One of the primary goals of junior sailing programs should be retaining kids long enough for them to develop a passion for the sport and a personal desire to continue. Far too often, however, before that happens kids are asked to spend too much time (years) in boats that do not align with their version of fun and pressure to “succeed” comes much too soon.
The current junior sailing recipe is driving kids out and resulting in an abysmal retention rate.
The most common single-handed entry path into the sport, along with a continual decrease in the age when formal sailing classes start (from 8 years old to the now common 6), results in too many young kids having scary early experiences and too many years in the same type of boat. Pressure to showcase a structured, serious program that can produce top quality sailors cuts into the fun factor.
“Racing pressure” sends kids that aren’t ready, to regattas too soon and to events that are too big; kids that show “potential to be good” are sent into the sport headfirst at the speed of light, and year-round. Not everyone drops out from these factors, and some will become amazing Optimist sailors and future Olympic and world champions, but meanwhile we’re losing too many kids before they have a chance to gain enough basic skills and have enough fun in boats to fall in love with all that sailing offers.