US Sailing’s Olympic Development Program for Youth Sailing

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U.S. sailors training on the waters of Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay, the site of the 2016 Rio Olympics. Photo by Will Ricketson U.S. Sailing

U.S. sailors training on the waters of Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay, the site of the 2016 Rio Olympics. Photo by Will Ricketson U.S. Sailing

How US Sailing’s new Olympic Development Program will help improve America’s Olympic fortunes

Seismic changes have been afoot at US Sailing since the conclusion of the 2012 London Olympics, where the American team suffered its first medal-ceremony shutout since Berlin in 1936. The team has made significant changes, including hiring 53-year-old Charlie McKee, a double Bronze medalist, as its High Performance Director. Recently, the team also announced receipt of a new $5 million donation (over 10 years) from the AmericaOne foundation. US Sailing is using this to fund its new Olympic Development Program (ODP) with four major elements that work collectively with other successful youth-development programs to create a powerful new talent pipeline. The first is an outreach initiative that will see Olympic-level coaches attending junior-level regattas as talent scouts and Olympic envoys. This, in turn, will send a stream of invited youths to world-class training camps where they will receive advanced coaching and experience. Travel teams will bring the most promising young sailors to major events and feed into the ISAF Youth World Team, which will receive additional support. SAIL caught up with McKee to learn more.

Charle McKee

Charlie McKee

SAIL: What aspects of the ODP are you the most excited about?
McKee: The exciting thing is to embark on a program that will give kids the ability to build their high-level sailing skills during their formative sailing years. It will help them understand more about the game. And instead of seeing which 22-year-old sailors come to us [every four years], we will have much more of a connection with these kids.

SAIL: Why rotate sailors through the camps and traveling teams?
McKee: It’s the rare person who is so driven at an early age that they know where they want to go with their sailing. Kids develop at different rates. Plus, this gives us more exposure to more kids. We’re not just cycling through sailors, but helping people to find their paths.

SAIL: What target ages are you hoping to attract to the camps and traveling teams?
McKee: Fifteen to 20. The ends of the spectrum range from talking to kids at Opti regattas to making a better connection with college sailors.

SAIL: Won’t the travel teams conflict with college sailing?
McKee: There’s an overlap, and some kids will be balancing both. But kids who have an Olympic ambition should be getting more exposure to Olympic-level sailing, even if it means a little less college sailing. College coaches have been very receptive, and it’s a win-win to work with the kids and their coaches.

SAIL: What’s required to earn a camp or team invitation?
McKee: Kids have to impress the ODP coaches with the right attitude and skills. They need to be ready for [high-level] coaching, and they need to demonstrate a proficiency in racing. The criteria are clear-cut; the subjectivity is to find the people who can benefit the most from this coaching.

SAIL: Why focus the camps on the 29er and the Laser Radial classes?
McKee: We’ll have training in all Youth Worlds classes, but we think it’s best to focus our resources on doing a few things really well. Both of these classes are really strong internationally, so the kids learn a lot of the things they need to achieve at the next level.

SAIL: Will the ODP influence results at the Rio 2016 Olympics?
McKee: No—we’re looking at 2024 here. Aspects of the ODP will have an impact on 2020, but starting a program with 15- to 17-year-olds, they won’t be winning medals in five years. It’s rare for someone to go and win a medal at their first Olympics… By your second Olympics you’re getting into medal contention, and your third is when you win. The ODP is a sustainable plan for the future, but it bears fruit in 2024.

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