Wednesday, February 10, 2010

US SAILING Q&A with Nicholas Hayes - The Author of "Saving Sailing"

KYS Notes:

Nicholas Hayes was in Chicago last month for the Strictly Sail Boat show and to promote his book "Saving Sailing".  With six more weeks of winter in the forecast, the book makes for great reading.  Nicholas' book provides some great points on what the Sailing community should be looking at to harvest the sailors of tommorrow.  It is a must read if you are a parent of a sailing child, would like your children to explore sailing or work in the capacity as a program director or manager for a yacht club or sailing school.

The enclosed interview done by US Sailing really gets into some of Nicholas' ideas on what the sailing community should be focusing on.  As parents of small children (who we hope will take up this great sport someday), and full-time stakeholders in the sport of sailing, we can tell you that Saving Sailing is on our favorites list.


US SAILING Q&A with Nicholas Hayes - The Author of "Saving Sailing"


Jake Fish
US SAILING Communications Manager
(401) 683-0800

US SAILING had the opportunity to speak with Nicholas Hayes, the author of “Saving Sailing”, following his presentation at US SAILING’s 2010 National Sailing Program Symposium last week in League City, Texas. Hayes touches on a number of topics including what he learned at NSPS, youth sailing, the categorization of the sport, sailing as a family activity, the perception of sailing, and much more. Read what Hayes has to say…

US SAILING: What was your experience like at NSPS? What did you learn?

Nicholas Hayes: The group at NSPS was energetic, creative and thoughtful. I was hoping to witness the sharing of new ideas for teaching and retention with sound foundations and practical plans. I was especially excited to hear about both fledgling and fully-formed inter-generational sailing programs popping up in various parts of the country, some in partnership with other mentor-led organizations like the scouts, and others in a homegrown model. It was also fun to hear observations that clubs are starting to see grandparents and parents step in and sail with their kids.

US SAILING: Talk about the discussions you had and the questions asked by participants of your breakout session? Did some have contrary or different opinions about the drop off in sailing participation?

Nicholas Hayes: In the breakout, programmers from all over shared their plans to put parents and younger kids on the water together. I must say, ideas were abundant, attendees were generous in sharing experiences with their peers, and their peers seemed genuinely interested in adopting and adapting what was discussed in their own waters. The breakout was the highlight of my time at NSPS, and I think it will result in some great new sailing opportunities next season.

I didn't sense, nor do I believe, that the macro participation numbers are in question, except perhaps in narrowly-viewed (an ill-informed) blogs that originate where specific fleets are strong. I don't take satisfaction in the fact that sailing is down; in fact, I view it as a tragedy of sorts (thus the book and the time-off work speaking tour). But I'm happy to report that at NSPS, I heard nearly universal concern on the part of the attendees for their clubs or the programs, combined with a real commitment to do something about it. I was very impressed with the group!

US SAILING: You indicated that kids are signed up to participate in so many activities that they can’t truly develop enough skills in one to be ‘great’ or engage them enough to be interested in the activity for life… How can we ensure that sailing remains a life-long sport at a recreational level?

Nicholas Hayes: The first lesson should be that kids are not lazy, but they are consumed and overcommitted, and that it is a parent's job to prevent this from happening. Second, the data doesn't show a shortage of skill in sailing by kids -- juniors programs are great skills-training machines -- instead, it shows that we have come to view sailing just like we view soccer: something we might try and master as kids, but not something important enough to continue and pass on.

I believe there are two groups that need to take action: parents and programmers. If we want sailing to last beyond childhood and become part of a parenting life: Parents must realize that sailing is accessible and available as a family-based activity, and give it a shot. Programmers need to be ready. As I explained in my presentation, we have overlapping needs, and therefore, I propose overlapping actions…

Parents should:

• Never pit sailing against soccer. (Sailing is much better, because it can be shared.)

• Start early so family time becomes a habit. (Need to break the must-be 8 paradigm.)

• Deliberately recover lost time whenever possible. (Especially when kids become teens.)

• Select programs that are designed for all ages. Create new ones if they aren’t available.

And Programmers should:

• Never pit sailing against soccer.

• Start early so family time becomes a habit.

• Design for active intergenerational participation, and when that is impossible:

• Embrace the Minikani Model -- homegrown peer-selected mentors as instructors... (read the book)

• Measure lifecycle and leadership skills -- not wins

US SAILING: Do you believe the sailing community has been overly divided into categories (cruising, racing, types of racing, classes, etc.)?

Nicholas Hayes: I do, although I don't believe by design. We're so small and so carved up that we have little staying power. This from the book:

"In the last thirty years, as fleets and programs have shifted and specialized, sailors have unknowingly carved their common interest into special interests and at the same time have reduced their staying power as a group. The industry, in turn, has reflected those segments in its offers, and has amplified the effect. Fewer people sail on bigger and bigger boats that consume more and more lake frontage. Sailors with deeper pockets chase design advantages not available to the rest and deter popularization. More people outside of sailing think that sailing is a professional sport of sponsors and celebrities, when, according to the numbers, it isn’t and will never be (at least on a large scale). Most importantly, kids are isolated from parents in programs."

It is easy to conclude that this isolation correlates to defection, and will leave the next generation believing that sailing is out of the question.

Perhaps the most significant impact of the book to date is that clubs that used to think that they were competing are coming together to cooperate to rebuild a common base. The opposite of fragmentation is coalescence, and it's generally easy to do when one is motivated.

US SAILING: Amateurs often compete against professionals… Some believe this is great for the sport. What is your take?

Nicholas Hayes: ...I don't know many amateurs who think it is great. (I know, snarky... but true.)

Seriously, let's start here: sailing is only a sport when sailors race. It is better defined as time spent on the water with family or friends. Racing is just one format, and it represents about 20% of sailing (in terms of time.)

Secondly, I like to race, and I like to take home a flag when I do... but the majority of sailors know that a race is meaningless except in the friendships that it secures and the memories that it makes. This perspective is shared by 99% of sailors, and applies to 99% of starts. Frankly, pros have no place in the vast majority of sailing as it is done today, and I don't see that changing much.

I go to lengths in the book to explain how sailing as a profession doesn't sync well with sailing as a pastime. I've come to conclude that if someone is able to convince someone else to finance their fun, so be it... but the progress in technique or skill isn't worth the costs in the whole. I hope your readers will consider the evidence that I present and decide for themselves.

US SAILING: You believe we should be honest about our sport. It is difficult, time consuming, frequently changing and sometimes risky… Are you concerned that the sport is being sold under false perceptions?

Nicholas Hayes: Sailing is most certainly being marketed incorrectly in many places: Compare it to soccer or video gaming, and it takes on the thin veneer of a something only for kids. Or dumb it down for adults, and it loses its grand allure. The fact is that good sailing is hard, but it is almost always worth it. That said, I like to distinguish between easy and accessible at the point of entry. I don't think we should call it easy, but we can say that it is within reach, because it is (at community sailing centers and clubs all over the country).... and we should challenge each other and our friends to try it, and to then get better at it.

Let me add: I don't think anyone should be "sold" on sailing. I think it should be presented as an option, and a great one, given its grand benefits (freedom, experience and friendship), and then the person should decide for themselves.

Saving Sailing won't happen by making it popular. It will happen when people chose to do it well and for a long time, and when they share their contagious, authentic enthusiasm for it with others along the way. Often, it will start with a simple invitation: "Hey, you want to go sailing?"

US SAILING: You mentioned that the perception of the sport is that it is expensive, which is negative in today’s economic climate… How do we begin to change that perception?

Nicholas Hayes: I point out that newcomers don't see cost as an issue 95% of the time, and I've found ample supply of low cost sailing, so I don't think we need to worry about it much. We should instead focus on adjusting program calendars to sync more cleanly with a family schedule. When we get timing right, start kids earlier, and don't ask families to split up, we'll find more demand that most programs can handle.

US SAILING: Do you believe that sailing is the ultimate family sport if organized and run the right way? If so, why?

Nicholas Hayes: I do, and I know many sailors who concur. It's hard to imagine a grandma, son and grandson all playing soccer together, but it's easy to find them playing together on a sailboat. There are many examples of this happening now all over the country.

Some might suggest that I am suggesting a "cultural shift" -- a change in the way that Americans and American families think and interact. In fact, it's quite the opposite. When a mom, dad and 6 year old daughter sail together, they are doing it as the result of having made some fairly simple, but very important choices and commitments. As they keep doing it, they influence and include others. Over time, their choices add up to something bigger -- better friendships, more open communication, a stronger family dynamic -- and we can start to see the sparks of a cultural shift started at the grassroots. I can't think of a better place for this to begin than on a sailboat, where problem solving, cooperation, concern for others and fun are there in ample supply. And the cost of entry is so low and the support networks (like the folks at NSPS) are so strong.

Thanks to US SAILING for letting me be a part of this great event.

Best wishes,

Nicholas Hayes

The United States Sailing Association (US SAILING), the national governing body for sailing, provides leadership for the sport in the United States. Founded in 1897 and headquartered in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, US SAILING is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization. US SAILING offers training and education programs for instructors and race officials, supports a wide range of sailing organizations and communities, issues offshore rating certificates, and provides administration and oversight of competitive sailing across the country, including National Championships and the US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics. For more information, please visit

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