P Class News

P Class is the Futsal

Is the P Class the “Futsal” of New Zealand Yachting?

This reflection is based on observations from a recent (2013) club opening day in blustery westerly conditions. Both the P and Opti fleets were out. The P Class were capsizing in the gusts, yet the Opti sailors were happily surviving, in one case successfully gybing and staying on the leeward side throughout! If an Opti did capsize, it swamped, consuming Patrol Boat resources, whereas the P Class were up and sailing again. It was an interesting contrast – the P Class punishing mistakes and the Optimist very forgiving of them.

It is a contrast that may soon be less apparent. P Class numbers have fallen in recent years with some predicting the class’s. demise. However, research on the neuroscience of elite performance suggests letting it go may be a strategic mistake and that the P Class should be actively retained.

What does this have to do with Futsal? Futsal is “soccer in a room”, a game invented as a rainy day training option by a Uruguayan coach, according to Daniel Coyle in The Talent Code: Greatness isn’t born, it’s grown”. Brazilian soccer players’ obsession with the game is thought to be an important factor in that country’s consistent soccer success. The game is played with a smaller, heavier ball in a confined space, and with fewer players than a normal soccer game. Players get more touches, and the smaller, heavier ball demands more precise ball-handling skills.

Coyle argues that this enables what he calls “deep practice”. Athletes operating on the edge of their ability, making frequent mistakes, learn faster and more effectively. In other words, being tested, struggling, getting it wrong, then right, is more valuable learning that getting it constantly right. Thus, an unforgiving boat, such as the P Class, is a valuable training aid, just like Futsal. It is not quite that simple though. The struggle has to be for a goal just beyond current levels of ability. If the reach is too great, it becomes dispiriting – and we know the P Class can be that.

The task then is to position the P Class effectively within a sailor’s learning progression. Those clubs that use the Optimist as very much a ‘Learn to Sail’ craft, then use the P Class to rapidly develop higher levels of skill are doing what the elite performance sports science gurus suggest. “Opti-confident” sailors are ready for the stretch goals the P Class provides, and in that situation the P Class is a fun, highly effective learning tool.

The 90th P Class Regatta has just finished in Tauranga. The faith New Zealand Yachting has shown in the P Class is now being supported by scientific studies of how elite performers are developed. We need to keep the faith.

Rob Ebert
Learn to Sail Co-ordinator
Hamilton Yacht Club

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