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Getting horses to drink the water

Published on September 17th, 2019

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt
Not unlike the proverb from John Heywood’s collection of 1546, the one about horses and water and making them drink, introducing sailing to people isn’t the problem. The problem, if the goal is for them to embrace it, is showing them how.

There is a reason why we have dinghies and keelboats and catamarans and windsurfers, just as there is a reason why there are lots of choices within these categories. This is the same reason why we all wear different clothes, like different food, and listen to different music.

The reason? We all like different stuff, and when we find what we like, we tend to like it without thought. No choice is wrong (not even if you’re talking politics), but denying choice will reduce the pool of participants to only those that like that choice.

Since the 1980s, a shift in sailing has reduced the choices for young people, and while this has initially corralled and increased participation, soon enough all that remain are those that like it. The loser has been every other segment of sailing in which young people once discovered.

What’s critical is that when you bring that horse to water, encourage them to sample the entire menu, and not just chicken fingers and cheese pizza. If someone likes sailing, the sooner they begin this exploration, the more likely they are to drink the water.

Rich Jepsen, Vice President of US Sailing Board of Directors, and whose professional career is deep in sailing education, shares some of the initiatives that are helping to move the needle for sailing in the USA:

Tom Siebel and US Sailing have created a program, Siebel Sailors, to jump start the training of young sailors through public access sailing centers. This is already being rolled out with centers of excellence having been selected around the country for this first three-year pass.

Boats, national coach trainers, and other support are part of the effort to broaden the base of the sport, add a more diverse population of youth sailors and getting more kids in boats / more kids racing. By the way, this effort is aimed to first develop an unshakeable love of sailing, then develop competitive skills once kids are hooked.

Several community sailing and yacht club junior programs already assign boats to their youth participants for a season so the sailors can learn to care for, optimize and have pride in the condition and performance of their boat.

After 2012, US Sailing went into overdrive with a new model for Olympic Sailing, creating the Olympic Development Program (ODP) so we ensure that talented young sailors have the training, coaching, and education they need to remain engaged and turbo-charge their talent.

I see this linking US Sailing’s already successful Junior Olympics model with the Olympic track that has been only visible and available years after a kid’s first Junior Olympics.

To help young people look beyond the dinghy ramp, US Sailing developed the Junior Big Boat Sailing Toolkit (JBBS) in an attempt to get kids on bigger, more complex, more powerful boats to ignite their passion for ‘adult’ sailing.

This model, whether with the JBBS toolkit or one developed locally, is getting young sailors sailing in the ‘adult’ world and recognizing the whole new world of adult sailing is easy to enter.

To be sure, there’s a ton left to do and we still have too many ‘off ramps’ and too few ‘on ramps’ for sailing, especially for youth.

But, we are working on it, developing new ideas and trying to leverage established ones to create and cultivate more lifelong sailors. Please send your ideas to me and I promise they will get serious attention:

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