Consider how it is being done

Published on August 4th, 2019

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt
It was Sunday morning, coffee in hand, clicking on the ESPN SportCenter 5am episode in the DVR, when sportscaster Matt Barrie rolled into this announcement:

“SportCenter will continue in just a moment on ESPN but first we want to spend the next five minutes highlighting a concerning trend. Right now more kids than ever are no longer playing sports. In conjunction with the Aspen Institute, ESPN is partnering with Project Play on a campaign called #DontRetireKid with the intent to encourage kids to stay in sports.”

The Aspen Institute is an international nonprofit think tank that has been looking at why the percentage of kids quitting sports continues to increase. I had learned about the organization through US Sailing and have featured their work in Scuttlebutt, but now this is a massive sports network sharing the message.

It all reminded me of what I wrote in March 19, 2009
The Soccerization of Sailing
The opportunities amid youth sailing are increasing. Different boats, traveling to regattas, expert coaching… plenty to absorb, and all specifically focused on youth sailors. However, while it is great how youth sailors have options that will excite them, let’s not forget that these options are temporary, and vanish as the sailor grows up. If youth sailors are to become life sailors, connecting the youth sailor to options that will be available to them beyond their school years should be a priority too.

I am not convinced that the structure of youth sailing in the U.S. is much different than the other sporting options available (baseball, soccer, etc.). In fact, I am beginning to wonder if that might be the problem. In active sailing areas, youth sailing has become highly refined with boats, events, and coaching. Things are scheduled, kids show up when told to, enjoy the time together, and then disperse. I am officially coining the term, the “Soccerization of sailing.”

The attrition we see in sailing among younger people is not unlike the attrition seen in other sports. This spring there were a new crop of 5 and 6 year olds that signed up to play baseball. However, as this group ages, attrition will begin. By the time they are 13 years old, easily half will have quit. If they hang in there and succeed in getting on their freshman high school baseball team, there is no lock that they will make it to their senior year. Sitting on the bench gets as old as doing poorly in sailboat races.

Other sports have youth leagues and adult leagues, and sailing has been pulled into this thinking at the youth level. However, unlike other sports, sailing does not use the same “type of ball” at the adult level as it does at the youth level. The sooner a kid gets introduced to the type of balls used beyond youth sailing, the better the chance they might transition into sailing’s adult league.
If the goal is to foster a lifelong love of the activity, consider how it is being done. The future of our sport may depend on it.

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