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USODA expands Optimist Development Team Program

by US Sailing 28 Apr 2019 12:12 PDT
Optimists lined up and ready to rumble. The 2018 USA Junior Olympics June 29-July 1 will be a great training regatta. © Talbot Wilson

The United States Optimist Dinghy Association (USODA) recently announced changes to the National Optimist Development Program, with a focus on growing the number of sailors participating and offering USODA training at the regional level.

The new program structure was announced on the USODA website on April 7th:

"The USNT Committee is excited to announce the new National Optimist Development Program, as well as this season's US National Team evolution, for 2019-2020. Designed to better serve both development pathway sailors and sailors competing at the top international level, the initiatives are based on over a decade of progressive improvements and experience, and advice from top Optimist and Olympic coaches from around the world."

"This project will consist of 6 regional programs NE, SE, Mid-Atlantic, Gulf Coast, Mid-West, and West with an assigned coordinator for each area. Initial regional membership roster will be 20 sailors, with 15 based on Team Trials results and 5 by application."

US Sailing caught up with USODA Coaches Council Chair Justine O'Connor and USODA National Team Chair Blake MacDiarmid to learn more about the new program.

US Sailing: "How is the structure of the USODA development team program changing?"

Justine: "We're taking the development team level, which was previously about 19 sailors nationally, and regionalizing it to have 20 sailors per region in six regions. With this new regional structure we will have 120 sailors participating, helping to broaden our reach, and really preparing those sailors to be ready for the USODA National Team in the future. The focus is on adding regional training that helps advance their skill level."

US Sailing: "What are the overall goals of the development team?"

Justine: "I think it's to prepare the sailors to have success, both in the Opti Class and also in their future sailing. Everything from their physical development, to their foundational sailing skills, and building towards future goals at higher levels."

Blake: "Another new thing going forward is that we are going to involve the sailor's parents and families more in the development team practices. We want the families to be involved at this level and to integrate the whole sailing experience into the practice weekends, so that if you're a parent who's new to this you're going to learn from others and get a better handle on the sport of sailing overall. We looked at this a year ago and said, "why are we saying, at a development level, that we don't want any parents there?" They should be a part of the conversation and the process."

US Sailing: "How does a sailor earn a spot on their region's development team?"

Justine: "Initially it will be based on the USODA Team Trials results, where the top 200+ Optimist sailors in the country are competing each year. The top 15 sailors from each region will qualify for their region's development team, and after that we will have an application process for the final 5 spots, to get up to 20 sailors in each region. In the future, we also want to incorporate the major USODA regional regattas, so the top finishing sailors from those events are able to participate as well. We're going to learn from this year and make adjustments to make sure that we are accessible to the top Opti sailors in each region."

US Sailing: "What's the training schedule for the regional teams?"

Justine: "We will have our first regional practices in the fall, to kick things off, and then have some flexibility for each region to follow a schedule that makes sense based on weather and the training that's already going on in the region. We want to individualize the regions and help give them what they need. Eventually we'd like to have some group gatherings of multiple regions to practice together as well."

Blake: "This regional approach is a direct result of the size of our country. We're splitting up the country into six regions that are geographically close enough to work together, and the schedule and programming will reflect that."

For more information on the USODA, visit

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