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The Prime Objective of Youth Programs

Published on September 20th, 2018

The majority of young people are introduced to sailing either through private yacht club or community-based programs. While clubs tend to focus on competition, courses promoted by community sailing centers, scouting, or camps embrace more of the simpler side of the sport.

What all youth sports are now learning is that with the heightening societal emphasis on competition, the additional effort needed is pushing kids away from the activity. This has put private club programs, which are in place to foster future membership, in the cross-hairs.

Ensuring that youth programming is focused on retention is paramount, a protocol that is shared here by Rich Jepsen, a board member with US Sailing and the Alameda Community Sailing Center.

At Alameda Community Sailing Center (Alameda, CA), we gather short term and long term feedback from kids and parents to ensure we are maximizing the joy and safety for the kids and giving the parents everything they wanted for their child and more.

This is done with an End of Camp Survey from kids and parents, End of Season Survey of parents, Staff Survey, Board Survey, etc. All of these with follow-up on particularly complimentary or critical responses.

We believe our role is to build lifelong sailors so all questions surround that prime objective. US Sailing recommends to all training programs to have a feedback loop, both short and long, to maintain a self-improvement culture and to keep tabs on clients’ wants and needs.

While member parent ‘agendas’ can hold club programs hostage sometimes, especially when those parents are also leaders of the yacht club, my experience is that much of the club/center leadership in America ensures that the program fully responds to the needs of all the kids and their parents: racing or leadership, just messing about in boats or adventure.

I do recognize and appreciate the ‘represent your club well with competitive excellence’ pressure. It certainly exists at my club in San Francisco but the variety of needs and wants from kids is managed very well by the staff and the Junior Committee.

Competitive excellence has its place, of course, especially for the kids who have self-identified as passionate, competitive sailors. However, the best clubs have something for every kid, and they learn what that is by cultivating that feedback loop.

If you want advice about how to keep your finger on the pulse of your kids and their parents, feel free to email me at

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