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The Mommy Boat Syndrome
Team McLube



Jun 21, 2011, 12:37 PM

Post #1 of 13 (22330 views)
The Mommy Boat Syndrome Log-In to Post/Reply

Chris Caswell is right on about the little league parents. I have been coaching sailing for over 25 years and I do go out on my coach boat. Both my sons race, one is very serious about it the other is not. I love to watch them. I do believe coaches need to let sailors make their own decisions. Many times I have watched my sons do things that I would not, but it works out. There are other issues that need to be considered in youth sailing today. I agree adults are taking the fun out of sailing. How fun is it to sit in a boat in 95 degree heat for 2 hours for the "right conditions" to come up?

If kids were to sit on the soccer field for 2 hours for the "right conditions" to come up parents would be screaming at the officials. How fun is it to spend 8 hours or more at a regatta for 4 or more days like Opti Nationals this year and race against 400 boats? Have qualifiers and make it reasonable. Make it the same with East Coast Championships and the rest of the big regattas. How fun is it to race against kids who have 2 boats, 1 for practice, 1 for regattas that yes cost $5000 and 420’s are running close to $10,000. And all the talk a few months ago about how we can keep kids sailing . . . think about it.

-- B. Hill


Jun 21, 2011, 12:42 PM

Post #2 of 13 (22325 views)
Re: [ms] The Mommy Boat Syndrome [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Chris Caswell's SAILING Magazine editorial describes a problem with some parents, but misses the obvious solution. I have a different description for the Mommy Boats as he calls them: parental involvement with their kids.

As a judge at many national-level Opti level regattas I have seen first-hand the damage overly-aggressive parents can do to their kids's enjoyment of sailing. And I've seen it in baseball and soccer, too, when they're sitting feet from their kids and coaches, yelling. I've also seen the opposite, where smart parents use sport to help teach their children responsibility, honesty, humility, and sportsmanship. Parents aren't the problem; BAD parents are the problem.

Successful junior programs like ours at the Lauderdale Yacht Club develop a structure and foster a culture where parents are (usually!) part of the solution. They're shown how to treat their kids, and how not to; to help lift heavy boats with smaller kids, not for them; and absolutely not to rig them. They help tow to practice through one of the busiest commercial and recreational seaports on the Atlantic seaboard. Visiting spectator and coach boats in our youth regattas must be on call to provide assistance or towing to any competitor as directed by our race committee. And if their child receives illegal outside information, they'll be protested by the race committee and get to ride home paying the price for their parents' rulebreaking.

Clark Mills designed the first plywood Optimist (Clearwater Pram) to bring parents and kids together, and his legacy shouldn't be used as a babysitter to allow parents to spend weekends at the golf course, tennis courts, or yacht club bar talking about the good old days. I happily invite Mr. Caswell to spend more time enjoying junior sailing events (especially those close to home). I think he'd be proud to see the positive side of parental involvement, and how, done right, it accelerates development of the principles he espouses.

-- Bob Meagher


Jun 21, 2011, 12:54 PM

Post #3 of 13 (22323 views)
Re: [ms] The Mommy Boat Syndrome [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Mr. Caswell hit the nail on the head. This approach to junior sailing racing is killing the sport I love. We see it in the lack of participation of young adults at all levels of casual sailing and weekend club racing. At 53 years old, I am one of the youngest members of a 200 member yacht club. Grey hair dominates the sailing landscape. Here's what I believe is wrong:

* The Optimist is a singlehander. 8 year olds sailing alone is scary and intimidating for most kids. Our society's institution of "macho creed" (girls and boys) suppress kids' willingness to admit they're scared to their peers, instructors and parents. My 8 year old only admitted it 18 months after he started in Optis. And I had to ask first.

* Singlehanding is anti-social. I started sailing in Turnabouts with 2 other kids. We had a blast and made fast friends. If we were scared, we at least had each other.

* Singlehanding can't train you to be a good crew. Many Opti grads move on to Lasers, not 420s. Who's going to "lower themselves" to crew position when everyone's trained to be a skipper?

* Teaching good seamanship? Can these kids tie knots, tune a mast, trim a jib, anchor, navigate (without GPS)?

* Winning is everything.

* Coaching at $25,000/year, $5,000 Optimists (which were created to be built out of plywood at home), $250 sunglasses, specialized clothing, overbearing parents having to be banned from on the water spectating, etc. etc.

* Fun. As junior instructors, we started water fights, played on the water capture the flag and horsed around at least 50% of the time on the water. Now? The club I worked for would probably be sued for child endangerment. All of this contributes to junior sailing burnout. I have some thoughts about improving the situation. It will involve a zero-based rethink of what we are doing now and a recognition of what our ultimate goals needs to be- preparing our children to enjoy a life-long sport that is a BALANCE between competition and fun.

* Start all beginners in 2-3 man boats and give them an alternative path to singlehanding for the rest of their junior sailing experience. No exceptions for at least the first full season.

* Set the max age for Opti participation at 12.

* Teach that crewing vs. skippering is noble and fun.

* Prohibit personal coaching. This is not a professional sport.

* Give PHRF boats a handicap advantage for each crewmember under 25 (maybe 1 second/mile/young person).

* Encourage yacht clubs to run teenage and young adult-level big boat sailing classes.

* Promote sailboat racing as more than winning: it's all natural, it is a test of seamanship not just speed, it's athletic and strategic and it is life-long.

* Punish unsportsmanlike behavior of parents and instructors.

* Reward seamanship and boat handling equally to winning.

I realize that the above recommendations involve a radical departure from the status quo. I happen to believe our sport has reached a point where radical measures are needed.

-- Geoffrey Emmanuel, Southlake, TX


Jun 21, 2011, 1:01 PM

Post #4 of 13 (22322 views)
Re: [ms] The Mommy Boat Syndrome [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Kudos to Chris Caswell's commentary about Mommy Boats. One of the most interesting lines from the end of his article quoted an executive recruiter, saying that "college grads, even those from prestigious MBA programs, are weak when it came to independent decision-making. They are simply incapable of relying on their own experience and instincts." It's truly sad that youth sailing has been fast heading down the same path for some years now.

"Tillerman" wrote a now infamous blog that may have been the first article about this topic (along with numerous feedback comments) exactly four years ago:

-- Blake Middleton


Jun 21, 2011, 1:46 PM

Post #5 of 13 (22319 views)
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I am disappointed with the insidious sexism of Chris Caswell’s labeling adults who watch children race as “Mommy boats” and also with his disparagement of the Optimist class. Mr. Caswell’s accusations are an inartful rehash of the over discussed phenomena of helicopter parenting that exists from pre-school through college drop off and in all sports not just Optimist sailing. His label, “Mommy boats” and the conduct he attributes to them implied that children are becoming “wusses” and cheaters because of and with the help of their mothers.

Helicopter parenting knows no gender and the term “Mommy boat” is very objectionable. Such stereotyping is very regrettable.

As for the charge of “Mommy boats” participating in cheating during racing, I had three daughters sail extensively in Optimists for ten years and served on the USODA Board for six. While I almost always chose not to go on the water to watch my kids sail, during all of my time with the Optimist, I did not hear of a single allegation of cheating between a parent and a child. Overzealous parenting and coaching – sure - but nothing compared to what I saw with my kids’ other sports.

Mr. Caswell’s sanctimony constitutes a baseless attack on the Optimist and mothers. Helicopter parenting is a problem but hardly unique to Optimists or sailing. The Optimist class continues to offer a wonderful experience enabling sailing and racing at many levels and an experience for which I remain deeply grateful to have had.

-- John Lambert


Jun 21, 2011, 1:51 PM

Post #6 of 13 (22318 views)
Re: [ms] The Mommy Boat Syndrome [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

In reading the article by Chris Caswell, I am in total agreement. Today parents for the most part are raising kids not adults. It was with pride that I watched my second son graduate from High School last week but it was what happened the next day that really made my wife and I proud. I woke up to the sound of my oldest rousting his brother out of bed. They made their lunch, went thru their check list, hooked-up the trailer and with a loud “Bye” rolled out of the driveway to practice. The boys being 20 & 18 started sailing at the age of 7-8 in the prams of the day, which was also the start of the Mommy boat era.

I grew up in the great state of Wisconsin and independence was what being a kid was all about, so I was not comfortable with the whole parent involvement I was witnessing. At the same time wanting to have my kids embrace sailing, a sport I love. The club program where they first started sailing understood this and would not allow any parent to be involved on the water with their child; this has since fallen by the wayside.

Over the years my wife and I maneuvered thru the ins and outs of junior sailing, participating to help any young adult pursue sailing while minimizing our evolvement with our boys. This was not looked upon kindly by many of the parents, meaning the ones that are the Mommy boat style of today or as they say today, “Helicopter Parents”. At that time the pressure was very intense to morph into being a “Opti Dad” which was hard to fend off. Luckily the Opti is not a lifelong platform and the boys had to Opti out due to weight and age.

Over the years the hardcore group of young sailors they started out with in the prams has dwindled from 40+ to now just a handful sailing at the boys level, meaning, loving the sport. The group that is left are in large part the ones that had been given the opportunity to be independent and make their own mistakes and learn from them while many of the others were burned out before they could Opti-out. This is not to say that the Mommy boat issue goes away after the prams, not by any means, in some ways it is taken to a whole new level. In fact I looked at the term “Helicopter Parents” in the most blatant of terms and not just for hovering around in Mommy boats.

Independence and self-reliance can be the key to life, as duck tape is to everything else, the hard part is allowing it to grow as your children become adults.

-- Chip Nilsen, Fairfield, California


Jun 21, 2011, 3:02 PM

Post #7 of 13 (22317 views)
Re: [ms] The Mommy Boat Syndrome [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I have to disagree with the tone of the article by Chris Caswell in Butt 3367. I have been a Judge at more than a dozen big Opti events. Yes there are a few Mommies there, and a few crying sailors as well. However my experience is by and large those Opti sailors are some of the best sailors I encounter, of any age, at all events, with rare exception.

And of course there are parents near by watching their kids compete. Just like little league football and baseball. I know I'm proud of my two junior sailors and I go out and watch them compete any time I can.

A lot of us watched the clip of the Oracle cat flipping end over end in SF Bay. Did you notice the group of Opti sailors sailing round near by at the end of the clip? They were having no trouble and I bet if you had audio of it they would have been hoot'n and holler'n and hav'n a good old time. As a group, those kids can sail! I don't know much about you Chris, but I am willing to take a bet that any top 15 year old Opti kid (who is aging out of the Opti) has been on more 100 plus boat starting lines than you have in your lifetime.

Mike Vining
US Sailing Judge


Jun 21, 2011, 5:43 PM

Post #8 of 13 (22302 views)
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As a parent of 3 children, I love watching them participate at their respective activities, much like most parents do. But as we all know, sailing can be a hard sport to watch from the shore in most cases and really see what's going on. I'm all for the independence sailing brings, and the experiences learned along the way. I learned a lot by sailing by myself and against friends. But as for the Mommy boats, why not have a spectator boat available so that the interested parents can watch their children perform but not interfere or coach. Perhaps that's one of the reasons why other activities are so popular is because parents have an easier time viewing the event.

-- Paul Hanson

The Publisher

Jun 22, 2011, 8:41 AM

Post #9 of 13 (22066 views)
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From Scott Collinson, Toronto:
There has been lots of discussion on the "Mommy Boat" phenomenon and Chris Caswell's commentary, in Scuttlebutt 3367, continues to frame the negative aspects of parents watching their kids participate in sailboat races. Parents go to watch their kids play football, basketball, or soccer; so why should sailing be any different? There will be "helicopter parents" in any sport; it is not exclusive to sailing. The question is if the parents are truly spectators? There should no room for coaching while racing and it should not be tolerated. Having said this, I attend many events and I do not believe it to be as prevalent as is portrayed in these discussion threads.

On the topic of the kids having a coach on the water, again, other sports have coaching on the sidelines and they provide many forms of support between plays and during timeouts. Should sailing be different? Just because earlier generations did not have on the water coaching, does that mean that this generation should not have the opportunity? The kids are still thinking for themselves while the "ball is in play." The question should be one of life lessons and fair play, not what is tradition or an accepted norm. We love watching our kids race, just like we love watching them play soccer; I guess if there was a good way to do it without a "Mommy Boat," we would.

The Publisher

Jun 22, 2011, 8:58 AM

Post #10 of 13 (22060 views)
Re: [The Publisher] The Mommy Boat Syndrome [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

* From Brian Hancock:
Once again, and how many times has it been now, Chris Caswell hit the nail on the head. The point behind sailing is to teach kids (and adults as well it seems) that sailing is about finding yourself. Parents setting their children free to sail ... alone... out there into the big wide world. This is the pure essence of why we loved sailing as children and why we are all better people for it.

* From Jamie Gilman:
The “mommy boat” issue that Chris brings up is blown way out of proportion. As a sponsor of the USODA I have attended nearly every regional and national Optimist event for the past two years in addition to having been an opti coach for several years. The blatant cheating that Chris refers simply doesn’t happen. Many of the parents out on the water are lifelong sailors themselves and simply enjoy being able to see their children participate in the sport that they love so much.

We don’t accuse parents of little leaguers of hovering because they sit in the stands do we? No, then why should be berate sailing parents for going out on the water in inflatable’s to watch their kids sail? Sure there will always be the bad apple in the bunch, but using the bad apple to type cast the entire group is wrong. I think that we should be thankful that so many parents are out there encouraging their kids to participate in sailing and helping to grow the sport we all love.

The Publisher

Jun 22, 2011, 9:00 AM

Post #11 of 13 (22056 views)
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Opti Parents...
Hmm, Jamie Gilman claims that the issue that Chris brings up is blown way out of proportion, and then says that the blatant cheating simply does not happen which are slightly contradictory statements if one thinks about it. Unless Chris is very mistaken it would seem it happened once. I wasn't there, I don't sail in your country so I have no idea whether either are correct, both are correct or what, but I do have a couple of observations.

The first is that in any form of competitive human endeavour its amazing what you can get used to. My partner is involved in dog showing, and its notorious that in some breeds(=classes) activity that appears to this outsider to be in complete breach the rules is endemic. It is simply the norm: you're not competitive if you don't do it, and if you accused the guilty parties of cheating they would be enormously upset. I'm sure most of us can think of other adult sailing classes (never our own!) where we feel that RRS observation is a little lacking too.

The second is that we've only hosted one major Oppie event at my club in recent years - we tend to start our youngsters on competitive sailing a little older, and the attitude and actions of a significant minority of the parents was simply appalling. The level of sportsmanship displayed by that minority of parents and the pressure put on some of the kids was to my mind absolutely unacceptable. This was the UK some years ago, so its of no immediate relevance, but it caused me to think that whilst there's no doubt that the sort of level of competition and pressure involved at such a young age is certainly the way to breed future Olympic Champions, I wasn't quite so sure it was the way to bring up happy well balanced kids. Personally I think I'd ban National and World Championship events in U16 sailing...

Jamie, maybe it would be worth videoing the spectator/support fleet at a few major events and reviewing things in the cold light of day with people who are less closely involved just to ensure that things are as healthy as you believe. Sometimes the outsider does see more of the game.

- Jim Champ, UK

Dave McClatchy

Jun 22, 2011, 9:10 AM

Post #12 of 13 (22049 views)
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I couldn't agree more with John Lambert and disagree more with Mr. Caswell. Like John, I happily served on the USODA board for many years and never encountered any of acts Mr. Caswell alleges. Has there been an bad sailor and parent before, yes. That happens in every youth sport.

I was on the water much of the time as a safety boat. What no one appreciates is when USODA has its large regattas, say 200 boats for Trials, 450 or so for Nationals and much more than that for New England's, safety is the number one priority (as it is in any opti regatta). When the wind gusts into the low 30's these kids need to be spotted and we need lots of eyes on them. Some of these sailors are young, 9-10, and light, and are in need of experience. We want to make sure that when they flip they don't get pinned under the boat or break something which renders them without the ability to make headway. When a pop-up thunder storm with a lively cell rolls onto the course, we then must evacuate all sailors to shore. Can you picture 200 optis under tow with sails down headed back to the club? Or how about 450? It has happened. We wouldn't be able to accomplish these acts without the spectator fleet and the sailor's coaches.

The vast majority of sailors at USODA events have coaches, (5-10 kids per coach) who are in coach boats, and the sailors on the water talk to their coach and not their parents. Parents make for bad coaches and the kids know this.

David M. McClatchy, Jr.


Jun 22, 2011, 5:01 PM

Post #13 of 13 (21978 views)
Re: [Dave McClatchy] The Mommy Boat Syndrome [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply


I've been out of the Opti scene for a while, but I recall coaching at the Patchogue NA's a couple of years ago when we had to pull 200+ kids off the water in around 15 minutes due to a violent squall. What I can say is that whole culture is very well trained - the parents know the drill and the kids come prepared and the whole thing went pretty seamlessly. The quality of the sailing is something to witness, and yes, the best opti kids go on to other boats and just dominate. Yes there is a fall out in participation after 15 . . . jobs, cars, dates and other sports get in the way, but what a breeding ground for talent and the kids that hang in there just excel as young adults.

My wife is big on reminding me that "anything in excess is just no good!!!" , , , there are helicopter parents in all sports, and yes some overzealous parents in the opti arena too. They do represent the minority though, and a lot of these kids have excelled because they go to practice, work hard throughout the year, and when I see the older opti kids I knew on the laser course these days, they are really cordial and sail exceptionally well.

The important thing to remember is that the coach and spectator boats need to be intensely vigilant of their position on the race course. Some regattas allow the boats to cover the whole course which I do not like as a participant. I enjoy looking upwind and seeing the shifts and the waves, and don’t like attending the regattas where there is a flotilla at the top mark. Call me old school if you like….

Ted Cremer #162020
US Laser Class
D8 Secretary

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