US Youth Sailing
In our area participation in sailing began to decline in the 70's and 80', and by the late 1990's only one child was racing, and many of the sailing clubs in the area had collapsed.
Why was this happening? Surely the sport of sailing had not changed much over this period of time.
Were the kids at the end of the fleet dropping out discouraged?
Were they frustrated by low wind speeds? Low hull speed?
Was it not socially the thing to do?
Was there too much pressure on them in other parts of their lives?
Were there too many other optional activites for them?
To get the answers to these questions and to reverse the decline in youth sailing in town, we started a sailing camp in 1997. We started with the traditional emphasis on racing, and the kids had to provide their own boats.
As the years went on we began making changes.
- We started focussing on the sailing games we invented. The games were designed to teach racing skills without pressure
- We bought boats.
- Different formats were tried - changing days of camp, hours, calendar, etc..
Most of the kids really did not want to race. We changed racing formats so the kids at the end of the fleet were not as frustrated, but finally we refined our games so the racing skills were taught and perfected in a set of sophisticated games. The few kids who wanted to go to regattas did very, very well in spite of the few opportunities they had had for traditional competition.
Always we listened to what the kids wanted in the program. In 2013 we had 92 children in the program and 24 boats. In a town with grades sizes of 80-100 kids, it was remarkable how many youngsters attended sailing camp at one time or another. We had thirteen counselors - CIT's, Junior Counselors and Senior Counselors.
Kittihawk20's family of games, described elsewhere on this site, are not the usual "getting to know you" type games or simple games like tennis ball tag. The tactics used in some the games are so sophisticated that sometimes the younger children beg not to have to play them. But the teenagers love them.
- Some games are best for heavy weather, some for light or no air.
- The cheater's race is for a day with no wind.
- Most games are double-handed - a skipper and a ball thrower, for instance.
- Every game has a set of racing topics or skills it addresses - tactics, strategies, go-fast techniques, rules.
Each year we invent a new game or two, and sometimes the kids invent their own.
"All Sailors are Friends"
We offer a summer sailing camp for children between the ages of 8 and 18. All lessons and activities include children of both genders and all ages, skill levels and athletic abilities.
Our goal is to teach the sailing culture — camaraderie, honor code competition, self-reliance, resourcefulness, responsibility and leadership — based on the philosophy that "all sailors are friends." We encourage children to emerge from the rivalries formed at school or at home and become part of the world-wide community of sailors, which has been the foundation of the sailing culture for generations.
Our instructional program is all summer long, non-competitive, and complete. Each child learns basic sailing, go-fast techniques, and racing strategies, tactics, rules. These skills are taught primarily through the use of the fifty or more games we have developed. Campers control the boat themselves starting with the first lesson. Instruction is provided at the highest possible level so that youngsters who choose to race at the local, national or international level will have the necessary skills. Campers with an interest in team sports can play sailball and sailing frisbee.
Sailing, the Sport
How many sports do you play in which:
- Any number of people can play.
- There are no referees, umpires or judges.
- The first rule is that you will be thrown out of the race if you don't come to the aid of a contestant in danger.
- A race can take 30 minutes or several months.
- You can be removed from the contest for "gross poor sportsmanship".
- It is no help to be tall or short, heavy or light, or a girl or a boy.
- The weather can be rainy or sunny, hot or cold, or windy or calm.
- Everyone in the contest is your friend, even the ones you most want to beat.
- You can compete individually or with friends.
- If you improperly interfere with an opponent's actions, you must voluntarily take a penalty, and if you don't, a group of other players decide whether to disqualify you.
- Your can play in daylight or at night.
- If there is no wind, you can go swimming.
- You are welcome at anyone's exclusive yacht club if you arrive by boat.
- The decision to be in a contest is yours alone.
- When competing, you usually are out of hearing range of coaches and parents, so you have to learn to take care of yourself.
Technology, Boats and Programs
Some people have opined that the boats available to kids do not satisfy their taste for speed and excitement. Children these days rocket down ski slopes on snow boards at frightening speeds. Many high school sports programs emphasize bursts of speed or power. In many communities, winds are mostly light and variable, which do not provide modern children with an exciting sailing experience.
In our opinion an ideal boat for kids these days would have a hull which weighs almost nothing, and it would be designed to plane upwind at low wind speeds. The boat would be hugely oversailed so that it would accelerate rapidly in games but could still be raced either double or single-handed and would be stable. This describes some technology which might help lead to the development of such a boat.
Recently there has been increasing interest in "adventure sailing." This type of program can incorporate a variety of activities, including windsurfiing, kite-boarding, exploring, racing, games, etc. Also many of the activities may can be adapted to non-sailing vessels such as kayaks and stand-up paddle boards. These activities have resulted in expanded participation at clubs and camps which had been experiencing declining participation. In addition modern boats such as the RS Aero Model 5 and O'pen Bic provide exciting experiences for kids.
For participants over the age of 17, i.e., 18 - 30 (discovery sailing), emphasis is on team sailing games.