June 6, 2012 by Peter Conway
Did we get nearer to Olympic qualification than before? The answer is probably yes. We had the usual stories of bad luck – even a boat being holed and having to be replaced during the regatta which undoubtedly led to a sub potential performance. We were close, but still “no cigar”. Undoubtedly we as the YAI need to hold an enquiry and come up with some rational explanations of what went wrong and propose a strategy for putting it right next time. This I am sure can be done successfully.
There is little doubt that India has plenty of sailing talent. I have expounded at length the need for structure, education and programs to be settled in advance in order to allow the talent to be transformed to success. Training programs must be better coached in clubs, selection criteria must be better laid out with more transparency, as we have begun to do in the Youth and Opti fleets. We should somehow see international performance begin to feature in our selection processes. Importantly we should plan ahead in everything, and then a four year campaign should have evaluation points which would lead to accountability, with resultant funding and program decisions being made with visible rationality. Yes, I have many stories to tell about my findings over the past 12 months, and the damage caused by attempts at reversion to former methods, yet when new methods have been adopted there has undoubtedly been a performance improvement – just too little, too late.
Despite the fact that Johal (Finn) has achieved top 50% in his last two major events, and Rohini made such a startling improvement in her selection event, we have not quite made it. So the ultimate price has been paid and we as a nation are forced to go down the UQP route (unqualified quota places, formerly known as wild cards). I regret this with a passion, but whoever goes to the Olympics should our application be successful will get my full support to leverage the IND sail from the bottom of the pack. The Olympic regatta is fiercely contested all through the fleet, and a good result is still possible. We may only define a good result as some form of improvement – medals are still a while away.
The reaction to the selection of application for UQP plus the varied and assorted comments on the social media led me to ponder how a democratic setup is possible within a performance business. Obviously, if there are performance goals and these have been met, then the athlete MUST gain support, so the criteria for setting performance goals has to be agreed in advance. If no one meets the performance goals, the competition somehow takes on a new life form. Maybe we should look at how to handle this in advance in future, though I trust it will not happen again.
It also led me to search some material on team formations and practises within the successful team. In any successful team there are characters who are totally loyal, and characters who are not. The questioning of team direction and goals is a healthy process – it keeps resolution high and brings a form of commitment within the team. There are team players, leaders (even when they are not given official titles), workers, thinkers and followers. Search team structures – its interesting. An element of this which I find relevant is that all periods of questioning are dealt with by effective consultation and a decision made by the appointed leader(s). In a successful team this is accepted and the process of achieving goals is carried on. My question is, how does a team deal with a successful conclusion to an event when the social media comments can still keep rolling in from sometimes uninformed quarters? It is not a challenge unique to ourselves, but a challenge of dealing with the internet age which undoubtedly does so much good in allowing freedom of information for all. I mention this in a mood of philosophical reflection, not regret.
The recent 29er regatta in Holland and the IODA Asians which are going on at present indicate how far we have come. They also teach us lessons about training and regatta preparation. In Holland the squad produced as good results at a true international regatta as have been seen. Despite the mess ups in the program since February, the cold, hours of on water waiting and conditions which we had no experience of, the guys did amazingly well and achieved top 25%. The girls got third girls team and were in the mid fleet (despite girl competition dragging them all down!). In the Ioda Asians, we have three of the 7 team in the top 50%. We may have four by the end. All this is good, but when I talk to the other coaches, they think it is amazing. Our competitors are training hard in established environments, and as importantly they have a few years more of structure behind them. What is certain is that we are way behind in terms of quality regatta exposure for our top sailors, yet our lesser developed sailors actually have more opportunity to compete than the lower ranks of other nations. It would probably be wise for us now to develop a smaller group mentality and send the relevant sailors to the best suited regattas.
We must also learn that the upset of the training programs caused by an attempted reversion of procedure has cost us dearly in terms of progress. We proved in the ASC and regattas last year that a period of 5-7 weeks training before a major event was an optimum for the kids. The Opti team had their training cut from 7 weeks to 8 DAYS by this regrettable bureaucratic mistake, which is seen clearly by the Vishnus not making their grade, and Ruqs, Dher and the others struggling to settle down. I trust they will come back through the regatta and wish them all the luck to do so. They have gone slightly backwards since Malaysia, but hopefully will be on form for the rest of the season if we can get some good training camps sanctioned. Its a big lesson that we must learn – we cannot compromise on quality training and correct level competition.
Let’s look to the future now. The first priority is to teach the kids modern techniques and get them to understand rigs, tell tails and how they set their boats up for different conditions. We need to teach shifts, course geometry and basic golden rules. We have begun to do this for the past year, but it needs re-affirming by club coaches, and this is simply not being done. We need the kids to understand angles and the value of shifts and pressure better. The standard excuses for poor starts are wearing thin, so we need to be on more start lines. We need to do more, better AND have the expertise developed within India to do this.
Where are we now compared to two years ago when I first arrived to coach the Asian Games team? Well, we now have several promising Opti sailors who are in the top 50%, as against seeing most of our sailors in the bottom 15%. We have a 29er squad who are exceeding the expectations of even mature federations. Just as importantly we are seeing the first real activities by the 420 class, we have senior sailors who are at least waking up to what is needed to move up the fleet – two of them have done so, and we have an awful lot of talent which is yet to be developed in the country. A pretty good position in a relatively short time with only a handful of regattas to do it in.