Advancing US Youth Sailing Development

Published on December 4th, 2018

Leandro Spina

US Sailing’s Olympic Development Director Leandro Spina, who has been recognized by the US Olympic Committee as the 2018 Developmental Coach of the Year, saw the fruits of his labor at the 2018 Youth World Sailing Championships when the US Sailing Team won The Nations Trophy for their dominating performance across the nine classes.

Scuttlebutt editor Craig Leweck checked in with Spina for an update. In the first part, Spina shared the changes and challenges needed to shift the direction of youth sailing. In this final part, he offers advice on athlete development.

For young sailors that have risen to the top of their local areas, how do these families learn how to further their skill and fulfill their dreams?

It all starts with what the sailors wants to do in the sport. Sailing luckily provides many different avenues to keep learning and enjoying sailing, with more and more programs offering different options.

US Sailing’s new Youth Department, run by John Pearce and Meredith Carroll, is doing a great job connecting and collecting information to share with members looking for the next step. Many Class Associations have great programs to support young talent and encourage them to sail their class, like, for example, the Snipe, Lightning and Etchells classes.

I suggest sailors and parents reach out to John or Meredith for advice about who to contact. They both work closely with ODP, so those interested in high performance will be directed towards our department. We are currently working on a new ODP plan, Phase 2, to connect the best regional programs around the country so we can help athletes and coaches to continue developing their skills. We hope to launch it sometime in 2019.

Most youth sailing is age-based. Doesn’t that limit learning? Shouldn’t young people be seeking out opportunities to sail with experienced adults?

Absolutely. Young sailors should always be looking for opportunities to try something new and learn from more experienced sailors, not only by getting more coaching but also by sailing with others and learning different disciplines. It comes down to a simple concept: learning happens on the water and it should be fun.

Sadly, most young kids don’t go out if there is no coaching or a program in place. There are many reasons for this, and unfortunately most clubs in the USA are not set up to allow kids on the water without supervision, so sailing with older people, crewing for more experienced sailors is a great option to keep learning. And this applies to all levels, from youth, high performance, offshore, etc.

It is easy to find excuses not to go sailing! Kids today just don’t play with boats enough, and many stay on a single path for too long while not having fun. Don’t be afraid to walk away and into something new, try something different but stay on the water having fun!

How can success at the Youth Sailing Worlds translate to success at the Olympic level?

Basically, we just need to continue focusing on athlete development. It is easy to fall in the trap of focusing on the outcome without thinking about the skill development process.

We want to win medals at the Olympics, but we cannot control winning. Instead, we can control success by focusing on creating a culture of excellence and develop great all-around sailors.

We are making great strides in that direction, but it takes time and I am confident we have all the pieces of the puzzle, or we are building those few that may be missing. But to put them altogether, we need the whole community to continue to support our athletes.

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