Friday, October 17, 2008

College sports

This is article is from the Wall Street Journal, but what is going on in college sports should not have any affect on success in sailing at the Olympic level:

(Beijing, China) The U.S. won more medals here (at the 2008 Summer Games) than it has in any nonboycotted Olympics, but even with that haul, its days of dominance may be numbered. That is in part because U.S. colleges, the primary breeding ground for the country's Olympians, have eliminated hundreds of teams in Olympic sports in recent years.

"We used to have a lot of kids going for the Olympic dream," says Scott Barclay, coach of the men's gymnastics team at Arizona State University. "Without the carrot of a college scholarship, a lot of kids give up, or their parents won't support them as much," he says. Mr. Barclay took out a personal loan several years ago to build a private gym as a way to keep his team alive as a club sport after ASU cut the varsity program. -- Read on

Interestingly, it is my belief that four years of college sailing for the elite U.S. sailor is not necessarily the best way to improve one's chances of success at the Olympic level. The bulk of college sailing is done in low tech, borrowed boats and sailed on short courses. With the development of high school sailing, those top ranked youth sailors coming into college from popular sailing sites likely did this exact type of sailing already for four years.

Considering that Olympic sailing involves highly technical equipment, with the competitions held on long courses where knowledge of weather and current are ultra valuable, the eight years of high school and college sailing succeed in giving the elite sailor only a couple of tools in what remains a cavernous tool box. The sooner the elite sailor starts understanding how to own a boat, care for a boat, tune a boat, and travel with that boat, the sooner they are on their way to understanding how to play the Olympic Game.

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At 7:16 PM, Anonymous Peter Isler said...

I'll bite! And disagree. I believe college(and high school sailing) produce more better, well-rounded sailors than any other "program" in any other country. Oh... the goal is gold's in Olympic sailing? well then maybe we should hire an Eastern European coach to take our seven year old prospects... weed them down to the "best" dozen or so, and then lavish them with money .. and more money.. .so they can have the best Olympic type equipment (no need to learn how to jury rig an outhaul when you have the best stuff), and train and travel to all the big regattas for the next decade or so... in fact, take these superstars out of school too.... focus on sailing!

The "problem" with college sailing, is that at the end of four years, only a small subset of the great sailors that have developed their skills.. learning how to sail a variety of boats fast, in short course, shifty venues are going to continue putting sailing first in their lives... Most college graduates, gulp, get a job... and move on with life.

Any problems? I guess no medals, but as a parent, I'd rather see my kids go through the US system than a Chinese gymnastics type medal machine... its just more... "healthy"!

At 7:44 PM, Blogger bry said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 7:46 PM, Blogger bry said...

I'll bite and disagree as well. hmmm, let's think about that one for a moment...Anna came from collegiate sailing and I thought she did pretty good by getting that whole gold medal thing :-)

"the eight years of high school and college sailing" this statement makes it seem like the college kids are just doing the exact same thing they did in HS. I heartily beg to differ. As an umpire for both HS nationals and collegiate nationals in team racing, the game is MUCH more refined in college than HS (and I'm not trying to diss HS sailors, their game has risen a terrific amount over the years...a very nice trend to watch). I believe the collegiate sailing 'machine' is getting more and more competitive and the schedule becoming fuller with incredible talent. I think the sophistication of collegiate sailing/coaching/fitness/rules knowledge is at an all time high. With the recent change to a semi-final selection process in collegiate sailing, the fleet at nationals should be awesome to behold (and everyone is invited to San Francisco Bay to check out the epic action off the St. FYC for the championships). Sure, the Olympic game is different but I'm hard pressed to find a better training ground than what collegiate sailing has to offer.

respectfully submitted,
bryan mcdonald
icsa rules committee member

At 4:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've got to disagree with the original post also. First, who is to say that Olympic gold medals are the primary objective for youth sailing programs? What I see in HS and college sailing is a lot of youth getting introduced to the sport and having a lot of fun. Moving to more "technical" boats and long courses would take away entry-level opportunities for young sailors AND the sailing communities that support them. The reality of HS and college sailing is that the boats get beat up. But at least they are relatively inexpensive and easy to fix. A small community can fundraise for a new fleet without requiring that 6 figure donation. As far as getting young sailors into technical boats "as soon as possible", the advanced youth take advantage of US Sailing and ISAF events, of which there are plenty that fit the Olympic format.

At 6:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think all comments have very valid points but the article is about the olympics, not about introducing people to sailing.

if you want to win a medal, you must understand what your competition is doing to win and work harder and smarter...
I believe today the US collegue system does not help sailors to become better Olympians..

USA is a huge country and we have only few names who can win a medal at the next Olympics in 2012.

Many other smaller countries have more sailors already working to win medals!

now, is that important to win medals? or is more important to develop top sailors?

many Olympic sailors want to win a medal to have later chances to compete against Coutts, Spithill, Isler, Cayard, Hutchinson...

When these US top sailors get retired, I do not see many US young sailors taking their spot.

At 6:28 AM, Blogger Scuttleblog said...

Can I say that HS and College sailing appears to be a blast? It does... travel with your peers, sail together, house together, sharing it all thru the drudgery of schooL... what's not to like?

However, for the few that are seeking the golden apple, sacrifice is the name of the game. There are plenty of sailors that will benefit from both HS and College sailing, but there are also some that have developed quicker, and can start their first quad while in college.

Personally, I would love to see the majority of college sailors grab that diploma and roll into the mainstream section of the sport. However, it seems that so much time had been vested in HS and College sailing, using boats that will never be used again, that it becomes a challenge to get connected to the local keelboat or dinghy scene.

My generation (yikes... mid 40's) sailed Snipes while in HS and College, and continued in the class after college. Does that happen anymore?

At 1:14 AM, Blogger redneck in exile said...

The US High School and Collegiate sailing system may not fulfill all the needs for a budding Olympic campaign, partly due to the low-tech character of the boats and the logistics of running fair round robin events with 20+ participating schools. On the other hand it is just this low cost format that makes it such a valuable part of sailing's grassroots.

I now live in Sweden and there is a mantra here amongst those coaching kids; "no elite without breadth". In others words a key factor in creating a group of athletes with elite potential is creating a broad group of participants to draw from (ironically there is no equivalent to HS or college sailing here and imho the sport suffers for it). As we are all aware, sailing is not and inexpensive sport to take part in, with a few exceptions - notably High School and Collegiate sailing. It is during the these years that the sport truly has a chance to expand its participant base and in doing so raise the level of overall competitiveness. The next step is more complicated, creating opportunities for the talent to pursue Olympic campaigns with well funded, well run programs.

Perhaps more important is finding a way to keep those that do not have Olympic aspirations involved in the sport after their educations. Almost anything encouraging growth at grassroots levels will ultimately benefit the pursuit of medals. The broader our base is, the stronger our sport will be and the greater the likelihood of gaining the support needed to fund and organize more and better Olympic campaigns.

Tom Whitmore

At 4:08 PM, Blogger tenaceus said...

College sailing should be considered the starting ground for the Olympics. 470's men and womens, and lasers are basically college boats. The issue we are seeing is the shifting to new boats such as the 29er which is quite expensive to equip. There has to be a system of getting these boats in the general racing system.
I have seen college sailing at its finest, they have better starts, endurance and the sophistication of tactical actions in close quarters. This what is needed for the olympics.

A Dad


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