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Top Tips for building club racing

How you can grow racing to keep people sailing

If sailors want to expand on their skills and ability introducing an element of competition can make a big difference in focusing minds and efforts.

The word ‘racing’ can sometimes feel a bit scary, to newer sailors especially, and there are some clubs to whom the concept of running racing is still a little daunting too. But competition doesn’t have to mean competitive. To start with anyway!

So how can you build racing at your club to boost skills, confidence, enjoyment, and ultimately, keep sailors coming back more often? Brett Cokayne, Disability Development Officer and Sailability racing lead, gives us his top tips on building club racing, wherever you are on the journey to getting sailors racing more regularly.

1. Start simple

It sounds obvious, but don’t make grand statements about racing, events, championships, rules and all that impossible sounding stuff when someone is still at the early stages of learning to sail. That is a guaranteed way to put them off.

Yet everyone loves the buzz of friendly competition, it’s why we play cards, board games and do quizzes etc, so introduce racing by stealth! It doesn’t matter what boats sailors are in, you just need one marker and the challenge of who can get there fastest. Instantly brains switch on to thinking about how to get to it as quickly as possible, and the actual sailing skills employed to do that become second nature. Take away any upwind stress by having them reach to the marker too.

As confidence grows, bring in more markers and set a simple course. Elements of the standard ‘rules of the road’ can also start to be introduced, like port gives way to starboard, windward boats keeping clear and avoiding crashes.

2. Regular ‘racing’

A big reason people start to enjoy racing is the social aspect; dissecting what they did and what they could’ve done better over a cuppa afterwards. Social not serious should be the mantra in the early days, but factor in a race or two to each session, keep developing the courses to push skill development and add in more rules to make it more interesting. It’s great for developing skills as a group with specific aims.

Think about your race format too. A few short, sharp races mean more opportunities to practice starting, spotting the wind, rounding marks etc. It also gives sailors the chance to get more regular feedback from instructors/coaches to put into practice.

3. Introduce race training

To start making the transition into more serious racing, for those who want it, you can introduce race training. This could be introducing racing for the first time or it could be developing existing skills, depending on your sailors’ skill levels. 

Sailing with other people is a great way to develop racing skills as it provides an informal platform to learn from others while also encouraging the asking of lots of questions. Draw on the knowledge and experience of those sailors and volunteers already involved in racing at your club to put sessions and races on to suit the standard.

To help progress this the RYA also aims to run some race training within each region to grow enthusiasm for racing in clubs, both amongst sailors and volunteers. This will be a mix of introduction to racing sessions, aimed at sailors who want to try racing for the first time, along with some more advanced racing training opportunities. Part of the aim will be to break down the fears/barriers of starting to go to events.

On these days, the RYA Coach will work with club volunteers on delivering the training to help upskill them to sustain knowledge and training into the future. Watch this space for details! The Regional Rules Advisor and Race Management teams can also come to your club/group to run rules sessions and help you run better, more enjoyable racing. You can find their contacts at the top of the page.

4. Develop a series

People are more likely to keep racing if there is a structured programme. Set up a series of races outside of your normal sessions, publish the dates and start times on a calendar and put the results online so sailors can see their improvement. Boat class doesn’t matter as different classes can race against each other using the Portsmouth Yardstick numbers. Think about race format. Do sailors want 20 or 45-minute races? After all in the first 10-15 minutes most of the sailing positions stay static. Keep sailors excited by running a number of races and starts rather than one long race.

5. Get the RYA Multiclass Regatta in the diary

It doesn’t matter what level sailors are the Multiclass Regatta, at Rutland SC on 4-6 August, can help improve a sailor’s skills and experience the buzz of a big event but in a friendly, easy environment. An optional race training day kicks off the weekend on Friday before two days of racing follow. The training and racing is tailored to cater for sailors of all levels. Full details can be found at the top of the page.

6. Integrate sailors into club racing

If your group is part of or affiliated to a sailing club, sailors taking part in club racing is a great way to up the competitive ante. The Portsmouth Yardstick means results can be calculated comparatively across classes and overall results produced. Disability Awareness Training is available for all volunteers and members to educate on how disabled sailors can be positively supported to promote independence.

7. Help sailors seek out further training opportunities

Many of the class associations run regional training events where coaches are on hand for technical boat advice as well as racing skills, tactics and strategy. These events will also help your sailors get to know others sailing the same class locally, opening up a further network for advice, support and knowledge.

8. Start travelling to events

As well as training events, all class associations run traveller series’ too, both within regions and further afield. Attend some local events with a couple of boats / sailors from your home club as going en masse for the first time is less daunting and also helps to overcome some of the logistical barriers, such as transport, trailers etc. Once your skills and confidence are up to it, it’s next stop Championship entry!

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