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Fun is the key

by Dave Irish 29 Jul 09:31 PDT
Fun on the water in Plymouth © RWYC

The lessons of the past are still relevant today! This article excerpt was originally published in the July/August 1996 edition of the American Sailor. With current anecdotal information showing that participation in sailing is in decline and people are making choices based on limited leisure time, we as sailors need to do everything we can to entice newcomers to the sport. Fun is the primary factor of why people choose to do what they do with their spare time.

Let's talk about growth in our sport. Our race courses are not too crowded, and we certainly have plenty of room for more sailors in our schools, club programs and community sailing centers. We want more people to sail, right?

So how do people decide on sailing (or golf or in-line skating or even online gaming)? The research has been done, the experience has been gained; people are introduced to leisure activities by family and friends already involved. Lifestyle ads on TV don't work; public relations campaigns don't work; even free boat rides don't work. People choose a new activity like sailing because they are introduced to it by existing sailors who are having great fun and want to share that fun with their friends. It is also a question of fun balanced against time, money, hassles and frustrations.

If you are reading this, you are probably a leader in our sport. You already know intuitively that the way each of us creates growth is by helping people have more fun playing on sailboats. In turn, they bring their friends into sailing, who then bring their friends and so on. More fun yields more players, less fun yields dropouts.

How do we do it?

  • Bring people you know from other activities sailing with you. When you do, don't let them just be passengers, have them participate not just spectate! Let them steer or trim. Ask them to watch for gusts of wind. Above all, explain what's going on around them at a pace and in a way that engages them and makes it fun.
  • Is there someone in your racing fleet who has a boat but isn't yet up to speed? Being way behind is not fun. Being in the hunt and gaining new skills is. Try letting your crew sail your boat next week while you offer to sail with this other individual in the fleet. Your enthusiasm will rub off as will any helpful friendly coaching. The newer sailor will start to keep up, not because you took over, but because you provided focus on doing those things onboard that make a difference.
  • Do you know someone "almost ready" to venture farther afield? Offer to do a mini-cruise, each in your own boat: "Let's sail to the island and over¬night this weekend." That removes the anxiety and concern about "Where will I moor?" or "Will I get lost?" Cruising in company is usually more fun and the other sailor will likely pick up the habit and confidence as well.
  • Remember the first time you were protested in a race? Probably a "not fun" experience. If you hear that a new sailor has gotten into a protest, offer to help. Explain the rules, assist in written preparation, and offer to go to the hearing and walk him or her through it. (The jury can but shouldn't exclude you if you were not on the boat.)
  • Help the people you sail with to get better to the end that they eventually outgrow your own personal skills. Encourage them to move on to the next challenge, whether on their own boats or by moving up to a tougher "league." Meanwhile, introduce someone new to your team. Done well, this is the process that keeps all sailors stimulated and learning. That's certainly the key to fun in competitive sailing!
For more resources one one design sailing, visit US Sailing's One Design Central!

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