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Improving the youth sailing experience

Published on February 21st, 2023

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
It took me too long to learn that the best place for me to be while my kids were racing Sabots was not to be where they were racing Sabots. I knew too much, and wanted to share it all, which took the focus off their experience. It wasn’t about fun; it was about outcome.

But I did enjoy watching my kids play baseball, mostly because I didn’t have any ability in that sport. I could relax, plus it was sort of fun watching those parents agonize who knew the game. I could totally relate.

In Southern California, the Sabot race course was within sight of shore, making it too easy to lurk. For the peering Optimist parent, their access to offshore race courses requires heavy investment in personal powerboats. The desire for parents to be supportive in sailing is way more expensive than baseball, and if it includes buying support boats, the sport of sailing is not helping itself.

If youth events have a high likelihood of private support boats, maybe they need restrictions and solutions. Youth advocate Joe Cooper was curious if there could be large spectator vessels for parents (and coaches), drone coverage back to land-based screens, or Facebook live-streaming.

While these ideas add cost and complexity, the burden is not nearly the same as parents buying, maintaining, and transporting private boats.

There are plenty of reasons why sports are good for kids, but the easiest way to screw up their experience is to not make it about them, and to focus too much on outcome rather than process. Eliminating parents may relieve some of the tension… it worked for me.

Competition isn’t the easiest activity to enjoy when you are struggling, particularly for young people who must develop self-esteem and confidence, but sailing is fun and that needs to always be present in the experience.

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