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Scuttlebutt News:

The Importance of Junior Race Teams
by Ken Legler

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When I took over the excellent sailing program at Wianno Yacht Club on Cape Cod I was reminded repeatedly that the program is above all about having fun. I think they were afraid that having a college coach run the program would mean nails for breakfast. I agreed it should be fun but, I had to wonder, if they were all having so much fun, how come there was only one kid enrolled over the age of thirteen. The fun they were having was appropriate for the younger age groups but not for teens looking for more than sponge tag or sailing to a beach.

How many times haves you heard the question, “If only we could keep the kids from leaving the sailing program before they turn 14?” The answer is to increase the prominence of the sailing program junior racing team. The biggest benefits of a prominent junior racing team are two-fold; to provide role models for the pre-teens and to build a base of future sailing instructors. The benefit to the race team kids themselves is more obvious but, they usually represent a minority of the total program population. They also might take up more than their share of the program resources. They are, however, your programs greatest assets. Here’s why.

The ten year old intermediates look up to the thirteen year old Opti racers as the cool kids they want to be like. The thirteen year olds look up sixteen year old 420 and Laser sailors (and junior instructors) as the cool kids. The sixteen year olds look up to the nineteen year old college sailors/sailing instructors. Without a race team, the age gap among teens becomes hard to fill due to drop outs for work or other interests. Flexible junior instructor jobs, and lots of them, are a big part of the solution.

The transition was not easy at WYC. It took a month just to get the equipment (sailboats and motorboats) up to Nantucket Sound standards, as well as training the staff and participants in open water sailing safety. Open water sailing does increase risk, and safety is always a supreme priority but without certain manageable risk, where’s the fun? Objectives along the way included getting every eleven year old surfing or planning at least once, get every thirteen year old into a regatta of an appropriate competitive level, and above all, to get every kid dying to come back for more the following summer.

There’s no question this costs money initially and Wianno’s program was funded well and, more importantly, Wianno had a number of sailing parents willing to drive and otherwise support the concept. There’s rigging that needs beefing up, engines that need repair, entry fees, travel expenses, and new sails. Some race team kids (families) can pitch in for entry fees, some sails, and perhaps their own race boats. The investment pays off. The race team fills in the age gap among teens, more and better instructors become qualified and available in the future, and everyone in the program benefits in both the short and long run.

Ken Legler is the current preeminent sailing coach with the Tufts University Sailing Team. Past accomplishments include All-American sailor, US Sailing Team Coach, and national champion in college dinghies, team racing, one-design, offshore, and blind sailing as a sighted guide. Ken has participated in sixteen world championships as a competitor, principal race officer, head judge, commentator, and US Sailing Team coach. Ken’s website:

Photos by Ken Legler

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