Junior Sailing Needs a Reboot

Published on April 5th, 2016

by Geoffrey Emanuel
I would suggest that all aspects of sailboat racing are in decline. Why? Junior training. It can’t be anything else. Every fleet of one design and offshore boats are dominated by older folks. So where is the younger generation? Burned out.

They were taught only to win, like every other school age sport. They were never nurtured to love the sport. They sailed alone. So they never socialized on the water. Worse, they never learned to crew and probably don’t like the idea. Their sailing days were always structured and corralled, so they never got to sail independently, which us older sailors all got to do growing up. For me, sailing in an unstructured way to just enjoy the act of sailing was and is cherished.

Who’s to blame? Helicopter parents and sailing programs. They unwittingly conspired to dumb down instruction to a winner take all mentality with tightly controlled curriculums that over-emphasized kids’ safety while suffocating kids’ fun. Sailing is supposed to be an adventure, not a job.

We need to start over. Get parents to sign liability waivers so sailing programs can share the adventure with their students. Play games. Go on long sailing field trips. Learn seamanship. Put beginners in boats together and keep them there. Take them out on big boats early and often. Keep the parents off the water.

Geoffrey hails from Falmouth, Maine.

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