Offering options for junior sailing

Published on February 21st, 2019

by Whitney Peterson, WindCheck magazine
One of the primary goals of junior sailing programs should be retaining kids long enough for them to develop a passion for the sport and a personal desire to continue. Far too often, however, before that happens kids are asked to spend too much time (years) in boats that do not align with their version of fun and pressure to “succeed” comes much too soon.

The current junior sailing recipe is driving kids out and resulting in an abysmal retention rate.

The most common single-handed entry path into the sport, along with a continual decrease in the age when formal sailing classes start (from 8 years old to the now common 6), results in too many young kids having scary early experiences and too many years in the same type of boat.

Pressure to showcase a structured, serious program that can produce top quality sailors cuts into the fun factor. “Racing pressure” sends kids that aren’t ready, to regattas too soon and to events that are too big; kids that show “potential to be good” are sent into the sport headfirst at the speed of light, and year-round.

Not everyone drops out from these factors, and some will become amazing Optimist sailors and future Olympic and world champions, but meanwhile we’re losing too many kids before they have a chance to gain enough basic skills and have enough fun in boats to fall in love with all that sailing offers.

I see the results of this problem firsthand through my role as a volunteer junior program chair at Sachem’s Head Yacht Club (SHYC) in Guilford, CT, talking to my own girls about what they like and don’t like about the sport, and through conversations with my sailor friends about their own kids’ experiences in junior sailing.

Like most clubs in our area, SHYC offers junior instruction in Optimists and Club 420s, along with a few O’Pen BICs. We have about 60 kids in the program from ages 6 to 15, and offer 4- and 8-week programs. As the program chair, I find I spend hours and hours each winter and spring thinking about what the right recipe of offerings is, and it feels nearly impossible at times.

How can we make our offerings attractive to kids and parents with the promise of structure, safety, skill building, racing opportunities, excellent coaches, and fun, and also more appealing than the many other sports camps, theater programs, travel experiences, summer jobs, and “screens” vying for the interest and commitment of kids’ time? – Full report

Comment: Before Whitney became an involved parent she was a 4-time Collegiate All-American at Dartmouth College and a member of the U.S. Olympic Sailing Team in the Women’s 470 Class in the 1990s. While one size does not fit all, Whitney hits on the issues that are applicable everywhere. If you care about today’s junior sailors supporting the sport as adults, I encourage you to read this report. – Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt

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