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Scuttlebutt: The Junior Coaching Debate
by Craig Leweck

(November 10, 2005) Before my son began sailing, he was playing recreational baseball. He has always been a good fielder, a good thrower, but not that strong a hitter. He is now eleven, and is good enough to be on a club baseball team that travels through the region, but his hitting ability remained his weakness. Since his hitting skills were not improving through normal team channels, I enlisted the services of a college hitting instructor to work with him outside of his team's practice. The instruction was not cheap, but his hitting improved. Did the ends justify the means?

In the yacht club sailing programs in the US (and likely the world), most kids learn to sail at 7-9 years, often within a group of kids that stay together at the club, working their way through the ranks of the club sailing program. Once proficient in the basics, more advanced classes prepare them for regattas. But when certain kids become better at racing than others in their peer group, what happens to the kids getting left behind? Will they soon lose interest in the sport? As a parent, you want your child to at least keep up with the others. Right?

Enlisting the services of private sailing coaches occurs at the Olympic level, at the America’s Cup level, and often on the Grand Prix keelboat level. It also is occurring at the junior sailing level too. Is this the normal trend in today's sports, or are the kids getting over-exposed to the need to keep up and/or succeed? Is there an age when this is too young? Are club programs fulfilling the needs of all the kids, or should some sailors seek out the “Advanced Placement” instruction? Is the joy of sailing (or sports in general) getting lost with the desire to succeed?

Sailing at the pram level is not a team sport, so the notion for junior sailors to stay within a club program is not as obvious as that of attending one's baseball team practices. However, improving sailing skills is hard to do alone, and the concept of being pushed and tested amongst a fleet of boats is well proven. Club programs provide that critical mass to help the kids improve when they all participate, but when some choose private coaching, what happens to the group at the club program?

Lots of questions, and while the answers might not be the same for everyone, our survey results may shed some light on the current landscape of junior sailing:

(Nov 11-14, 2005) How do you feel about the junior program being offered to your local youth sailors?

  • 40.40% - For the most part, the club program is meeting the needs of the junior sailors
  • 24.00% - Club program is not always sufficient, and private instruction is being used to supplement
  • 14.80% - Wish we had a more organized club program (run by paid staff or Jr. Director)
  • 11.20% - The proliferation of private coaching has become a detriment to the club junior program
  • 9.60% - Overall coaching has gotten too intense for the good of the kids

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