Sailing needs a basketball court

Published on August 7th, 2022

When all U.S. youth sports sought to increase competition with professional coaches and greater structure, Sailing hopped on the bandwagon. In Scuttlebutt it has been called Soccerization of Sailing which began in the 1980s and has launched an industry of training and travel which resembles other sports.

But while nearly every kid that played little league baseball puts down the bat by their teen years, Sailing continues on for life, yet the age-based youth structure has disrupted that path. Without an obvious way forward, kids move on to other activities. Jock McKinley reflects on how his childhood fostered a love in sport:


The youth sports landscape today with greater organization, cost, and over-zealous parents have led to kids not “playing” anymore. When I was a kid you played and you figured it out.

I was not a sailor as a kid (but I secretly wanted to). There was a basketball court nearby and it was first come, first serve. First ten to show up shoot free throws. First five to make it are one team, next five are the others. If we didn’t have ten, then it was divisible by two.

You get the idea, and if there was a group of kids waiting to play, you played hard because if you lost, you waited to play again – until the waiting kids with “next-up” finished their game.

As we got older the competition increased. By the time I was in my mid-twenties, every summer on Tuesday and Thursday this same court hosted a number of college players, former college players, guys playing in Europe, and many who were just out knowing that they had to push to “earn” their keep. And this was on an elementary school-sized court.

Sometimes there were 25 people waiting to play, and if you lost, you were done for the day; therefore, everyone went hard. But if you showed up, you were in the lineup, didn’t matter who you were.

Fast forward a bunch of years and my kids are getting into sports. Despite my encouragement (maybe without providing them the means to do so?) to just go play [basketball, which they both liked], their game was probably 90% structured, i.e., leagues. Not sure if this is a culture change, or …?

If we want kids to both be interested in and get good at competitive sailing, I think a key is to rekindle the outlets for them to play. Fun! Give kids the opportunity to play, participate, and be active, and they will figure it out. When they are old enough to pick their sports and decide they want to compete, then add structure and coaching.

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