Now we've lost Paralympic Sailing - what if we lost Olympic sailing too?

Discussion in 'Sailboats' started by WhiteDwarf, Apr 20, 2015.

  1. WhiteDwarf
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    WhiteDwarf White Dwarf

    Fleet numbers are down. We have difficulty getting new candidates to replace those in club leadership positions who are aging and would like to pass on their knowledge and skills. I hear these complaints from many of my acquaintances.

    From parents I hear that they want their children to try many sports, to find the one they like. “I want my children to experience a different sport every summer and winter.” That was the statement of our then mayor attending my club’s prize giving last season. A lot of busy parents today have no commitment to a sport of their own and follow variants of this approach. What narrative can we offer, to ensure that young people exposed to sailing for a few months become committed to the sport for a lifetime? What will compel them to remain “sailors” when the pressure of exams builds-up, or to return after university?

    I fear that sailing is in the early stages of a decline similar to that experienced by Squash, an excellent game which gave me great pleasure, but, at least where I live, almost extinct. I believe that we need to convince young people and parents that sailing is a sport for a lifetime, and to achieve that we have to offer them credible narratives. The football codes offer a group identity, and the elusive prospect that the lucky few will achieve great riches. In the light of sailing being cut from the Para Olympics, we need to analyse what else sailing can offer and how to communicate these opportunities. Remember too, that Olympic facilities for sailing are expensive and remote from other events and don’t produce big television audiences…

    Sports appeal to people through a series of “narratives.” Making friends, belonging to a group, looking cool, aspiring to elite competition. This was brought home to me when I posted a YouTube video of a dinghy race recently. One young man in the race said to me, “Thanks, at last I am able to show my mates what I do on a Saturday afternoon.”

    I believe that sailing needs to develop a rich mix of such narratives, if it is to prosper. For me, it started with the stories of Arthur Ransome and went through competition and winter afternoons building boats with mates… I fear that an excessive focus on elite competition is dangerous for the long term health of the sport and strongly appealing alternatives need to be developed now.

    To suit our changing society, I would ask forum members what narratives held their interest and what they think we can offer parents and young people, which will encourage them to think of themselves as “sailors” for a lifetime, even without the tenuous allure of the Olympics?
     
  2. CT249
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    CT249 Senior Member

    Great question!

    I think I must have effectively inherited a love of sailing, but that wasn't all. Like most other middle-aged sailors, I got into the sport when the typical person could realistically aspire to being able to get close to, or in, the upper echelons of the sport. For example, the only other kid at my first high school who was into yacht racing ended up racing a on a home-built cruising ketch to the UK (the Spice Race). That led directly to a gig on Flyer (II) in the Whitbread Round the World Race, which they won. That sort of ladder up doesn't exist in the same way anymore AFAIK.

    It's also much more expensive to own an offshore racing boat. Gone are the Sonata 8s and East Coast 31s; now 40 footers are "entry level" offshore boats, and most people know they will not be able to afford one. Even in the larger sizes the truly popular types, like the ORCi and IRC cruiser/racers, are basically ignored by most of the sailing media, who take the easy option of concentrating on AC and Volvo types.

    Similarly, when I was a kid the "aspirational" performance off-the-beach craft were things like Cherubs, ply Moths (mostly scows), Windsurfer One Designs, and perhaps a surfcat. All of them were comparatively cheap, accessible and could be sailed easily in the local confined waterway. The Cherub is the only one that comes close to fitting those criteria these days. And the popular classes are largely ignored as many ISAF reps and the media (who mostly don't sail regularly themselves, or buy boats like hoi polloi do) fawn over a small minority of high-performance classes that, while fantastic, remain merely a tiny niche.

    The sailing industry and media are promoting the sport in a way that basically says that the typical keen sailor - even one who is pretty affluent - is not really a part of the sport. That's a far cry from the way it was in the boom days, and it's also a far cry from the way it is in sports that are doing well these days. Pick up a mag from a boom sport like road cycling and you'll see how important it is that the typical middle-aged guy can ride the same routes as the legends on the same sort of bike. That no longer applies in the same way in sailing.

    There are many studies about why people do or do not do sports, and some studies about why they do or do not sail. The lessons of these are almost completely ignored by those who push the high performance mantra (which is not to say that HP craft are not wonderful), just as the interesting lessons learned by computer game designers are also ignored.

    So, basically, we almost need a new type of marketing sailing to create a new type of narrative - one which ignores the boats and events that are unreachable and instead concentrates on what most people can actually do. The way to kickstart it, IMHO, could be an email get-together with representatives from the most popular "amateur" classes (Lightnings, Thistles, Solos, Sabres, RSs, ORC and IRC yachts, etc) that would allow some of them to form a voting bloc that could tell ISAF and the media that they will no longer be ignored. We did something like this, in a small way, in windsurfing a few years back and it had an interesting effect.
     
  3. WhiteDwarf
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    WhiteDwarf White Dwarf

    Thanks for that CT.

    I attended the Sydney Sailboat Expo at Manly over the weekend with my old wooden Heron. I got phenomenal interest from nostalgic veterans, almost all seemed to have experience in one. Trouble is that a new FRP Heron costs north of a$13,000!

    It would be wonderful if we could offer young people the chance to build practical skills as well as those directly related to sailing. The kid wielding a tenon saw as they build their boat could become a carpenter, but the preparation could also lead to careers in orthopaedic surgery or project management. Expressed in those terms, maybe the “tiger mothers” would see boats as an alternative to violin!

    For families living in units, building, for that matter, even storing boats is problematic. This will present a problem for all but the smallest designs, with their inherent limitations. That doesn’t mean it should not be explored.
     
  4. WhiteDwarf
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    WhiteDwarf White Dwarf

    Thanks for that CT

    I attended the Sydney Sailboat Expo at Manly over the weekend with my old wooden Heron. I got phenomenal interest from nostalgic veterans, almost all seemed to have experience in one. Trouble is that a new FRP Heron costs north of A$13,000!

    It would be wonderful if we could offer young people the chance to build practical skills like those many of us acquired, as well as those directly related to sailing. The kid wielding a tenon saw as they build their boat could become a carpenter, but the preparation could also lead to orthopaedic surgery or project management. Expressed in those terms, maybe the “tiger mothers” would see boats as an alternative to violin!

    For families living in units, building, for that matter, even storing boats is problematic. This will present a problem for all but the smallest designs, with their inherent limitations. That doesn’t mean it should not be explored.
     
  5. Leo Lazauskas
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    Leo Lazauskas Senior Member

    From my reading, in many countries (particularly the USA) the latest
    generation of youngsters are not as interested in owning cars as
    previous generations.
    Could that have some bearing on reduced interest in sailing/boating,
    given that they don't have a way of moving vessels?
     
  6. WhiteDwarf
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    WhiteDwarf White Dwarf

    Thanks Leo

    You are right Leo, but I think there is more to it than that. Not having a car is actually a statement of identity.

    Almost all marketing directed at younger people, particularly by "sporting codes" (the big business and television variety) is about offering a packaged identity. I am sure you have heard variations on "wear your teams colours with pride." The football codes do it, they can afford the market research, so it has to work; sadly. You might say that a lot of people are, in their formative years "identity seeking missiles" and the advertising is to get them to lock-on and spend their (or their parents) money.

    When I was the age that is now targeted, there was a strong identity of SAILOR in my community. It was an identity you could wear with pride, summer and winter. What I am seeking is avenues to restore that theme.

    We had our last sail of the season today - now the kids will have four months to sup another product, and a fair number of them will be lost. In my youth, this was an exciting time, who would build a moth, perhaps a Fireball, who was working with whom...

    True, some people are turned off by cars, always were a few, perhaps more now, but a lot still want skills. The coffee shop/disco cohort were never there for sailing but we need more ways in which people can sustain the identity, perhaps I should say, narrative of being a member of something big - the world wide and generation spanning community of sailors.
     
    Last edited: May 2, 2015
  7. Leo Lazauskas
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    Leo Lazauskas Senior Member

    Of course, reduced car ownership is only one facet of the problem
    for sailing. (I don't think it is a statement of identity, but
    let's leave that aside).
    However, the increasing cost of car ownership in Australia
    certainly does add to sailing costs. Maybe that's true in other
    countries too?
    Cheap electric cars won't help much because they can't haul heavy
    loads or travel very far on a single charge.

    I agree that some form of marketing might help to increase sailing
    participation in the short term, but the difficulty (not just for
    sailing!) is that there are just so many alternatives available to
    young people, and most are far cheaper. Also, many of the
    alternatives are far more immediate, i.e. they can be experienced
    without all of the travel, preparation, maintenance etc required
    to be a sailor.
     
  8. WhiteDwarf
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    WhiteDwarf White Dwarf

    You are on the money, Leo: but our failure is to retain those who try our "product." My point is that we need to appeal to people so strongly and consistently that they will remain interested, if not active, through the tough final years at school and early university/career and be keen to return. It's too easy to sell an Optimist or other plastic fantastic and forget sailing, unless you have adopted that special something which I call, rightly or wrongly, the identity or self conception of a sailor.

    I started this thread to explore the available options and greatly appreciate your input. I agree it is challenging, is it insurmountable?
     
  9. Leo Lazauskas
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    Leo Lazauskas Senior Member

    Yes, IMO it is insurmountable.

    The same applies to many niches in science where it is difficult to
    attract young people to do post-grad work. The simple reason is that
    there are so many choices. Why would anyone consider ship
    hydrodynamics when there are so many fascinating alternatives to be
    found in materials engineering, biology, physics, etc etc?

    Another reason why sailing numbers will stagnate is that it is not
    all that appealing to a large number of women and girls, so the pool
    from which to draw new people is already halved. Marketing might
    help a little there but, like engineering and physics, it just might
    not appeal to women who prefer biology or other sciences, and no
    matter how much effort you throw at it, it will be to no avail.

    Of course, interest in sailing won't disappear completely, but it
    will remain an activity limited to a reltively small group of
    (predominantly) men. It's just the way of the world, IMO.
     
  10. gggGuest
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    gggGuest ...

    There are more girls than boys amongst teenagers learning to sail at my club in England these days. I have no idea whether that's universally the case or just a statistical quirk, but its certainly interesting.

    I'm not aware of any sport in the UK which is not concerned about the retention of participants "through the tough final years at school and early university/career", and we are better placed in sailing than many sports to recapture people in later years.
     
  11. Leo Lazauskas
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    Leo Lazauskas Senior Member

    Is there any evidence for that?
    Or is it (like my own thoughts on the future of sailing) just a guess?
     
  12. WhiteDwarf
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    WhiteDwarf White Dwarf

    Evidence...

    In this era of databases, I have no doubt the information is readily available to the peak sailing bodies. I don't see YA using it, but to be fair, if they are, it would not necessarily be obvious.

    There is a significant cohort of girls progressing through my club too, as gggGuest describes and several of them are very good indeed.

    One thing going for sailing is that boys and girls compete on broadly equal terms, and in suitable boats, in the same event as their parents. That must make life easier for families who have to spend their weekends rushing children from one sport to another.

    Prospective advertising meme...

    "Some sports relegate parents to chauffeurs - sailing has them in the same event."
     
  13. gggGuest
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    gggGuest ...

    I don't see many 60 year old Rugby players, but 60 year old sailors are not uncommon at all... At Club level sailors are competitive for a far longer time than most sports
     
  14. WhiteDwarf
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    WhiteDwarf White Dwarf

    Good point gggG, sailing from 7 to 70 plus.

    Too many people get relegated to nonparticipant roles, in other sports, while they should still be active. The chagrin of the guy told to forget his ambitions at soccer and do the sausage sizzle to raise money for the juniors is hard to contemplate. I've seen it scar colleagues deeply.
     

  15. Skyak
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    Skyak Senior Member

    WD, I commend you for your concern and identifying there is a problem. IMHO the sailing establishment is in denial so they can just go where the money is and ignore the entry level.

    How to expand sailing
    To the original assertion -from a mind-share perspective sailing is already gone from Olympic coverage (at least it is here in the US). It might still be covered in nations with better medal potential. I think that a budget review would confirm that sailing is on it's way out.
    About losing share of big media, I would say forget them -they are followers not leaders. Focus on getting interesting people doing interesting things and the media will come to you.

    Today EVERYONE is a publisher -and it is truer for the young demographic you want but lack in sailing. The place to 'advertise' sailing is in social media. The narratives are that sailing is THE BEST SPORT FOR MAKING YOU INTERESTING.

    Why?
    -Puts back 'Man vs Nature' along with Man vs Man & Man vs Self in the story.
    -Most environmentally friendly -not even a field to maintain -leaves nothing but a wake.
    -Best Co-Ed sport -women compete together with men and can win (note I say can not do). What attracts young men most? Young women!
    -Best sport for teaching STEM -no other sport uses and favors scientific knowledge as much as sailing. This is a huge selling point for parents, teachers and government for that mater.
    -Great view -the view of the water from land is expensive but the view of the shore from the water is superior.
    -Sail boat is a natural billboard -great opportunity for self expression.

    Obstacles/difficulties
    -Not a natural spectator sport (fix with action cams, gps broadcast)
    -Cost of equipment (I have several solutions -later)
    -Cost of storage and campaign -this is a bigger problem I hope to address
    -Weather/wind/planning -this is a big problem in most locations. The cost might be tolerable but if weather cuts the return -no sale or sail. **The sport MUST deliver on the time scheduled for it! If it can't be scheduled it will be shoved out of modern life. There is a huge difference between our childhood and today -kids have calendars full of structured activity and there is no room for 'maybe'. For this reason all my solutions are sail and human powered boats.
    -Shore access -crazy high waterfront real estate cost. Need to make the case that sailing is the best use of waterfront public resource.

    You identified that car ownership is declining among youth. Home ownership is declining more, and garages are even more rare in this demographic. This is why the old dingy classes don't suit the young -it's hours of fun but weeks, months and eventually years of hassle finding a place to put it.

    Solutions
    -fold up boats
    -stacking hulls (take home small parts)
    -shore locker
    -trailer base

    The flip side of the demographic change is that millennials are spending more on "experiences" and that is where sailing has the most to offer. They are looking for
    -Fun *and fun to talk about afterword
    -Accomplishment always -bragging rights occasionally
    -Exercise
    -Socialize -including online
    -A great view
    -Looking good
    The last point is the emphasis on making it an an "event" ie You want to buy a Tshirt so people will ask you about it later.

    There should be a place fans can gather. I have been thinking that fans that pre-pay for food and drink would get chips to bet on the outcome. Bets payoff in premium food & drink with the winners. Smart companies want to be a 'prize' so they will donate. The importance of the fans to sports is something sailing just does not grasp. The importance of wagers is that fans need to think about what it takes to win and can be winners themselves. It drives interest and engagement.

    I could go on and on (as if I haven't already) but the idea is to take the cost out of participation, take the PITA stuff and automate it, and take whats great about the sport and pipe it to everyone's social media feed.
     
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