The Irish Sailing Youth Academy is a key part of the Performance Pathway
The Irish Sailing Youth Academy is a key part of the Performance Pathway – the journey an athlete takes from sailing for fun to realising that they want to compete at a more serious level – from club and national standard to representing Ireland in European, World and Olympic events.
But who are the Irish Sailing Youth Academy ? And what have they been up to this summer ?
Currently, the Academy is made up of five young Laser Radial sailors ranging in age from 15 to 18: siblings Jamie and Eve McMahon of Howth Yacht Club, Clare Gorman (National YC) , Tom Higgins (Royal St George YC) and Micheal O’Suilleabhain (Royal Cork YC). They are coached by Sean Evans who previously worked with the Great Britain Youth Squads before taking the Chilean 49er team to the Rio Olympic Games in 2016.
This summer they had two big events, and great success with Eve McMahon finishing in third place overall at the ICLA Laser Radial Youth World Championships in Canada, but winning the U17 World Title. Clare Gorman finished in fifth place at the same event with Tom Higgins also fifth in the boys and Micheal O’Suilleabhain narrowly missing out on a top 10 finish showing the depth of the team’s talent.
Success is important obviously, says their coach Sean Evans, but the Academy’s purpose is also to set these young athletes on the road to becoming professional sailors. That involves on the water training, as well as off the water training through physical fitness, mental preparation, nutritional knowledge, and the vital importance of balancing a life of sport with education and being a normal teenager.
This summer the development of their professional learning was augmented by the Hempel Youth Sailing World Championships in Poland. The results were solid for one of the youngest Irish teams ever sent, but the experience was invaluable as this event was run closely along Olympic lines – there was an athlete village, the sailing venue was protected so that only participants could enter, coaches were restricted to coach zones, and the sailors wore pre-allocated kit.
Evans believes that this summer’s success is due to a number of factors: the team’s commitment to the sport, extra support structures from Irish Sailing which have funded the physical preparation of the athletes – Evans says that this particular group are some of the strongest sailors he’s seen at this level, and that this physical strength allows him to concentrate on working on other areas so they’re well rounded both on and off the water. Culturally there’s a great atmosphere – the group is fiercely competitive (from cycling races to a simple game of cards), but this is balanced by great friendship. When the team is overseas, there’s a family atmosphere and they take it in turns to clean and cook – the bonds formed at these events are rare for sport.
As some of the team now enter Leaving Cert year, they face the challenge of maintaining a level of fitness that keeps the risk of injury low when they return to full competitive programmes. Numerous studies have shown that the fitter the athlete, the sharper their brain function - so sailing and study can go hand in hand when organised strategically.
You can follow the Academy’s progress on Instagram, our Performance Facebook page, and our regulary Roundup.