Junior Program: To Each Their Own

Published on July 6th, 2017

The junior programs of yacht clubs or sailing centers are that gateway to introduce the sport to young people, and if done well, foster a love of sailing that will secure the facility’s future. But it is this long view that can be challenged by the emphasis and pressure of competition at the youth level.

It is this time of year, while the programs are at full steam, that the wisdom of forefathers is needed to assess whether their junior sailing program provides sufficient balance to minimize attrition, and thus make progress toward the long goal of another generation of sailors.

Adam Corpuz-Lahne, Head Sailing Coach at St. Francis Yacht Club, comments on their efforts to maximize the opportunity their program provides.

Every sailing program has its own set of challenges and blessings; sometimes they can even be one in the same. For the St. Francis Yacht Club, our perfect example is the legendary San Francisco Bay westerly that comes pumping through Golden Gate Bridge almost every afternoon between March and September.

This reliable wind presents a real challenge for younger or less experienced sailors, who are blown off the water by 1:00pm, but it’s a blessing for the more advanced sailors who revel in the ‘big stuff’. Some programs may experience the opposite, with generally light conditions that lend themselves to Intro to Sailing courses, SUP boards, and kayaks, but lack the thrill the more experienced sailor craves.

There are countless factors that affect what each program is capable of accomplishing, and each program will have a different combination of factors to consider: dock space, classroom space, availability of coaches, program assets, goals of the club, local fleets, wind/water conditions, daylight, demographics, shared spaces, commercial traffic, tides and currents, heat, cold, sharks (ok, maybe not sharks).

The point is that what works for StFYC (or NYYC, or Kaneohe YC, or Boston Community Sailing) may not work for your club.

What we all have done is to assess what is working for our club, and what isn’t, and what needs more attention. That is the important part of the process. At StFYC, we’ve discussed in-depth the goals of the club and its Junior Program, and taken some difficult steps to try and accomplish these.

Our biggest goal is to foster the love of our sport and our club. I think this goal is high on the list at any yacht club, no matter which path they choose to get there.

Is your club on the right path? This path is not necessarily the US Sailing path, or the High School sailing path, or the Opti path (but maybe one or all of these). The right path is the one that keeps the kids frothing to get in a boat and go for a sail—the one that gets them to bring their friends down to the club and give it a go, and the one that will see these same ‘kids’ bringing their children to the club 30 years from now.

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