Retention in sport is the ultimate goal

Published on February 11th, 2024

In recognition of International Day for Women and Girls in Science on February 11, US Sailing talked to Whitney Kent, Program Director at Sheboygan Youth Sailing Center (Sheboygan, WI), regarding their Girls Who Sail program:

What was the idea behind the Girls Who Sail program?
We started the Girls Who Sail program in 2020 while partnering with US Sailing’s Siebel Sailors Program to focus more on increasing the confidence of some of the younger girls who came through our program and were not staying beyond the intro-level courses.

It was also the first full-day class that we offered, and we felt it was necessary to add more time to the class because it was just as important to us to cultivate a friendship and community between these girls, as it was to teach them how to sail.

When we started the class, the goal was to spend just as much time on-shore developing their confidence as on-the-water. Over time, it also became an important part of our community outreach. More than half of the girls who have been in the Girls Who Sail program over the past four summers have received financial assistance of some kind, and the vast majority of them have since participated in other classes we provide after their camp is over or they aged out.

What sets your program apart from other sailing programs?
The coolest thing about the Girls Who Sail class has been seeing it evolve over the course of the past four seasons. It has been developed and instructed exclusively by our female staff – they drive everything about the program, from when it happens, to how it’s structured, to who we partner with. Not only does this empower them to try new things and grow their own teaching and leadership skills, but it gives the girls in the program wonderful role models to look up to.

Over the past several years, this is our only program that always sells out, and we have shared the idea with other sailing schools in the Midwest region who have seen similar success. Even better, we end up with passionate sailors and parents who feel a connection to our program and each other that is above and beyond what we normally see from our younger sailors.

We’ve seen this lead directly to better retention of these girls in our program at every level – we are excited to have two of the girls from our very first Girls Who Sail program in 2020 joining our staff for the 2024 season. I think retention in the sport is the ultimate goal of every program we run, and it is exciting that we can look to the Girls Who Sail camp as an incredible example of what works.

Who does the program serve? Why is this important?
The program was initially designed to serve novice and beginner female sailors from ages 10 to 14. We targeted this age range largely because we have had a difficult time retaining girls in the 12-14 age range – or when they move out of the smaller Prams and Optis and into the larger double-handed boats.

The Girls Who Sail program uses RS Feva XLs, so they get an introduction to a faster boat and sailing with another person, which puts an emphasis on teamwork and communication ­– all part of the goals of the week-long camp.

Over time, we discovered that opening the program to intermediate sailors along with the ‘greener’ sailors gave the more advanced sailors an opportunity to jump in and flex their sailing muscles. We work to incorporate the more experienced girls into leadership roles over the course of the week, working on building the confidence to continue advancing in other parts of our sailing program.

How does the Girls Who Sail program use US Sailing’s Reach curriculum in its programming?
We incorporate many of US Sailing’s Reach Modules and STEM concepts into each day of the Girls Who Sail program. Combining STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) demonstrates how sailing is more than just a week-long class they can take in the summer but gives the sailors a chance to connect with one-another while learning something along the way.

The US Sailing Reach Modules are wonderful! The Reach curriculum introduces STEM concepts in a way that also encourages teamwork and collaboration amongst the sailors, and we have found these activities quickly become the ‘fun’ alternatives to sailing that even our instructors yearn for – educational and productive and engaging!

Sheboygan Youth Sailing Center requires that all our sailing instructors take and pass the US Sailing Small Boat Level 1 Instructor Course or the Basic Keelboat Instructor Course (depending on their role within the program), and that our junior sailing instructors use their first summer prepping for the class by learning the necessary skills while they are supervised and supported by a certified instructor.

We have found that this provides a consistency to our program and a high level of quality to each class we teach. Having US Sailing Instructor Certifications as a benchmark and goal for our staff has helped us despite having a larger class load and busier waterfront. We have seen a lot of growth over the past few years, and it remains a goal to maintain a high-quality, safe, and welcoming program for everyone.

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