Playing the Long Game

Published on March 7th, 2018

When young people get taught sailing, the focus of parents and instructors are on the measurables. This quickly translates to competition, but we are learning this is how you only advance the best sailors while those less keen tend to drop out. Tom Whitmore shares this parenting experience from his base in Stockholm, Sweden:


I once heard my mother tell a friend that I sang louder and worse than anyone in church. My 8 year old ego was bruised. Move forward 30 years and my 8 year old daughter comes in from Opti sailing one day in a reflective mood and says, “Dad, it’s like this…”

• When sailing‚ you sit in a boat by yourself all afternoon and it’s cold (we live in Sweden); it’s ok.
• Swimming is an ok sport, you swim, you hang on the tiles and talk with your friends, then swim some more.
• Skiing is pretty fun, you ski 30 seconds, you hang out in the lift and start area with friends for 15 minutes, then do another 30 second run through the gates and repeat.
• Soccer is great, you can talk with your friends the whole time!

The result, somewhat to my chagrin, saw sailing dropped from her busy schedule.

Forward another 20 years and my daughter wishes she had learnt more about sailing, but learned enough that when she is somewhere warm, she will gladly hop onboard any type of sailboat and do her best. This is partly because we were fortunate to have boats around and able to keep the interest alive. Other kids may not have that option.

My point is that we participate in a sport that has plenty of room for less experienced sailors to get involved and stay involved well up in years at reasonably high levels.

My conclusion is that any sailing program worth its salt needs to have options for kids that don’t want to spend all afternoon alone in a boat, and provide environments where results are less important and camaraderie is encouraged.

I am not anti-Opti; my young self wanted nothing more than to sit in a boat by myself and race. I would like to see more of both, and a greater awareness of the fun aspect for all participants on and off the water.

We can train future Olympic champions alongside future longtime sailing enthusiasts and looking further down the road these two groups can most likely intermingle on the water as teammates and competitors in years to come.

The fact that we can compete and enjoy sailing well into our senior years is one of the things that makes our sport so great, but the absolute best part about our sport is the camaraderie and lifelong friendships it engenders. If we take the long view and keep our sport inclusive for the generations to come it will thrive, and if it thrives we all win, both literally and figuratively.

Myself, I still sing, but I’m not the loudest anymore and not in church. My daughter lives in a ski resort and skis during most of her free time, I’m sure will gladly join a pick up a soccer game and will definitely join any sailing crew going and, who knows, a few more years down the road she may get the chance to sail with one of her old friends currently still following their Olympic dreams.

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