New coach Peter Conway of England says a good sailing education programme will help India make greater strides in the sport
Sailing in India is largely a non-structured sport. It's not very popular, as most people associate it with rowing. Moreover, coaching is not uniform across the States, and the coaches are not equipped well enough. Over a period of time, it has resulted in youngsters learning the basics wrong, and seniors entrenched in wrong techniques finding it difficult to unlearn them. The Yachting Association of India (YAI), fortunately, has realised the magnitude of the problem and has started a process that could hopefully set right a lot of things. The appointment of Peter Conway of England as India's coach is arguably a step in that direction. “The sailing education system here is dreadful,” says Conway, during the India International Regatta at the Chennai Port. “YAI identified the problems two years ago and is investing a lot of time and money into improving it.”
The main reason for the education programme to be ineffective, reveals Conway, is the older sailors' techniques are bad and they find it difficult to change them when pointed out. Conway says all is not lost as India is finding its feet in the world of sailing, but it'll take time for the results to show. “In the last India International Regatta, K. C. Ganapathy and Zephra Currimbhoy finished in the top 10 in Optimist class, which, I think, is a big feat. This year, three sailors are in the top 10 and many more are closely behind them.”
Conway has been to New Delhi, Hyderabad and Mumbai to train the coaches so that they teach the youngsters the correct way to sail. Does he think he can put India on the world map with his rich experience of training the Great Britain and Danish teams? “Experience,” says Conway, who has coached a handful of world champions in windsurfing, 470 and 49er class, “is a huge burden as it raises expectations. Sailing is a sport full of infinite variables. You can't apply the same method to everybody. Experience only tells you how little you know and how much more you have to learn.”
Conway says ISAF, the world sailing body, earlier didn't look at Asia as a continent that could produce good sailors. “For sailing to improve, Asia is necessary,” he says.
India, according to Conway, is a country bristling with enthusiasm and waiting to be explored. “I believe I am in the right job at the right time, for the potential here is huge. That's what prompted me to take up the job in the first place,” he says.
Conway says the Great American dream, which existed there in the 1970s, is now alive in India. “There is a sense of optimism,” he says, and “working with such people is inspiring.” The 58-year-old insists that a good education programme is a must for the sport to succeed. Without which, he warns, the sport will continue to remain in the periphery.