Inspiring girls through coaching
Published on February 7th, 2024
In recognition of National Day of Girls and Women in Sports on February 7, US Sailing shares the story of Emily Verdoia:
When Emily Verdoia joined the University of Texas at Austin’s sailing team, she didn’t expect to end up as the Youth Sailing Lead Instructor and Office Manager at the St. Thomas Sailing Center in the Virgin Islands.
Her love for sailing was reignited after a childhood as a competitive snowboarder when she joined the UT team, later becoming a US Sailing Certified Instructor at the Austin Yacht Club before moving to the Virgin Islands and the St. Thomas Sailing Center.
Verdoia never had a female coach as a young sailor, so she became one, working to help young women and girls take up all the space they need to excel.
She rediscovered her love for sailing later in life, starting as a child but taking a hiatus that lasted until she went to college and joined the University of Texas at Austin Sailing Team. Her father was a sailor, but childhood camps didn’t stick, because sailing Optis in the San Francisco Bay was, in her words, “terrifying and miserable.”
Verdoia enjoyed sailing with her father on his keelboat, though, and took those good memories with her when she joined the UT team. It was important to her that she chose sailing herself, without any outside influence or encouragement.
“We weren’t the best in the country, by any means,” she said of her team, “but it was great competition within our conference and a lot of fun. And I met some friends that I’m going to have for the rest of my life.”
While in college, Verdoia began working at the Austin Yacht Club. She already had her Level 1 US Sailing Certification, so she started by covering their beginner Opti programs on the weekends. When she graduated in 2020, the club let her know that they needed a more full-time coach, and eventually, she worked her way up to become Director of the youth program. The unique circumstances of the year set her on a path she didn’t expect.
“I don’t want to say it fell into my lap,” she said, “but it wasn’t something that I necessarily thought out.”
She remembers being a young sailor and never having a female coach, so while she worked with a high school team in Austin, she encouraged all the girls to get their Level 1 Certifications and become camp counselors.
“When you see more women coaching and you see that it can be done really well by a woman, I think that helps inspire young girls.” Verdoia is not just a role model; she’s using her firsthand experience to personally help other young women follow her path.
Less than a year ago, she moved from Austin to the Virgin Islands, and now works at the St. Thomas Sailing Center coaching Opti Green Fleet. She wants her students not only to know how to sail, but to know how to advocate for themselves, and she’s become the female role model she never had. Verdoia has found that many women are pigeonholed into working the bow due to their smaller stature, so she makes sure all her kids know they belong wherever they want to be.
Her experience as an underrepresented sailor means she can truly relate to and bond with the kids she coaches. “Trust me,” she tells them, “and trust that you’re better than you think you are.”
Verdoia’s message to other women and girls who want to get involved with sailing or coaching is to find and connect with a supportive community.
“Push through any discomfort,” she said, “and find people who uplift you. Whether that’s other women, a mentor, a peer; maybe it’s a youth sailor you coach who just thinks that you’re the bee’s knees – find those people. Hold on to those people, and work together to uplift each other.”