Facing uncertainty with youth programs

Published on April 16th, 2020

As the USA wrestles with the COVID-19 pandemic, each state and city forms its own guidelines to combat the health crisis. This variance extends to the clubs and community sailing centers, and big questions now loom for the summer youth sailing programs. Kate Wilson ponders the uncertainty in this report:


Many clubs around the country probably just had the same conference call I just had once again: what to do about junior sailing this summer? With each passing week creeping closer to summer and so many unknowns – especially around timelines – many are in the “wait and see” camp just hoping with more time that decisions will be easier to make.

I can’t help but think: if we are all in this together, maybe there is a way we can all work together to come up with some ideas of how to proceed? Obviously, there are so many factors to consider, with the utmost being the health of our junior sailing families and community.

But looking ahead, what about the summer staff? Do you keep them under contract along as long as you can? However, what other job could they even get right now? How are junior sailing parents feeling? Do they want the expect kids to go to camp or do they worry about exposure? Can the instructors even get the certifications needed in time for summer?

With more questions than answers right now, and fear of making the call too early, communication seems to be a common theme among the other junior sailing organizations I have spoken to. All agree that keeping the lines of communication open with parents, instructors, and your club officials eases the shared anxiety.

At my own Newport Yacht Club (Newport, RI), we shifted our junior program focus from racing centric to fun experiences a few years ago. We now have a Marine Adventure Camp broken into 4-two week sessions. We try to center the program on the ideal of “no two days are to be the same.” It forces our instructors to get creative and now that is how we are approaching Summer 2020.

While we can hope for a Plan A, we are making Plan B, C, D, E, F, G, knowing we will probably end up on Z. Maybe the camp size needs to be reduced or maybe classes meet separately and remain in small groups. Maybe we could approach it like the modern gym/ yoga class model where parents buy a 5 or 10 “class pass” and then book time slots for one on one time with instructors.

Nothing will be ideal but allows juniors to get on the water compared to the alternative of canceling. Maybe we unfortunately have to cancel because that is what is prudent. However, what is the harm in making contingency plans?

Sanitation and cleanliness practices also have to be reexamined. We can all believe sailing is the ultimate social distancing but we have to think about the reality of what it’s like on the dock, in the boat park, or in the clubhouse. With each new plan, there will be reasons to doubt or resist, but I think the more we can have an open mind about what the “new normal” might look like, the more optimism and hope we can have to try and make it a great summer for our junior sailors.

The best advice I have received is embracing the new normal helps to alleviate stress. Reflecting on the general mission of junior sailing, which is to prepare and inspire the next generation of sailors, what better way to emulate best sailing practices then to be adaptable, proactive, and a realists right now.

“We’re all in this together.” So let’s share ideas now and start a conversation of how we might get our kids safely out on water this summer.

Editor’s note: A resource to consider is US Sailing Youth Director John Pearce who may be able to assist with best practices and innovative solutions. For staff directory, click here.

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