Some time ago I was lucky enough to interview a group of senior school students at one of our country’s oldest international schools. We were talking about leadership, what it meant to them and what experiences they thought were of value in developing this key skill.
Not all of these students were necessarily seeking leadership positions in their future careers and they came from a wide range of backgrounds, from different countries and with varying interests and personalities. What did stand out however was their recognition that these key skills were important to them as people and that they were a distinctly different set of skills from those developed through management experiences.
Time and again they wanted to talk about their adventures outdoors, either putting up tarpaulins in the rain, unhitching the trailer from the minibus before it got stuck in the mud or discovering the joy of being in charge of (and trusted with) a powerful motorboat. These were experiences where it mattered what they did, they were no longer in a passive role and they could take charge of a situation.
As an adult, I have often appreciated how immensely rewarding it can be when a child or a teenager finally feels confident enough to take the reins and show others how to do something (I will never forget being gently rebuked by my friend’s four year old son for trying to hammer a tent peg into the ground using my shoe instead of a proper hammer!).
On a more practical note, a young person who has tested their courage in new situations has a great deal more to discuss in job interviews and their inner confidence and willingness to tackle unfamiliar tasks is valued in almost any industry and can even last a lifetime.
Fortunately, there are a number of fantastic organisations that want to help children develop these skills by getting into watersports. The RYA, for example offers OnBoard, Team 15 and Junior Racing programmes. The information below is also available on their website rya.org.uk.
OnBoard (OB) is all about introducing young people, aged 8 to 18, to sailing and windsurfing.
Since it started (back in 2004) nearly half a million kids (that’s loads!) have had a go and 30,000 are now hooked and sailing all the time. As well as getting young people out on the water and learning a new skill, it’s also a great way of meeting new friends and having lots of fun.
At the moment there are over 200 OnBoard clubs all across the country with more getting involved all the time. One of the really great things about the OnBoard programme are the festivals, when youngsters from different schools get together out on the water to enjoy some friendly racing, games, events and have fun.
When school’s out young people can also meet up with their fellow OnBoarders at inter-club festivals for more sailing fun and socialising during the long summer holidays. If you want to know more about OnBoard you can visit the OnBoard website at http://www.rya.org.uk/programmes/rya-onboard
For those who are aged 15 or under and love windsurfing or want to learn, then Team15 (T15) is for them. Windsurfing is exhilarating, easy to learn but offers challenges along the way. It’s never boring, is environmentally friendly and it doesn’t cost the earth. It’s something that can be enjoyed alone, with friends or family, or as part of a team. There are over 80 T15 windsurfing clubs across the country; that get together each week.
With Team15 young people can enjoy being part of the weekly club sessions or participate in the inter-club challenges as well. But it’s the challenges that give Team15 its name. Each club can enter the inter-club challenges with a team of up to 15 people aged 15 and under. This is when the best 15 windsurfers from each club represent their club at four inter-club regional heat events over the summer, followed by the Team15 Champions Cup, the national final held every October. Find out more at www.team15.org.uk
For others who fancy being the next Ben Ainslie and competing at the Olympics then they need to check out the RYA’s Youth Racing programme, starting with the RYA Zone and Home Country Squads. The Zone and Home Country Squads provide local coaching for talented young sailors who are looking to develop their racing skills. For those aged between 9-14 years old there is the very best training, as well as loads of fun.
As a squad sailor a young person can take part in six training weekends that take place in each of the different local Zones, usually between October and April, and when the competitive season starts, selected sailors will attend events such as the RYA Eric Twiname Championships and class national squad events.
The classes involved at Zone and Home Country Squad level are: RS Feva, Topper, BIC Techno 2930D and Optimist. The next step after the Zone squads is the RYA National Junior Squad for 12 – 15 year olds (16 for Technos) which is one of the world’s most extensive racing and race training programmes for sailors under 16 years old, developing young sailors to win medals for RYA Team GBR at major international regattas at Youth and Olympic level. To find out more check out Youth and Junior Racing on the RYA website.
So, with advice from the RYA and support from dedicated staff, volunteers and parents there are opportunities for young people to take to the water and get outside. It may not turn out to be every young person’s passion, however simply giving something new a try is a valuable life experience and even if you capsize there is something to laugh about afterwards. Who knows, as adults we might even be tempted to have a go ourselves (albeit this may be more appealing with a nice warm cabin boat and plenty of refreshments).
We are grateful to The Royal Yachting Association for the original article, updated and amended by Philippa Glassbrook.