Make it fun and more will come

Published on August 23rd, 2022

The commitment needed to excel in all sports has hindered participation, and sailing has found itself in this spiral. When the cost in time and money to participate exceeds the pleasurable benefit, people seek alternative activities.

But what is unique to sailing when compared to other sports is a variety of formats, and it is the format that impacts participation. Lots of windward-leeward races will attract advanced sailors, while government mark courses will also welcome the casual competitors.

If your two-day regatta has seven W-L races scheduled, and you are wondering why more people aren’t entering, your plan is the problem. Thom Hering offers these additional tips:

As a Boomer who has been a very active racer since the 70s, I’ve seen the rise and gradual decline in regatta participation. But waning participation is not unique to sailing. Mainstream sports (such as baseball) are also facing similar challenges of shrinking popularity.

In my humble opinion, much of this has to do with younger generations being exposed to more free time recreational choices than ever before. Many of those choices are more social (even if virtual), most of them less costly, and also offer easier access than sailing.

The good news is that competitive sailing is not going away, it will endure, even if on a smaller scale. The challenge, however, is how do we grow it. Here’s a short over simplified redux checklist:

• Invest in local Junior Sailing programs, emphasize the fun parts of sailing even more than the competitive side.
• Focus on getting teens (Gen Z) and Millennials on your boat for local races. Make it fun and social. Having 1 teen on the boat is okay, but 2+ teens on a boat doubles their fun.
• Keep running races, even if the numbers are down. Build it and they will come.
• Sailing is a generational sport that is often handed down from parents to their kids. You have kids, make sailing a positive experience so it becomes part of their DNA.
• Sailing is a sport for life. I can’t play basketball anymore, but will continue sailing for many more years.
• Volunteer for Race Committee. Make it a fun social activity.
• Be a “sailing advocate”. Talk up the events, get people involved as crew, RC, etc.
• Get social after the race. Gather the fleet post-race and have a few cold ones talking about the race.

I’m certainly missing a few so chime in with your own ideas to add.

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