Max Todd: the student becomes the master

Jo Golding speaks to Max Todd about his school days at Rydal Penrhos and why he returned as head of sailing

What more can a school ask for than its pupils to enjoy their time? Rydal Penrhos can go one further, with a former pupil who even credits their sporting success to the school’s supportive environment.

Max Todd, having loved sailing at Rydal and gone on to train on an Olympic programme, as well as compete both at home and internationally, is now the head of the school’s sailing department. 

He looks back on his school days: “When I was at Rydal, so many sporting opportunities were available to me and I was very fortunate to have facilities and an outdoor playground on my doorstep, as the school is located in North Wales. I was a boarder as well, so it was normal for there to be fixtures at the weekend and a game session on a Wednesday evening.

“I played rugby briefly, a bit of hockey and participated in a multitude of other activities such as mountain biking, climbing, believe it or not horse riding, and kayaking. However, the sailing department was where I felt most comfortable and at home. I would say you don’t really know what your main sport is until you’re about 14; I was a sailor through and through.

“The support that I found within the school from the staff as a child had an incredible impact on me. At any stage I struggled, there was somebody there to support me. Rydal is a fantastic school and it’s somewhere I will never forget; I owe the school a lot. A lot of my success has come from being exposed to that environment.”

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Todd comments on the freedom of sailing as something he particularly enjoys: “I think it’s the independence and the responsibility that you’re given. You’re given a boat and you’re asked to go out and make your own decisions. I see in my day-to-day work now that that’s not something every child enjoys. I was quite stubborn as a child, and still can be to this day, so I was drawn to the opportunity to go out and make my own decisions.

“The hardest thing about sailing is the variation, although it’s probably one of the things I love about it also. Every time you turn up at the beach, depending on the condition that you’re confronting, you’re faced with a different set of challenges. In light conditions you need to be patient and concentrate for a long period of time because things don’t happen quickly. If it’s a windy day it can become a massively physical challenge as well as a mental one. It’s a fluid environment and you need to be able to adapt to it.”

Back to school

Todd now enjoys a variety of roles, one of which is back at his old stomping ground: “I am the head of the sailing programme at Rydal, which is a consulting role so whenever the school is making a decision about sailing, they ask me my opinion on it. It’s not a full-time role inside of the school but I give guidance and try to push the school in the right direction. 

Rydal Penrhos is one of very few schools able to teach sailing as part of the school curriculum

“I actually work closer with the parents than the school on the whole. If you get a parent who is interested in taking their child’s sailing forward, I will facilitate their progression into their sport, outlining pathways. I am there to provide them with the solutions to their problems. 

“I have other responsibilities with the Royal Yachting Association as a head Welsh coach for a class of boat called a 29er.”

Todd has come back to competing himself recently. He explains: “Last season I came second in the WASZP National Championships, which is the pinnacle of my sailing. 

“I also came fifth at the 49er National, competed internationally and did the Palamos Christmas Race, Kiel Week and the 49er Europeans in Gydina.”

His best moments? “One of my highlights is winning the 29er European Championships in 2005.

“Another is the first time I turned up to a training camp for the Olympic programme and was surrounded by gold and silver medallists; I couldn’t believe the esteemed company I was in. 

“When I got to the training camp and realised I’d partially achieved the goal I was aiming for, after being brave enough to go after what I wanted at school, it was quite a good moment.”

However, it is often the success of others that brings people joy. For Todd, it is his pupils: “I am very proud when watching pupils’ achievements. Being on the other side of the fence coaching means it doesn’t need to be a medal win, sometimes it can be seeing someone who was terrified of the water smiling at the end of the session that is the most rewarding.”

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