Providing balance to fuel enthusiasm

Published on May 30th, 2023

Ethan Doyle, a lifelong racing sailor in Northern California, is a newly inducted “Opti dad” and shares observations from his first 12 months in the modern era of Opti-land:

For starters, I have witnessed many positives within the US Optimist Program. The level of sailing at the top of the Opti circuit is incredibly high. The kids are focused, the coaching is sophisticated, and the United States Optimist Dinghy Association does a wonderful job introducing the kids to a high level of formal competition.

Despite wanting to race a higher performance boat and go fast all the time, my 10-year-old has been convinced that the Optimist is the best racing development platform for a kid his age/size. He loves sailing, loves competing, and thus has jumped in to Opti-land head first.

But to provide balance, I make an effort to get him sailing on all sorts of other boats from keel boats, to dinghies, to foiling (when he’s not skiing, mountain biking, or playing lacrosse). That approach has fueled his positive enthusiasm for the sport of sailing, not just Opti racing.

However, the hard part about taking this balanced approach is knowing how it disadvantages him when he’s competing against kids that are singularly focused on Optis, home-schooled, and travel the world supported by professional coaches year-round.

As a father that wants to do all that I can to enable my son to be successful, I can see how easy it is to get pulled in to the arms race while losing sight of the fact that the Optimist is a development platform, not the end goal. Maintaining the balance is difficult in today’s world. That’s the case in all sports, not just sailing.

I think it’s important for all of the adults involved in Opti-land (the coaches, parents, and officials) to remind ourselves that the Optimist should be treated as the development platform that it was meant to be.

By doing so, this should leave our kids and the sailing world better off as young Opti sailors would more likely have a long-term future in the sport rather than getting burned out at the age of 14 never to compete again.

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