Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How do you really grow the sport

What a great question with perhaps the hardest answer to come up with. I am sure there will be all sorts of opinions but realistically how does one grow something. In ice boating as in sailing there are generational approaches to how we grew the sport or perhaps a better term kept it going. For my generation we learned by being exposed to it as a family type of event, when dad went ice boating or sailing we went along, we setup the boat, fixed the boat, and eventually got a ride in the boat. Other friends my age that iceboat, their experience in ice boating again was via the family, and they spent countless hours on the ice, setup, breakdown, rehash and trash talk session and on and on. It was an organic type of development brought forth through your family. It was experience driven, it was a part of your life it was a culture.

Today as we continue to try to replenish the participants in the sport, there tends to be an angst or urgency to save the sport. But, is it the sport that is in jeopardy or is it indeed our approach. Today our society is a rush here do that there mentality. We believe in exposing ourselves to every available challenge or quest, we build teams to take on even bigger challenges, this translates into how the younger sailors approach the sport. I bet if we look now at how the middle aged guys, G Simon, R Ronstan, R Sherry, came up these guys learned at the hip of old dad, they were organically mentored, to them ice boating is not a sport but realistically a family experience. It is a culture of sailing or ice boating. They are raising their kids this same way.

Fast forward to today, as we try and get younger sailors involved and active in the sport, the culture is fast tracked condensed into getting more people on the course and in turn these people stick with it or as is the case wash out after a few years. The attrition rate is good sized when those people are older in age. Why does this happen, is it that the process we use is flawed, we are not building the experience or culture we are just squeezing boats out on to the line? Perhaps thinking short term vs long term.

 A great example maybe the Gratton family. Their ice boating is an adventure every time. They bring a bunch of boats, a bunch of people, maybe race maybe not, they sail a bunch, have a feast on the ice, they sail all the time and have fun all the time. No condition stops them. Hence the kids continue to participate when others their age have moved on. Remember organic and culture. They have lived this way forever.

So how does one build this? Our participation with our youth sailors takes place within our schedules when we race regattas we squeeze them in. Their sailing gets compressed into a tiny fast tracked schedule. The ones in ice boating families survive, they are a trickle into maintaining the numbers of the sport. I am not sure of how much outside participation exists outside of our club. I will say when the kids come to our events it is a day spent enjoying the activity. Be it ice boating or other activities on the ice. For most of them they are not ice boaters by tradition or family. Yet we try and provide an organic and family type of event which builds that culture we so need. A fair amount come back, yet we lose some too.

This winter we are hoping to expand upon what we slowly have been doing the last few years. Creating slowly and nurturing the sport into local children's life experiences. They are not ready for full on regattas but they have had fun experiences and will continue to do so. Our goal should not be to make racers with our primary focus but to make ice boaters that grow the culture and the sport.
How we are planning to do this is PART 2.


  1. I agree 1000% with your post. I will also add that the short sighted, fast paced, hurry up and participate methodology has also caused the extreme lack of ice boat BUILDERS. How many people are left that actually have a comittment and passion for building boats larger than DN's. For me, I really enjoy the 95% preparation / 5% sailing time. I will also add that there needs to be less emphasis on top of class racing, and more emphasis on recreational sailing / scrub racing. You can buy a really cool older A Skeeter for the price of a competitive DN package, and have lots of fun with like minded others.
    - Pat Heppert

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