A commitment to developing junior racing sailors and windsurfers at Notts County SC has proved to be a winning formula for the club and its young members.
Volunteer-run Notts County SC won the RYA and Yachts & Yachting Club of the Year title in 2018 and gained British Youth Sailing (BYS) Recognised Club status in 2019. With 420 memberships, equating to around 800 people and 450 boats, club treasurer and BYS contact Ross Ryan says the spotlight on supporting the next generation of sailors has been pivotal to the club’s development.
As an RYA Recognised Training Centre and OnBoard club, the availability of courses enables children to get started and then develop their skills, helping to underpin the strong foundations for the club’s extensive junior programme, which spans sailing, windsurfing and powerboating.
“The secret to our success has been a strategy over the last eight years of focussing on our juniors,” says Ross. “We have a Saturday club, which is all about getting lots of kids interested and having fun and following on from that, since we’re a racing club, we encourage Saturday Club sailors to buy a boat and join our Youth Race Squad, where we give them coaching and teach them how to race, and encourage them to take part in our junior series and club racing.”
Over the main season, young club members can also learn how to drive a powerboat on Monday evenings, while Wednesday evenings are for windsurfing, including a small racing group.
There are currently 60 young racing sailors at the club within the BYS pathway, with an even split between boys and girls, and many of its young sailors have been selected for the new BYS Regional Training Groups for junior classes, or for national class and RYA youth squads.
Home and away
The club’s BYS Inspection Report 2020 noted 18 young club members selected for RYA pathway class squads over the previous year; 34 competing on the open circuit regionally and nationally; and 14 competing internationally, including at world championships.
In 2020, despite Covid, 14 young club members and three non-members completed the RYA Youth Racing courses across the Start, Intermediate and Advanced modules. Ten young sailors from the club were selected for the new BYS Regional Training Groups.
At the Midlands’ BYS Regional Junior Championships at Draycote Water in autumn the club fielded a 14-strong team of Topper sailors, which saw an overall win by club member Charlie Hopkinson and the club winning the class for the third year running. Notts County’s Sam Grayton won the Topper 4.2 nationals in 2019 and the Topper 5.3 Autumn Championship title in 2020, while Kate Robertson, now in a 29er, claimed silver at the 2019 Topper worlds. Some have moved up into the 420 youth class, or gone on to be successful in classes outside the RYA pathway, or taken their passion forward to university or into the British Keelboat Academy to develop team racing or big boat racing skills.
“What we’ve shown at Notts County is that it can happen - we’re an example of where club activity has developed top level sailors,” says Ross. “It’s about getting more children involved at the grassroots and up to a good standard, then encouraging those that go on to become good sailors to help bring on the younger ones. It’s working for us and you can see that in our regional and national results, which reflect the fruits of many years of Notts County being a centre of excellence for training and in particular for nurturing young talent. We hope to sustain this in the years ahead.”
Notts County SC’s Saturday Club runs from May to September, enabling participants to aged 5 to 15 to develop friendships and water confidence and have fun. It is run by volunteers and parents, who help out with boat rigging and maintenance, safety boats and instructing.
There are around 100 junior sailors on the books for Saturday Club but due to Covid, the club had to temporarily restrict numbers on the water in 2020 and started sessions later in the year, with around 22 young sailors taking part from August to mid-October.
Saturday Club juniors have to be a member of the club, costing a flat rate of £126 a year, with no additional weekly fee for the sessions and with the hire of club boats included. The club fleet includes Optibats, Qubes, Toppers, RS Feva and Topaz dinghies and children who think they might like to try sailing can come along for one or two taster sessions before deciding whether to join.
As Ross explains: “Saturday Club is accessible and low cost and the key to it is youngsters having fun and getting to know some friends. We encourage parents to help and we facilitate with accessing boats and second-hand sailing gear.”
Youth Race Squad
A Youth Race Squad then provides more structured coaching in modules, running once a week over six weeks in Spring - to prepare for the new racing reason – and again in Autumn to encourage participants to carry on racing through winter.
In this squad, there are currently around 30 young sailors aged 9-15, headed by Stephanie Gunn and supported by an army of helpers including youth coaches and mentors.
The modules offer a syllabus enabling participants to develop racing skills such as starting and tactics, while also learning about boat set-up, fair play, sportsmanship, racing rules and protests. Youth Racing Squad members are expected to compete in club racing.
The club races all year round and in the main season there is junior and novice racing on Tuesday evenings plus club racing on Thursday evenings, Saturday afternoons and Sundays, providing lots of opportunities for juniors to hone their skills in their own fleet starts and alongside adults.
The club encourages its young members to become coaches and mentors, training them up as Assistant and Dinghy Instructors so they can support the club’s BYS programme and provide some self-sustaining momentum rather than relying solely on parents and volunteers.
“Our younger kids really look up to the older teenagers and relate to them, while our youth sailors in turn really appreciate being instructors and suddenly realise there’s a whole other side to sailing which they find rewarding,” says Ross.
Even junior sailors are encouraged to help out in this way; the club’s youngest mentor is 12-year-old Optimist sailor Cillian Dyne, who provides valued additional support for Saturday Club participants.
Going forward the club plans to launch its own accreditation programme for young sailors who want to develop instructor skills, providing a motivational framework for ticking off their achievements until they are old enough to take more formal RYA qualifications.
Racing fun and friendships
Teenager Heather Quinn started sailing at Notts County SC six years ago and has progressed through the full range of activities offered by the club from junior to youth level, and in addition to top level racing also now plans to become an instructor.
It all began with a Stage 1 and 2 beginner course for children during a school holiday, when Heather stepped into an Optimist at the age of 10. She recalls: “I liked the adventure side of it and the independence it gave me because I went on the water and left my parents on the shore! It was a really good course: everyone at the club helps and gets stuck in and the instructors were always kind and friendly and would help out when you needed it.”
The course gave Heather confidence and she says Saturday Club provided the ideal next step: “It was all about having fun and enjoying sailing and that made me love it even more. Then on Saturday afternoons, when the older or more experienced children turn up for racing, you can see the progression and what the next person is doing, and follow them on to the next stage. I moved into Toppers and did a Level 3 course, then joined the club’s Youth Race Squad and started to race at weekends and on Tuesday nights for novices.”
A key part of the appeal was making lots of friends to have fun racing with and when Heather discovered that some junior sailors at the club had been selected for RYA regional and national squads, decided to follow in their footsteps. Heather was in the RYA Topper Zone Squad 2017-18, Topper Class National Squad 2018-19 and RYA National Topper Squad 2019-20.
Now aged 16, Heather is helming a 420 as well as Topper sailing, and inspired by her own experiences, also helps at Saturday Club and plans to become an instructor. When asked about the role of Notts County SC in supporting her passion for the sport, Heather sums up: “It’s just always been fun as well as competitive. The club is really friendly and supportive of juniors and because there are so many young sailors at our club, we have lots of friends and good racing.”
The RYA works in partnership with sailing clubs through the British Youth Sailing (BYS) Recognised Club Programme to help them establish or enhance their junior race training. A BYS Recognised Club allows junior sailors to develop their sailing and racing skills, and encourages young sailors at grassroots level to stay in the sport. Find out more here.