Oct 16, 2006, 9:08 AM
Post #15 of 43
These letters were too long to include in the Letters section of the Scuttlebutt newsletter, but were too good to edit down to the 250-word limit. Here they are in their entirety:
Re: [The Publisher] Have we lost a generation of sailors?
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* From Richard du Moulin, Commodore, Storm Trysail Club: The Storm Trysail Club is devoting a large percentage of its energy and budget-- with the support of great sponsors, fellow yacht clubs, and generous boat-owners-- towards our Junior Safety at Sea program and Intercollegiate Offshore Championship. Our goal is to introduce big boat sailing to junior and college age sailors in order to give them a taste of this dimension of our sport, with the hope of keeping them active as adults. Over the past eight years, we have trained over 2000 juniors at our seminars in Larchmont, Annapolis, Marblehead and Newport. Two weeks ago we hosted 33 visiting college teams who raced/ borrowed J44, J109, J105, J120, J35 and Express 37s for two days. From this dual strategy we can see more young faces racing with our members and friends in big boats. We believe that the year-round intense focus on dinghy sailing through college graduation is great at providing incredible skills and fun, but without big boat experience along the way, the possibility of burnout can occur. Back in the 1950's-1970's most junior sailors raced small boats during the summer, and crewed on big boats in the spring and fall, and some summer weekends. This balance created a larger circle of friends and broader experience. We believe it lead to a wider and deeper appreciation of our great sport. Today's technology has created very exciting big boats, and racing long distance is a unique experience. The clubs and organizations that are making big boats part of their programs will best succeed to retain the enthusiasm of juniors as they age. Storm Trysail Club is happy to exchange ideas with others in the sailing community, and share our experiences. (Visit our website: stormtrysail.org)
* From Peter Alarie: I feel that the current Junior Program/High School/College sailing track is hurting the overall development of our junior sailors. There are many reasons I believe this, from the type of boat (slow, simple, heavy, underperforming) to the type of racing (short course, small fleet, uniform speeds) to the length of this mind numbing immersion (perhaps up to 12 years). I have heard all of the arguments about how this type of program breeds participation, but at what cost? Many of the kids that are successful in this track simply drop out at the end of the line, unable and unprepared to make the transition to other, more challenging areas of our sport.
There are many theories, but one that is often overlooked is the psychological element. After years of being successful in this overly simple arena of sailing, they are not equipped for the emotional struggles of achieving the same level in Olympic or even fast One Design classes. In their own minds, and the minds of their supporters (coaches, peers, parents), they have already reached the top when they collect their All-American certificate. Yet in most cases, they are woefully unprepared to make the jump. After tasting frustration and defeat at the hands of people they do not respect, they lose interest and drift away.
Get these kids out of these boats as soon as possible, and let them feel the thrill of other types of sailing. They will probably struggle, but the challenge is good and will develop the necessary mental toughness that success outside of the round robin demands.
* From Jesse Andrews, Kaneohe Yacht Club Jr Sailing director and University of Hawaii sailing coach: I have been coaching Jr sailing for about 15 years now. Five years on the East coast and ten here in Hawaii as the head of a Jr sailing program and as a coach for UH. I have seen the advantages of having supplied boats and the drawbacks. When I was 16, I worked at a local sail-makers after school to pay my parents back for the very much used International 420 they helped me purchase. This boat was a dream come true for me. I spent long hours working to get it as competitive as possible. I also had to find transportation to regatta's and tune the boat prior to each event. This taught me responsibility and gave me a good work ethic.
Today as a program director for a local yacht club, my mission is to try and get as many youth involved with sailing and pass on the success and fun that I enjoyed as a youth. The problem is when you supply the boats, transportation, and make it as inexpensive as possible, they tend to take it for grated. As an example, if they are not doing well after the first day of the event, they may decide to skip the second day to go surfing. What is the solution? One is not to provide too much. You can introduce them to the local racing circuit without spoiling them with perfect supplied boats, transportation, and toilet paper for their rear ends. Knowing how much to supply is a hard line to draw. But having them do as much of the behind-the-scenes work is a key element to their success. If everything is provided and taken care of for kids until they graduate from college, they will never be as enthusiastic and determined as someone who has had to work hard for their success. This is also a good tip for parents in general. A spoiled kid is never fun to coach.
* From Blake Billman, SEISA Graduate Director, ICSA Board Member, Fort Worth Boat Club, Ft. Worth TX: I was extremely interested by your lost generation piece. This is a subject I have given considerable thought in my years as a yacht club coach, collegiate team captain, and now as a Graduate Director for one of the ICSA's districts. I grew up a prominent yacht club in my region and did the entire track mentioned in your article, Opti to Laser to Collegiate FJ. However, the junior racing circuit in the southwest is far smaller (and more time consuming due to driving distance) than the east or west coast so juniors at my club also paid their dues in the keelboat fleets, Wednesday J/22's and Sunday 1D and PHRF.
After I moved off to college I took a job as a coach in Houston and was appalled by two things that I see as completely interrelated: There was a total lack of weekly big boat racing, and the absence of the technical skills their juniors possessed. I have become convinced that a real junior development program must include big boat racing and that education must start at a young age (10-11). When some juniors exit the Opti program (14-15) is too late. I am also convinced that this education must be a club wide initiative, not one run by the junior program. The juniors must be placed on teams that are willing to teach them and put in positions where they are critical to the teams success.
I guarantee that this formula breeds success in two ways: a broader knowledge base and greater confidence for the juniors; and a bigger, better, cross-generational crew base for the club (our club J/105 championship was once one by a boat with only one adult onboard). You can produce unbelievably good sailors in a dinghy-only program, but the best junior and collegiate sailors I know all have some big boat experience and training and most importantly for groups like our YC's and US Sailing, they are the ones most likely to stay in the sport after college and breed a new generation of elite sailors.
* From Hiro Nakajima: (My club newsletter recently had an article about) club member Roger and Rhona Wagner’s outright win in the Farr 395 class up in Newport recently at the New York Yacht Club’s race week. What I was thinking about with this article is not only the accomplishment of the Wagner’s in the regatta but equally as important is that the helmsman and his brother who was doing sail trim are both by-products of a L.I.S. yacht club junior sailing program (albeit they were Jr. Sailors back in the 1980s).
I have been observing over the past four-five years a change in the development of our junior sailors. It appears that for many families, the junior sailing programs with Optis and Lasers is a convenient summer “sports” type activity akin to soccer and hockey, and that once the program is over, sailing is over for them as well. There appears to be a lack of understanding of the importance for a junior sailor to be exposed to numerous experiences ranging from small one-person dinghies to two to three person boats, and ultimately to big boat racing.
Many families do not own sailboats nor consider sailing together as a family on extended cruises or weekends as an important component to a junior sailor’s education. As a result, many of our juniors do not have an opportunity to sail for an extended period of time on a boat with fellow crewmembers. In Stamford, CT there is also a decline in the sailing and racing of crewed boats such as Pixels, 420s, etc. where the concept of working as a team is all but forgotten. As a result we see a lot of junior sailors who, as an individual, can sail a dinghy commendably but do poorly when placed on a boat with a crew.
The Dorade and the Beach Point Overnight events are two local regattas that try to promote junior sailing as a team sporting event and I think this is great. We all need to learn how to sail from small one person dinghies and work our way up to big boats. But the trend that I observe today appears to not recognize the importance of exposing the junior sailor to a crewed boat and ultimately onto a big boat. Many juniors do not understand the concept of communicating with their fellow crewmates during sailing maneuvers; little to no understanding of proper seamanship, or to develop one’s own seamanship; safety; etc.
I believe the Wagner’s sons are a testament to the importance of fostering a comprehensive sailing program for our junior sailors. They grew up sailing in a yacht club junior sailing program; they sailed and raced as a family on the family big boat; developed good seamanship skills; got invitations to race on other people’s big boats; ultimately got invited to participate on an America’s Cup campaign; and now actively sail and campaign a Farr-395 as a family in highly competitive big boat one design races.
Sorry for rambling on but after having had casual conversations with members of other clubs I have the sense that this is an issue at other clubs.