expect. It might also be easier to ask questions if they don't understand as some people find it easier to talk to people of a similar age.
“When I was approached about becoming an AI I didn't feel intimidated as I was confident in my sailing ability. My Senior Instructor, Michael, went down the same route to being an instructor, which made me more reassured as I’d seen it work.”
Converting AIs into DIs and SIs to top up the instructor pool is another challenge.
AAW AIs are incentivized with powerboat, first aid and disability awareness training. Candidates fund their own DI training, but in the past some have had a ‘free’ course and paid it off with volunteer leadership once qualified. Chris insists most AIs want to progress to DIs once old enough as they see it as a way of continuing to earn money doing something they love.
One of these is 21-year-old Cardiff University Law student, Bridie Lynch, who started sailing at AAW aged eight. She believes her DI skills have put her in good stead for her future career.
“I’m definitely more confident having been a DI,” Bridie admits. “Especially in dealing with people older than me, which has helped in my Law course where I need to be confident and assertive with all sorts of people.
“I love seeing others learn to sail and get a lot of satisfaction from AAW’s success. It’s important to give back because people there did so much for me and the centre reaches children who probably wouldn’t have had the chance to sail.”
Wanting to follow in Bridie’s footsteps is 16-year-old William Lewin, who was “honoured” at being asked to become an AI having joined AAW aged 11. With the feeling he learns something new every time he goes sailing, William believed teaching others would give him an even greater understanding of the sport and that thirst makes him want to give back for the people who taught him.
William said: “It’s incredibly motivating to feel you’ve introduced someone to a sport or to see a student continue their journey. If young people didn't give back, instructors would be worn down quickly as they would see no results from their work. This would take the fun out of the sport for them and for their students. We do this sport for fun and we need to keep it that way, not a chore or a job we do because we have to.”
Chris concludes: “If young people are given the respect they deserve for learning skills, passing them on and growing into their adult life with leadership roles at an early age it boosts their self confidence and skill set.”
That’s how you nurture instructor training at the place young people first got the bug for sailing so they too want to become part of the cycle of growing the sport.