Focus on making the sport more fun

Published on April 30th, 2020

Nate Williams, Director of Sales and Marketing for GMT Composites, steps into the conversation on how to shape the sport for the future.

Thanks to Scuttlebutt, and The State of the Sport in 2020 document, we are discussing the activity within the sport. But the question now becomes, what will the industry, and leaders at the club and national level, actually do about it?

With the world on hold, giving us a giant reset button, there is no time like the present to make the changes we want to see.

I am a lifelong passionate sailor. I grew up in a sailing family, started racing dinghies around age 10, spent most of my teen and college years coaching, I ran a sailing program, and now work in the industry.

Having worked for an Optimist manufacturer, I spent too much time chasing around the Opti game, and it broke my heart. The professional on-water coaching, the pressure, the money being spent… I can tell you if that was the game being played when I was 10, I would not have been at all interested, and my parents would not have been able to afford it.

But this is how the sport is being introduced to many young sailors, and their non-sailing parents. No wonder competitive and professional sailing has developed the way that it has.

That is not to say high level competition and professionals don’t have a place in the sport. They help develop Olympians while giving many young kids something to strive for and role models to look up to.

But sailing is a lot like skiing… it takes years to develop the skills, it is outside and puts you in touch with nature, it is a bit expensive, it offers a great social Après scene, and it can be a lifelong activity. However, 99% of the people who call themselves “skiers”, don’t race, and the sport is strong.

So let’s take a quick look at skiing, an industry I have also worked in both in retail and as a full time instructor. On the industry side, the majority of the companies selling skiing equipment don’t design it for racing. They design products to help you enjoy the recreational side of the sport.

Better gear makes for longer and more enjoyable days, be it on resort or in the backcountry. So why does all the “best” sailing gear and equipment have to be for racing. People who sail recreationally want to enjoy it more, get better at it, and sail faster. The goal doesn’t have to be so they can race.

On the leadership side, PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America) has a robust training program that develops incredibly talented lifelong skiers, who will likely never race. There are instructional programs at almost every resort, for kids and adults, which teach skills to become a better skier, not a racer.

Oh, and the resorts are just about all open to the public, not private clubs like with sailing. US Sailing in the last couple years has started multiple pathways in their instructional programs, but for the most part, they are still focused on becoming a racer, or someone who can coach racing.

While REACH, their STEM program, is a good step in the right direction, it is a bit nerdy, and just not going to capture the attention of many of the kids who are looking for freedom and adventure, not another science lesson.

I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I think if we focus on making the sport more fun and more accessible for those who are just looking for some recreation, more of a lifestyle than a sport, it couldn’t hurt.

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