Saving Sailing, What’s Changed?

The board of the PTSA, like sailing organization boards all over, is trying to figure out how to attract more folks to come out on the water and join us. This spring we’ll be putting up a number of voices that address this issue. This first post is from a saving sailing post by “Glenn McCarthy” on Sailing Anarchy.

Med_E150The first thing everyone needs to understand are the numbers.  In 1970, 25.5M people in the U.S. said they went sailing one day or more.  In 2010 the number was 2.5M.  When accounting for population growth, this means that 6% of people are sailing today that did 40 years ago.  The curve is steady and the economy has not had much influence on the curve.  When you plot this out on paper, you can put a fork in the sport of sailing in 10-15 years at the current rate.

The second thing to understand is that if we keep doing what we’re doing today, we should expect less participation this year and each year following as long as we don’t start making major changes.

So is there one magic bullet to fix this?  What were we doing 40 years ago that we aren’t doing today?  Every aspect of this sport needs to be questioned and compared to 40 years ago.  In my Regional Sailing Association, I have written for over a year on what needs to be done (and I have a lot more to write about).  It is easier to break it down into parts:

On the water – we’ve become way too serious drinking the IOC Kool-Aid that club racing needs to be run like an Olympic Regatta.  With the invention of simpler rules, certified judges, certified race officers, shorter and more races over the past 40 years, just how has this impacted participation?  My answer is, that it has caused a drop in participation as the sport has become businesslike.  I feel the need to put on a suit, tie, wingtip shoes and carry a breifcase to go out racing.  And this is fun?  I can confirm that many leave the sport because they say, “It’s not fun anymore.”  So the on the water answer I have is to have a different attitude and slightly different rules for Club Racing – http://lmsrf.org/lms…ules-of-sailing (Note – I add three more per month, it is not a complete set yet, and will be done in 2 more issues).

The next thing to understand is that we segregated the sport by age.  It seemed like a good thing to do, but in the end it is not developing adult sailors.  Read “What do the Ingrediants of Beer and Segregation Have to do with Sailing? http://lmsrf.org/lms…_newsletter.pdf

After that, we need to redefine what “fun” is.  By going round and round the course and making that the definition of “fun” we are seeing that people are quitting.  We have made “winning is everything.”  You see it on peoples faces, the daily or regatta winner has a huge smile.  But 2nd through last place are licking their wounds and clearly are not have as much “fun.”  I’ve written many articles on fun, with one of the bigger ones “Three-Eyed Toad & Manufactured Fun.”  http://lmsrf.org/lms…_Newsletter.pdf

The idea is between the two prior paragraphs that getting the youth sailing with adults again as when they did 40 years ago, that something needs to be provided for the youth when hitting the beach after sailing while the adults drink some swill.

Poking fun at the seriousness and seeking perfection that the IOC, ISAF and US Sailing drive down our throats, the societal impact of “perfect racing” has driven away many people, and the solutions are simple, and that is to move away from “skill sets” racing and go back to “racing with luck.”  Read “The Priest, the Rabbi and the Hooker and Short Course Windward/Leeward Racing.”  http://lmsrf.org/lms…_Newsletter.pdf

We have a long way to go, and a short time to get there in order to rebuild numbers in this sport.  We need to undo 40 years of having fun eliminated and having made racing way too serious.  If you don’t believe me, just keep making it more serious and watch the numbers continue to dwindle.  Or, start adding the crazy, wild, goofy insane fun times once again  – go read “Back when sailing was fun” by K Lorence as an example.

The reason is, how did we sell the sport 40 years ago?  It was because on Monday morning we were still laughing about the shenanigans and pranks that happened over the weekend.  We’d tell our friends, family, neighbors and co-workers about the crazy stuff that happened gasping for air laughing so hard (which was not stories about how great we were on the race course).  The listeners would be comparing their weekend to our weekend.  Once they heard what happened, they would ask us, “Can I come some time?”  And this is how we brought new people in.  We had a massive sales force, only we had no idea we were selling sailing, we just thought we were telling great stories!

Today, we have no sales force.  Ta-da!

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