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Kids need to splash more water

Published on May 21st, 2019

by Chris Caswell, Sailing Magazine
I have a few rants that pop up from time to time, so consider yourself warned. This is going to be one of them.

One of my rants has been the late, great, America’s Cup, which sadly is the empty shell of a once-epic event that no longer relates to today’s sailors. I don’t beat that dead horse anymore, because I simply don’t care.

But I care about today’s kids, who seem to be living in a world populated by helicopter parents and a sailing lifestyle best described as a “trophy culture.” Winning is everything.

I was at a yacht club recently, watching the junior sailing program with coaches in chase boats yelling at the kids going through drills. It had started before I arrived and was going when I left, and I was saddened by the sheer monotony of it.

I thought back to learning to sail on California’s Alamitos Bay in a community program where the essence of the summer sailing program was to have fun. There were blackboard talks about both sailing and racing techniques, but then we were turned loose in our 8-footers to go have fun.

Fun meant water fights or piling a bunch of kids in your boat to go to a sandbar or just sailing companionably with others “going nowhere and doing nothing.”

While the kids I saw recently could bang off perfect roll tacks, there wasn’t much joy. There were no peals of laughter, no shouts to friends, no splashing. Just drill, drill, drill.

When I look back at the now-grown kids from that summer sailing program so many years ago, the vast majority of them are still sailing. Like me, some went on to a lifetime of collecting trophies, while others chose just to sail and cruise. But sailing stuck to us.

Winning is not a bad thing and, in fact, kids like to win. But when winning becomes more important than being out playing, it sends the wrong message. Rather than forcing your kids into a program to win trophies and finish first, perhaps you should encourage them to have fun and make friends.

And splash some water.

Originally published in Sailing Magazine – June 1, 2018.

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