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Big opportunity for youth sailing

Published on May 12th, 2020

Today’s youth have many challenges ahead of them and Bill Canfield, long-time booster from the US Virgin Islands, hopes the health of sailing is not among them. He shares this view from his window:

Every day during the lockdown offers another opportunity to tune in to Zoom or BlueJeans to hear how to save our sport, where we went wrong, or how we should do it better. However, I’ve come to realize we as sailors are too stubborn to change what we created.

Our generation has put sailing in a tough spot and any initiatives or ideas we put in place will have 5% of the people trying to get around the change and 5% more quitting the game. At this point, just let it be! We created it and we will live with it.

We do, however, have an excellent opportunity to impact the next generation while we are shut down. Are we truly worried enough about sailing to act on it, given this rare opportunity?

Here is my seven step plan. Please suggest other thoughts to the list.

1. All youth classes (Laser, Radial, 420, 29er, Optimist, O’pen Skiff, etc.) agree no on-the-water coaching at events below National Championships. Coaches can be out on the water providing safety only. Let the kids enjoy these races by making them different from everyday practice. Let them eat their lunches in peace while chatting with friends.
2. For every three days of practice junior sailors are rewarded with a mandatory relaxing adventure / funday on the water. Coaches can be on the water and help plan the activities. Promote “messing about in small boats”.
3. Throw away the AP flag at most events. No more waiting for stable wind or perfect upwind beats. Run races in all conditions… this isn’t the Olympics.
4. Encourage sailors to share what they have learned. Make every good sailor a teacher giving out suggestions in an organized pre-practice session. This will come naturally to them without parent or coach interference. Best tip of the day gets a treat.
5. Yacht Clubs and College programs need to work together to help graduates stay active. Use the assets to organize regattas and transition this new group of money-earners into mainstream sailing.
6. Reward Optimist coaches with cash bonuses at the end of the season, not for championships won but for sailors who stay sailing and move on to next boat or class. We lose too many sailors, having proved to them that sailing is no fun by coaches who don’t get the big picture.
7. Don’t allow kids to sail in only one type of boat. Introduce them to all facets of the sport – cruising, catamarans, kiting, keelboats, etc.

What we need now are some coaches, parents, classes, and clubs to jump on board while we really have a chance at positive change. Hopefully, a health situation like this will not happen again so let’s take advantage of it this time around.


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