As part of its mission to increase sailing participation and excellence, US Sailing has released a new Youth Performance Pathway to connect youth racing sailors to “What’s Next” in the sport. The pathway is the culmination of a year-long review by a task force of experts from inside and outside of US Sailing. 

“In response to the evolving landscape of the sport, we’ve been working hard behind the scenes to identify the current and future pathways for youth racers, starting from local and regional racing and connecting to their long-term goals,” said John Pearce, US Sailing’s Youth Competition Manager. “We see that kids drop out of the sport during the transitions between boat classes and age groups, and US Sailing needs to do more to bridge those gaps.” 

The new pathway includes updated guidance on transitioning into new boat and board classes to clarify the progression to higher levels of competition. In support of the pathway, US Sailing is updating its programs and providing expert training and education at events and clinics for sailors, parents, and coaches.  

Youth Performance Pathway

The three-tier Youth Performance Pathway illustrates the progression from grassroots youth racing to higher levels of the sport, as well as lifelong sailing as adults. There is no single path through the sport, and each sailor is encouraged to “tack upwind” based on their own preferences and goals. “Sailing is a sport with a wide variety of boats and racing formats to choose from, so it’s important for US Sailing to embrace multiple pathways for youth racers, while also keeping it simple by boiling it down to three major steps,” said Pearce. 

While the plan encourages all sailors to achieve their personal best, it has also cleared a pathway for sailors who aspire to race at the national and international level, qualify for the US Sailing Team, and represent Team USA at the Pan Am and Olympic Games. 

“US Sailing’s Olympic Development Program continues to be focused on raising the bar for excellence at every step of the pathway,” said Leandro Spina, US Sailing’s Olympic Development Director. “Simplifying the path and supporting the transitions into new classes will help more sailors succeed at higher levels.” 

Pathway Tiers

The Youth Performance Pathway starts at the Racing Development tier, which includes popular “club” boats such as the Opti, Club 420, high school sailing, and many other learn-to-race boats and boards. This is where most youth racers get their start, learning to race locally and building skills and experience at the regional and national level.  

The Performance tier is the second step of the pathway and represents a step up to the faster, more technical boats and boards that are the global standard for youth competition. This is where sailors expand their technical sailing skills, develop as performance athletes, and compete on a national and international level. 

The Olympic tier is the third and final step of the pathway and includes the boats and boards raced in the Olympic Games. Sailors at the Olympic tier are eligible to qualify for the US Sailing Team based on their competitive performance at the World Championship or other top international competitions. 

The transitions between tiers are a crucial opportunity for sailors to discover “What’s Next” for them in sailing. This is a time when sailors should try different boat options, attend introductory clinics, and learn from sailors and coaches who have experience with the technique specific to these classes. 

Not all sailors will choose to transition to the next tier of the pathway, and the most important thing is that all youth sailors stick with the sport and continue sailing as adults. For many sailors, that will include sailing on larger boats such as keelboats and in established one design classes.  

“Sailing is a lifelong sport, and we want to help introduce kids to more opportunities and options, whether that is on a wingfoil board, a keelboat, a racing dinghy, or anything in between,” said task force advisor Cory Sertl, past President of US Sailing.We want to encourage competitive kids to challenge themselves, especially during their teenage years when they are developmentally ready for the challenge of sailing faster, modern boats. But we also want to encourage youth sailors to stick with it, have fun with their friends, and become lifelong sailors. The new Youth Performance Pathway is a roadmap for achieving both goals.”  

To learn more about the pathway, visit: https://www.ussailing.org/education/youth/yrc/

Updates to US Sailing Programs and Events

As a part of implementing the Youth Performance Pathway, US Sailing is updating its programs and events to support pathway transitions: 

  • The USA Junior Olympic Sailing Festivals (JO’s) will now include a series of JO clinics across the country, in addition to the established series of JO Regattas. The JO Clinic format will give youth sailors the chance to sample several of the Performance Classes, along with foiling boats and bigger keelboats. These small clinics will give sailors a taste of “What’s Next” and educate them, along with parents, coaches, and clubs, on their next steps on the pathway and achieving their personal goals. 
  • For sailors that are ready for the next step on the pathway, US Sailing’s What’s Next Camp will be an immersive experience sailing performance classes including the 29er, windsurfing, and foiling. The What’s Next Camp will take place in Bristol, RI in summer 2023.  
  • Additionally, US Sailing is partnering with SkiffGeneration to bring Learn2Skiff Clinics to sailing clubs around the country.Learn2Skiff Clinics are multi-day technique clinics for sailors new to the 29er class.   
  • The Junior Women’s Clinic Series is made up of small, regional clinics specifically for young women and coached by world-class female coaches from the US Sailing Team and top college sailing teams. Made possible thanks to the generous support of the C. Thomas Clagett Trust, these clinics are an excellent opportunity for young women to increase their skills and be coached by incredible mentors. 
  • Olympic Development Program (ODP) coaches will be at several major clinics to provide coaching and technology, including the CISA Clinic in Long Beach, CA, the Brooke Gonzalez Clinic in Newport, RI, and the Neill Clinic in Chicago, IL.  
  • The US Sailing Team has launched the new Mixed 470 Program, which will gather up to 12 talented sailors (six teams) and connect them with boats, coaching, and logistical support in exchange for a commitment to the domestic training and racing schedule. The Mixed 470 class makes its debut at the Paris 2024 Olympics and gives the US the opportunity to channel the strength of American sailing, including collegiate sailing, in which mixed gender teams are the norm. 

More Information

For more information on youth racing, event calendars, and the Youth Performance Pathway visit Youth Racing Central, the place to go for all things youth racing: https://www.ussailing.org/education/youth/yrc/

Want to learn more about youth racing and the Youth Performance Pathway? US Sailing is hosting two virtual info sessions – one for parents and sailors, and one for coaches and organizations – on Zoom. Please register for the webinars via the links below: 

Reach out to your US Sailing staff contacts: 

  • Youth Racing: email youth@ussailing.org to reach John Pearce, US Sailing Youth Competition Manager, and Catherine Shanahan, US Sailing Youth Racing Event Manager.  
  • Olympic Development: email ODP@ussailing.org to reach Leandro Spina, US Sailing Olympic Development Director and Tina Cardamone, US Sailing Olympic Coordinator 
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