Sailing should be taught at school, Ben thinks. I disagree. Athletes are disguising the true routes to success

I’m a bit behind the times on this one, having been away, but I’m still irked by Ben Ainslie’s quote a few weeks ago that schools should devote more hours to time-intensive sports such as sailing.

“There should be an afternoon put aside… for sports like sailing, where it takes a bit more time,” he said. “A lot of private schools do this, but it’s not in the national curriculum.”

No, it’s not, nor should it be. The big comprehensive near where I live has just announced a success rate in GCSE grades A* to C of 67%, which I think is abysmal. There are thousands of schools like it round the country. It would be great if they had the capacity to earmark a tenth of the timetable for niche sports, but honestly let’s get real.

Better that they should concentrate on teaching and improved exam results because every fule doth kno, and any amount of research proves, that life chances, prosperity and even life expectancy is closely correlated.

Ok, so we all have our opinions about education, but what really annoys me about Ben Ainslie’s suggestion is that that it hides one of very things that set him and virtually every successful British (and other) sailing Olympian on the ladder to success: parental dedication.

Almost every sailor you can think of has parents who introduced them to sailing and/or spent countless weekends selflessly towing dinghies round the country and buying boats and sails and kit. They’ve cheered and encouraged.

That profound interest and involvement is usually where any sporting success begins, and it’s absolutely essential in sailing because – well, it’s time-intensive, right?

Is it a peculiarly British thing, this notion that it is primarily down to the state to do things for children, not only give them an education, but everything else from teaching them to sail to fostering table manners and getting them to lose weight?

Leaving it all to the state is a losing proposition. Our Olympic athletes got to the top because of the dedication of adults, parents foremost, but also the legion of coaches and club volunteers who so readily give up their time to encourage and bring on kids.

They got to the Olympics because of what everyone did for them, and what they did for themselves, after school.

There are sailing and other sports clubs the length and breadth of the country that are dying to welcome new members, children or adults, and are mad keen to help them get skills to enjoy their sport.

Opportunities to take part in sailing and other elite sports are open to the less advantaged in this country. There are plenty of state-funded and RYA courses as well as offshore youth sailing, but they are part of an after school world, and it’s dishonest to ignore the parental price tag, whether it be in enthusiasm and time or, more literally, in mileage and equipment.

It’s great to inspire the next generation but also worth shouting out that success usually hangs on whether the present one is motivated to put their oar in as well. Why encourage people to sub-contract it all?