Let junior sailors have fun and they just might learn to love sailing

Published on March 17th, 2015

by Chris Caswell, Sailing magazine
I don’t need fancy statistics to tell me that, using my group of friends from the 1960s as an example, kids who have fun sailing stay in sailing. We learned self-reliance, decision making and skills that have served us for a lifetime. It was fun.

As a kid, I had a conversation with my mother almost every weekend after I departed in the morning, not to return until dinner time.

“Where did you go?”


“What did you do?”


All of my friends had exactly that same interview. And the answer, “nothing,” was completely accurate. We did nothing. And everything. There were empty lots and playgrounds where I would find my friends, and we would amuse ourselves riding our bikes or playing war or simply doing º nothing.

It is what I’ve come to understand as “The Joy of Unstructured Fun.”

Sure, there were streets and cars and dangers, but I rode my bike to school, enjoyed pals without parental meddling, and savored deciding how to spend my day. In the process, I learned about many things: friendship, fun, being responsible, thinking for myself, being safe and growing my independence.

Today, I see lines of parents driving their children to school and later, sitting in their cars on their cellphones, waiting for the sullen and bored kids to get out of school. On weekends, there aren’t conversations like the one with my mother, because kids’ lives are filled with soccer or judo, baseball or cheerleading. A local YMCA says they take pride in “filling kids’ discretionary hours with caring adult attention.”

Kids don’t need their discretionary hours to be filled with adult attention. They need those hours to be just that: discretionary for their own fun and growth.

Oh, wait, this is a sailing magazine. Sadly, the same thing applies to sailing. Sailing is one of the few truly unstructured sports left, and yet too many organizers of junior programs and the national association seem dead set on imposing structure on it.

At a yacht club for brunch, I watched as the junior sailors, of an age when I was taking off in my dinghy and sailing nowhere, were herded by their helicopter parents through a rigorous calisthenics program led by the sailing coach to strengthen young leg muscles for hiking out longer and to build the little arm muscles so these kiddies could pump their sails endlessly in a mindless goal of winning.

After the workout, the parents (not the kids) rigged their kids’ prams with the most exotic sails and masts. There was an hour of tacking practice followed by jibing practice, all with the coach shouting instructions from a chase boat.

Much more, but not much of it encouraging: CLICK HERE

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