You reflect longingly on a past that cannot happen today. Gone are the days of dumping school. Gone are the days of kids launching from a club without proper rescue support. Gone are the days when you didn't have to consider that you were competing against sports like NRL and AFL for junior participation. 35 years ago, you got into footie kicking a ball around the local park, just like you could get into sailing the way you say. Now, junior participation is footie is a big business, well organised and highly targeted effort. All sports have needed to adapt or die and sailing has been left behind to a large extent. Parents are demanding sports that are organised, offer quality coaching and care for their children when they are participating and they expect clearly defined pathways to adult sports participation with the option of developing to the highest level of the sport if their child has aptitude. It is very clear that the sports that do not meet that expectation are attracting less junior participation. Sailing struggles against the sports like AFL, NRL tennis and more because they do not have big revenues from professional levels that feed down to grass roots junior participation so more than ever, sailing needs to find ways to compete with those sports and that means junior levels being highly organised. There is also a need to have cheap, ready made and off the shelf "equipment" to get the youngsters started, which is why the Optimist remains such an obvious starting point.The skiff club traditions in Australia once had kids growing up with dreams of becoming stars of classes raced locally and nationally. Kids were exposed weekly to the pathways with their idols offering wisdom and the ‘odd’ well done for a good result. Any aspirations were seen as achievable to a much wider band than today. Yesterdays kids would dump school at any chance to go sailing. They would rig their own lightweight boats and spend an afternoon on the water planing and having fun. All without a helicopter parent or coach in RIBs confusing the natural boat handling process. Kids use to go sailing for fun in exciting boats and look forward to going fast in the sun. School was for being lectured and coached (bored).
Then someone thought kids should be aiming for medals and to be international champions with mind numbing boats preferred/pushed over the Sabots, MJs, Flying Ants, Flying 11s, Cherubs etc as THE avenue to success or acceptance.
So where did the push come from?
YA/Sailing Australia in trying to bleed funds they felt due from successful skiff and dinghy clubs across the country through promoting an Olympic dream?
Parents believing that pushed dream of future champion and removing a large slice of the fun that used to be kids sailing to satisfy their own ego or failings.
The traditional entry classes in Australia exposed many Olympic and International Champions to the enjoyment of the sport at junior level. They didn’t have over coaching by the fun police at junior levels, yet once hooked went on to pursue their dreams on their terms.
A by product of wanting to have fun and go fast may have restricted skills for some in light airs but being a duck pond champion is not for everyone…
The Optimist is such a good starting point because you can and should put a kid in one and with almost no instruction, they can be pushed out sailing to discover what happens and how it works by trial and error, which is the heart of any good Optimist beginner program. And from there you have options, such as described above (Hunters Hill SC?) or a more formal route via the pathway.