Keeping Junior Engaged
Keeping Junior Engaged
Take it from those empowering today’s youth sailors: there’s a time to push and a time to let them advance at their own pace. "Jobson Report" from our May 2012 issue.
A bright spot in American sailing is the vitality of our junior sailing. There are hundreds of yacht club-based junior programs packed each summer, more than 500 high school sailing teams, 214 colleges with competitive racing teams, and thriving community boating initiatives. As a result of all this activity, we’ve developed many talented sailors, but still, too many young sailors fade away from the sport during their high school years or earlier, and more stop sailing soon after college. There are as many opinions about the fallout as there are solutions to retaining young sailors.
To get a better sense of retention efforts today, I recently sought out a handful of individuals deeply engaged in youth sailing programs. While their respective best practices varied, they did share a common philosophy: parents, mentors, and instructors must preserve a healthy balance between pushing and enabling.
Most veteran sailors understand that sailing is a lifetime sport that connects generations, provides many levels of great competition, and can be as enjoyable as day sailing or cruising. It’s difficult for young sailors to realize that sailing is a great sport for the long term. To help keep our youngsters engaged in sailing, it’s important that we deliver a mix of education, safety, competition, and play. When new sailors are pushed too hard at a young age, many reject the sport and move on.
Nicholas Cost oversees Bayview YC’s junior program in Detroit. “We have high expectations for all of our students, to follow safety rules, be good team members, and have fun,” he says. “We focus on the concept of ‘team’ and rotate young beginners through all of our different classes and boats during the summer. By sailing with the advanced group, beginners get to see the possibilities and fun of being competitive. They are treated as full team members and must carry out their share of tasks.”
Carolyn Grant is the sailing director at the Great Harbor YC on Nantucket, and says she focuses on minimizing traumatic experiences. “We do capsize recovery and swimming tests on the first day to overcome the fear factor,” she says.
Philip Muller, at the Lauderdale YC in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., says that many young sailors wash out because programs are too racing oriented.
“I have a saying at the club, ‘no sailor left behind,’” says Muller. “Good time management and creativity allows a coach to give both the novice and advanced sailor what’s needed in the same day’s practice. It goes back to knowing each sailor’s threshold. Some practice days need to be more fun-oriented to keep those on the fence interested.”