“If you’re still worrying about how to change gear, then you can’t concentrate properly on the road.”

That cracking analogy for why budding Race Officers need to get event time under their belts comes courtesy of RYA National Race Officer and Rutland Rear Commodore, John Fothergill.

Remember when we told you about the new RYA Midlands Youth Series way back in November? We mentioned then that each of these events would provide the chance for any Club Race Officers - those who had done the RYA Race Officer theory course or who simply wanted to get more experience away from their home club – to get involved and be mentored by an appointed RYA National Race Officer?

Well fast forward six months, and all the slots are filled - with six developing ROs being mentored by five National Race Officers, one of which is John. That is a huge positive for RO development and quality race delivery in the Midlands.

Learning on the job

With his vast experience of international and national events, John was paired with Chase SC’s Alex Walton at the RYA Midlands Youth Series event at Alex’s home club in May. Alex first, and admittedly reluctantly, got involved as an RO about five years ago when he was volunteered for club racing duties on Wednesday night.

But, that experience piqued an interest and the 24-year-old now has his eyes fixed on being an RO at club Opens, while he hopes to get the opportunity to RO at other clubs and some bigger events in the future. That’s why he signed up to be mentored.

As Alex explains: “I wanted to become an RO to help out with the club and gain knowledge in order to help me race and sail and also understand why ROs make the decisions they do. Also it’s nice when it’s sunny! Getting experience away from your home club takes you out of your comfort zone and you also get to see what challenges are at other locations. It’s also good to work with other people to share and develop ideas with.

“Through being mentored by John, I was looking to get some knowledge on how to make the whole day run smoother and improve my decision-making regarding course setting to hopefully help me progress further through the RO scheme.”

For John, the ‘mentoring’ initiative is about building confidence as much as competency. He suggests ROs break an event into chunks, such as briefings, boat prep, course laying, starting a race, mark roundings and finishing a race, etc, that can be briefed and debriefed in isolation to help the rookie RO develop their skills.

He continues: “My mentor once asked me what the main objective of the day was. I floundered around with various answers, but his response was that we were there to have fun! So, primarily, I hope being an RO is a fun experience.

“Part of being an RO is being fluent in the basics. As a RO, you don’t need to be worrying about the timing and the flag sequence - that should be second nature - you need to be concentrating on whether the line’s right, if the windʼs changing and what the competitors are doing. So, I hope Alex finds that the next time he runs an event he is well prepared and more confident and competent during the day.”

No need to wait

John believes getting involved in race officer duties is a brilliant way for young people to develop leadership skills, from the prep work of being involved in writing the Sailing Instructions, through to ensuring you have a well-briefed team, to reacting quickly to situations to ensure the competitors have a good race.

He also thinks it presents a different pathway for people to stay in the sport they love while providing other perks too…“If you are a regular racing competitor, then it will also give you a much better understanding of the way that a race is controlled, and perhaps even a competitive advantage.”

Still only 26, Tom Rusbridge, part of the RYA Midlands Regional Race Officials team, is himself a great example of someone who became an RO at a young age. This makes him passionate about inspiring the next generation and he believes the situation in the Midlands is buoyant.

January’s RYA Race Management course at Notts County SC was fully-subscribed with a lot of experience and energy in the room with people from a range of sailing backgrounds. Meanwhile, the RYA Club Rules Adviser Course, hosted at Burton SC in March, saw around 15 people from a number of different clubs attending, taking back what they learned to their home clubs to help support and improve club racing.

Tom said: “There's huge variety in terms of the styles of racing, classes sailed and membership of clubs in the region. But, regardless of where or how racing takes place, I think all of this shows clubs are committed to making sure the racing they provide to members is fair and enjoyable.

“This is really important, and if our Midlands Regional Race Officials team can provide any support to clubs then all they need to do is ask.”

Want to know more?

If you’re not sure where to start, our Midlands RYA Regional Race Officials team of David Wilkins, Steve Watson, William Jeffcoate and Nadina Lincoln plus Tom can help point you in the right direction or check out the RYA website – Race Officials

For those of you in the north of the region, there will be a RYA Race Management course in Yorkshire in October, while bookings are already being taken for the RYA Midlands Mark Laying Workshop at Staunton Harold SC on 8 September.