Facing the unintended consequences

Published on January 10th, 2022

It was in 2014 when Scuttlebutt published an op-ed from Geoffrey Emanuel who found the refinement of youth sailing to be negatively impacting the sport. The message remains worth repeating… here it is again:


I am thoroughly convinced that what sailing needs is a grenade rolled into the room I see full of Status Quo thinking.

The vast majority of U.S. junior training evolved from a balanced effort to teach a love for sailing, seamanship and racing skills in the 1960s-1980s, to today’s disproportionate emphasis not only on racing but on winning. Junior sailing mimics the winning-is-everything mantra of almost all youth/school sports.

The unintended consequence of our current state is a rapidly declining interest in sailing by former junior sailing participants that have moved into adulthood. Most of the explanations for this phenomenon come across to me as excuses or defense of the Status Quo rather than an objective attempt to question everything with the sole interest to identify and solve the problem.

Certainly not all junior programs fall into these traps. But I think that too many do. I don’t think anyone should be surprised that this approach to training kids results in many dropping out from the sport. Why? Burn out from incessant racing, traveling, competitive pressure and ultimately boredom of doing the same thing over and over again. It hasn’t done much for the development of Olympic-caliber sailors either.

Very little of what modern junior programs teach is for the love of just sailing. That love inspires many of us to do just that. How many junior sailors do you know that can’t wait to just go for a random sail with no particular destination or agenda in mind? Most of the older adult sailors I know crave every moment on the water, regardless of whether they race, cruise or day sail.

This sport needs zero-based re-think where anything and everything we do today is subject to question, critique and wholesale change.

Here are the adverse consequences as I see it to our approach to teaching youth sailing: click here.

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