Putting youth in your race committee

Published on March 8th, 2021

The idea is to enjoy our sport today but preserve it for tomorrow. An important component of that is to create the next generation of Race Officers which Jamie Jones (Area Race Officer, Area E) explains in this US Sailing report:

Anyone who runs races has seen it, especially when running races for younger sailors. There is always a sailor that crosses the finish line grumbling about how the “race committee messed me up.”

We had that situation arise a few years ago and thought: “what better way to show young sailors who we didn’t intentionally mess them up than put them in charge of actually running races.” If we teach them, they will start to understand.

Fast forward a couple of years and we have a group of younger sailors running races and regattas in Columbus, Ohio.

The Hoover Sailing Club Youth Race Team is one of the larger ones in our region with 40 kids on our summer race team and another 75 in our spring and fall high school sailing program. Between the two groups, we have a bunch of Level 1, 2, or 3 instructors who work for our summer sailing school when they are not racing themselves.

That is an important detail when we start talking about our teenagers running around in our motorboats. All those US Sailing certified instructors have their NASBLA Safe Boater Certificates, let alone hundreds of hours safely operating motorboats all summer long.

So, we look at providing the teens with the opportunity to actually run races in a number of different ways:

1. Safety on the water is paramount. What better way to run a safety boat than with a Level 1/2/3 certified instructor who has been maneuvering their motorboats around Optis/420s all summer long?

2. Since most of our younger racers “expect” perfection when they are racing, they will therefore do everything they can to set the fairest, most fun courses they can.

3. Many of our club’s adult members have little to no interaction with our youth programming. Having the youth sailors run races is a great way to show off what you have built and give a little back to the membership. That kind of PR goes a long way.

So how do you get started?

It all starts with holding a “Youth Race Management” course for your race team. We are fortunate to have Club and Regional Race Officers in our region who love to pay it forward and most other areas do too. Many clubs have a beginning of the season “Race Committee Meeting” so invite your youth race team (and their parents/coaches) to attend.

Identify those kids who are interested (or you as a coach can volunteer them). Pair them with a mentor race officer and encourage them to help out with your club events/races.

When I have an apprentice race officer with me on the signal boat, I run the first race, they run the second with my help, then they run the third and subsequent races with very little help from me. It is a great way for them to gain the confidence needed to make those tough race decisions. Sitting in the back of the signal boat and listening to them chat and make decisions is worth the price of admission!

Once they are ready for the next step, we start their actual regatta management experience with a small event, like our “Friday Night Lights.” At our club, we started a “Friday Night Lights” series with our Opti team this season since COVID came and there was no traveling allowed. Our junior RC ran those races with no adult interaction (we were on shore watching the racing!).

Reach out to a fleet in your club and offer to help run fleet practice days. A couple of years ago, we paired our junior RC with our local Interlake fleet to host a one-day Saturday event. All juniors in the motorboats, juniors on the signal boat, adults in the sailboats equals tons of fun on the water.

Since it is pretty easy to get started, developing a youth race committee allows the kids have a ton of fun while learning valuable skills and it frees up some of your normal race committee staff to get on the water and join their friends sailing! There’s a bonus too. Teaching the next generation of race officials not only teaches appreciation for what the job entails but will go a long way towards serving our sport going forward!

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