The Soccerization of Sailing

Published on March 19th, 2009

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
The opportunities amid youth sailing are increasing. Different boats, traveling to regattas, expert coaching… plenty to absorb, and all specifically focused on youth sailors. However, while it is great how youth sailors have options that will excite them, let’s not forget that these options are temporary, and vanish as the sailor grows up. If youth sailors are to become life sailors, connecting the youth sailor to options that will be available to them beyond their school years should be a priority too.

I am not convinced that the structure of youth sailing in the U.S. is much different than the other sporting options available (baseball, soccer, etc.). In fact, I am beginning to wonder if that might be the problem. In active sailing areas, youth sailing has become highly refined with boats, events, and coaching. Things are scheduled, kids show up when told to, enjoy the time together, and then disperse. I am officially coining the term, the “Soccerization of sailing.”

The attrition we see in sailing among younger people is not unlike the attrition seen in other sports. This spring there were a new crop of 5 and 6 year olds that signed up to play baseball. However, as this group ages, attrition will begin. By the time they are 13 years old, easily half will have quit. If they hang in there and succeed in getting on their freshman high school baseball team, there is no lock that they will make it to their senior year. Sitting on the bench gets as old as doing poorly in sailboat races.

Other sports have youth leagues and adult leagues, and sailing has been pulled into this thinking at the youth level. However, unlike other sports, sailing does not use the same “type of ball” at the adult level as it does at the youth level. The sooner a kid gets introduced to the type of balls used beyond youth sailing, the better the chance they might transition into sailing’s adult league.

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