Continuing the series of posts on how to motivate teenagers to sail. Previous posts in the series touched on how parents need to give their kids some clear air and how the pressures of competition affect kids' enjoyment of the sport.
Last year the yacht club where I was working as head sailing instructor paid a professional videographer to make a video of the junior sailing program. As well as some superb footage of on-the-water action, the DVD includes interviews with all the kids in the program. One of the question the video guy asked every kid was some variation of, "Why did you join this sailing program?"
There were really only two answers that the kids gave. One was basically, "My parents made me!" I guess one day I'll write something about how to handle that whole issue. But many of the kids answered something like,"My friends were in the program last year and they told me how much fun it was and so I asked my Mum and Dad to let me join them this year."
As adults we don't always realize that one of the main reasons that kids enjoy sailing is because they just like hanging out with their friends and doing fun things together. Sometimes the motivation to be with their friends even influenced which sailing class my students signed up for. It certainly affected decisions such as who they wanted to team up with for sailing games or who they wanted to crew for.
On the other hand I have seen kids turned off sailing because their parents tried to get them involved in an adult sailing activity where there was no opportunity to socialize with other kids. The example at the start of my Teenagers post was exactly such a case.
Once again, in the case of my own kids, I think we avoided this mistake more through good fortune than through any special planning on my part. When my sons were old enough to learn to sail we were lucky to be living near Rutland Sailing Club in the U.K. which had an excellent junior sailing program with kids ranging in age from 7 to 15. Then when we moved to the U.S. there was a sailing club on the lake in our town, which though less formal than Rutland's program, had plenty of other kids that my sons could socialize with as well as sail with. I don't think they would have stuck with the sport if their only option was to race with a bunch of grumpy old men like me.
We also lucked out in that we spent a couple of Thanksgiving holidays at the Bitter End Yacht Club in the British Virgin Islands. There were a lot of kids there at the holiday season and the resort laid on special activities for the kids, organized by Sail Caribbean. Once again I'm sure my sons enjoyed it more because they could have fun on and off the water with other kids of their own age.
That club where I worked as an instructor the last few summers ... most kids stop coming to the Optimist classes once they are 13 or 14 and are then expected to crew for adults in the club in the weekend races if they wish to continue sailing. But the club is smart enough to realize that teenagers are looking for an opportunity to socialize with each other so they also run a kind of youth club which meets one evening a week for campouts, sleepovers, movie trips, scavenger hunts and whatever it is that teenagers like to do when they hang out together. (Always with discreet but constant adult supervision, of course). Several times I would arrive for work on a Friday morning to find the floor of the yacht club littered with sleeping bags containing bleary-eyed teenagers -- including my assistant instructor. I'm sure this club provides exactly the kind of socialization that the kids need to keep them involved with the sailing club through those potentially stormy middle teenage years.
In the original comments that triggered this thread about teenagers and sailing, Ward wondered if he needed "the lure of a crew of naked women" to motivate his teenage son to sail and Carol Anne made a passing reference to how a "Dutch track star in a bikini" was somehow part of the solution to keeping her son involved in the sport.
They may be right. The power of attraction of the opposite sex can do wonders. One of my sons met his first date (or at least the first we knew about) through the sailing club. My other son, while working as a sailing instructor at a summer camp, met a young woman with whom he had a relationship for many years. And on those vacations at BEYC my sons became friends with a girl from Illinois and kept up a long-distance friendship with her for several years afterwards with occasional visits to each other's homes.
So if your teenage son is getting disillusioned with sailing and everything else I have suggested has failed, one solution may be to persuade some teenage girls to join your sailing club. Never underestimate the impact of the combination of teenage testosterone and babes in bikinis.