Monday, November 16, 2009

Youth Sailing and Architecture?

By way of some very random thinking, my last post brings me back to a former conversation about Saving Sailing and youth sailing.

It seems to me that our interests and passions can be very non-linear in time and space.
What was I doing writing about architecture in a sailing blog? I abandoned the professional architecture track in the middle of college. I thought there were very good reasons for this at the time. I viewed its educational process as a belittling of very talented students (not necessarily me), and perceived the profession to be one that devoured its young. (I was too immature to see that many professions work this way.) After being completely removed from it for nine years, I decided to start a business designing and building custom houses. And so I was back in for twenty years until the increasing aggravation graph line crossed the diminishing creativity line. Out for nine years again (is there a nine year itch?), I find myself writing about architecture in an unrelated context. And in my own non-linear and discontinuous way, I associate this with the way people become sailors.

In the Saving Sailing discussions and reviews – the book itself, Tillerman’s review with many comments, and my review – the topic of youth sailing programs has been often raised, much maligned, and not sufficiently defended.

Nick Hayes, the author of Saving Sailing, characterizes junior sailing programs as themed babysitting services where kids are dumped off and picked up by taxi driver parents. James, one of Tillerman’s commenters, bemoans the negative effects of over competitiveness. And Tillerman has increased his notoriety with his campaign against competition and coaching gone mad in the use of Mommy Boats.

All of these things are issues to be sure, but all of them seem like natural outgrowths of a sick consumer culture. We consume what Hayes calls “time charters” when we spend our time in activities scripted by others. Worshiping celebrity, we accept that a guy making 40K will spend $200 to take his kids to a ball game to watch players making $10 million plus. Is it any wonder that talented sailors hire private coaches and when not seeing Olympic prospects for themselves, go off to chase some other holy grail? The culture will impose itself on sailing, like everything else, despite our best efforts.

Sailing does pretty well in holding off the onslaught of a culture whose values are largely antithetical to those of our sport. We have hundreds of thousands of unpaid competitive sailors enjoying healthy, friendly competition with a Corinthian spirit. We have as many or more non-competitors enjoying the poetic, perhaps Zen-like experience of wind, water, and boat in harmony. We even have a few hardy souls challenging the oceans to become man vs. nature heroes like Hemmingway’s Santiago. We are not yet an endangered species.

It all starts with the first sailing lessons, frequently in youth sailing. I’m not completely pleased with our local junior sailing programs, and I tend toward the competitive as a high school coach, but in spite of flaws, we who are involved in youth sailing are planting the seeds that grow into future sailors. While Nick Hayes is certainly right about mentoring being the best way to accomplish this goal, we are limited to being Johnny Appleseeds. We plant the seeds, but we can’t be the farmers who nurture the orchard.

Despite our obvious limitations, thousands, nay tens or hundreds of thousands, of these seeds somehow develop into sailors. I like to think, “if you plant them, they will grow.” Can you imagine those little kids taught by Tillerman not becoming sailors? I know I have planted some seeds that may lay dormant for periods of time, but they will eventually sprout and blossom. The seeds will grow, not as well or consistently nurtured as Nick Hayes and many of us would like, but they will grow.


  1. Well said sir. I think I'm going to have to read Nick's book again to really understand what he is trying to say. Like you, I find it hard to be as dismissive of junior sailing programs as Nick seems to be.

  2. Our Youth Commission has just been chosen team of the year.
    The jury chose them because '... they organize framing activities where the youth members can meet each other off the water and in this way succeed in binding the club's 300 younger members together'.
    Thanks to them Em says 'sailing is fun'. Isn't that what it's all about?

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  4. To be clear, I am not dismissive of programs, I think we've become over-reliant on them in all aspects of parenting. I want them to be improved to better integrate with parenting, and here are some of the ideas that are being shared at Saving Sailing talks around the country.