Ideas for running a junior sailing week

by Chris Kameen on July 9, 2015

sailing ideas for school holidaysMy working with children philosophy for sailing

Imagine being told that, to go for a bike ride in the country that you had to cycle along a white line at a certain power output otherwise you are going to get shouted at, and then imagine how much you would love cycling if someone had made you do that as a child. Take this into account when teaching/coaching.

As sailors who race it is easy to assume that everyone is going to love sailing and want to sail their boats to their best ability. I strongly believe that if kids love sailing they will aspire to want to practice and improve if it also increases their enjoyment. I have had a large number of customers who who sailed as a child and were put off and never sailed again. Had they been taught differently I believe they would have stuck with it. Now that they have kids themselves they were keen to find  a school whose focus was on fun and not just trying to get them racing as soon as possible.

Anyway enough of that!

What is the aim of the week?

Messing around in boatsWhen running junior sailing weeks the mix of the group often includes complete beginners, siblings of sailors and experienced sailors whose needs vary quite significantly. Having vague goals of wanting them to improve and start racing at the same time as having fun, can be a real challenge. I like my goals to be something like:

  1. Visit at least 3 different places – sail to them.
  2. Everyone to have sailed with a spinnaker
  3. Everyone to have sailed on their own
  4. Finish on time and the kids are ready to go at the agreed finish time.. there is no excuse for over- running at all. (major reason people don’t continue with sailing is that it takes too long or overruns unlike football or other timebound sports)
  5. They have a great experience.

This final goal is the key and remember what is a great experience for an 8 year old is probably very different to what you would imagine.

Challenges of a week long course:

A week long course is exceptionally intense especially given a child’s concentration span. We also have to manage how cold they get. I have done the majority of my teaching in Australian Summer where the water is quite a lot warmer and the kids want to get wet, but they still get cold. If it is hot get the kids to bring two drinks bottles one frozen one not, frozen one goes into cool box for keeping sandwiches cool!

Suggested additional equipment required:

  1. White board and pens
  2. Beach cricket set
  3. Tennis balls
  4. Basket marks (marks made out of laundry baskets make great goals or receptacles for tennis balls)
  5. Soft Football
  6. Cool box in the safety boat
  7. ropes for knot practice
  8. painters with carabiner clips on the end. The painter should be 1.5x length of sailing boat. The Carabiner allows you to daisy chain the boats without loading up each boat individually  and you add boats to your line very quickly.
  9. Prepared homework – wordsearch, colouring in, spot the difference, rules of the road
  10. BBQ and snags!
  11. Selection of pens and paper in case of bad weather
  12. Sailing videos of crashes plus disney film if really terrible and need something after you have exhausted other options!
  13. Treasure hunt items list prepared – I introduce environmental stuff in this.
  14. Score sheets for free-style sailing
  15. I’ve seen good games using the giant Swiss/Balance Balls though have never had one myself.
  16. Personally I abhor water-bombs because of the environmental impact. Encouraging kids to leave choke hazards in the environment has no place in my lessons!

Splitting the group

At the start of the session we tend to split the group up into normally 2 smaller groups, one more experienced than the other. For the inexperienced group we follow the RYA method for starting sailing with a few modifications… more later!
If you have some older kids that are starting late then you might want to put them in the group with the more experienced. I get the experienced kids to run the safety brief and how to wear a life jacket and the right type of clothing etc. What risks there are on the boat.:

1) Lifejackets

2) The boom –

3) Where to sit

4) Flapping ropes

5) What to do in the event of a capsize

6) What to do if the key person falls overboard This is your worst case scenario and is why all sailors need to show their crew how to steer and stop a boat as soon as it is safe to do so.

Session 1: inexperienced, aim: getting on and off the boat, paddling and steering. I think it is important to get the kids out on the water as soon as possible – boring theory is boring. Rigging boats is boring.. prepare the boats before hand if possible. The RYA recommended method appears to say don’t do capsize straight away as the kids get cold, and for that reason it is sometimes worth just doing a demo in shallow water with the kids ashore. We love to split the kids into groups and get them doing paddling races or follow the leader in their boats without masts and sails. The kids are told to use the tiller extension from the start. We add in extra components like blow a whistle everyone has to jump off the boat and swim round and get back on. Add in extra things like get everyone to stand up or turn around or swap places.

Nugget 1

If you are doing this then it is worth having instructors in the water rather than all in boats. You get as cold as the kids… but more importantly you are talking at their eye level and it is like being in a swimming pool.

Session 2 – inexperienced: Tow the kids up wind and then get them to use their bodies as sails to sail back down wind. The focus is on holding the tiller extension correctly and steering/following instructions.

Session 3 – inexperienced: We want to start introducing sails. the exercise we do here is to set a reaching course with instructors in the water – (a thrower and a catcher!) and mainsheets not attached. We find somewhere where there is little or no wind, and basically push them between the two instructors. introduce the concept of sitting on the opposite side to the sail, and maybe the crew still needs to paddle! Instructors in the water will give them confidence and it also allows you to ‘tack’ them safely. If you have the man power then you can also use long ropes tied round your waist to the bow of a boat so that they don’t go too far. As far as the kids are concerned they are sailing – they don’t know that you need a mainsheet to pull the sail in yet.

Session 4 – inexperienced: same exercise with mainsheets attached, get the crew to pull the sail in a little.

Nugget 2

Have a selection of footballs and tennis balls that you can use to add some variables into the exercises

Derigging and wash down at the end is a good way of introducing the concepts of rigging and reinforcing the parts and names of the boat  – this can take some time.

After de-rig and changed and showered – debrief and review what has been done and set homework.. drawing a boat and labeling is a great one. The kids are used to homework and take great pride in their drawings.
Experienced Kids: Lets go for a sail.. follow the leader somewhere, rotate the kids at the front and try and identify the one thing that they could do that will help their sailing move forward. this is normally something like how they are holding the tiller extension or where they are sat – usually too far back which impacts their steering. Usually their sail trim and setting also need work but unless this is adversely impacting their ability to sail don’t try and complicate things. As a sailing instructor you get used to seeing badly trimmed sails.. don’t worry about it until the focus of the lesson is sail setting.

Nugget 3

Focus on the one thing that will help them improve and get them to practice getting that right before moving on to the next.

If you want to practice upwind sailing  – you might  choose a beach where you have to sail close-hauled all the way rather than lots of tacks as then you are practicing tacking as well. When you get somewhere, debrief go through key learning points and then play a game or tell a story

When setting courses use your imagination: If the kids haven’t done gybing yet then set courses where you tack round every mark.. don’t worry about whether the course would work if you were racing  – the important thing is that the kids are not trying to do things they aren’t capable of yet. Hooked roundings work fine!

Nugget 4

Try and get the kids to identify what is different about their sail setting  to somebody elses (that is doing it right rather than telling them to let their sail out for example)

Games that we like to play:
Football – played on a reach using the basket marks, you can only have the ball in your boat for a count of 3 before having to pass to a team mate by throwing. Each team member must touch the ball before a score is allowed. (watch out for fingers – only to be done in plastic boats!)
Free Style sailing – The kids get points for various activities done in a two minute window. Endo’s wheelies, climb the mast, run round the mast, dry capsize… etc. all carry different points
Bumps – pursuit races around a reaching course – when you catch up with the boat in front you can capsize and recover. This is a great exercise for working on tacking whilst also allowing the kids the fun of capsizing
The whistle game – on a passage, you might have 1 whistle means stop, 2 whistles means go, 3 means 360… etc. vary depending upon conditions and experience of group.
Racing – when introducing racing, rather than setting lines and marks,, just do a ready steady go! I use a safety boat as the destination or a beach. You can engineer it so that the weaker ones aren’t left behind or get  a head start! 😉
Rigging races
Pursuit races are a good way of keeping boats together for tricky parts of the day, e.g. crossing shipping lanes or recovering at a beach or slipway
Pairs team racing – if the kids are starting to get quite good and you want to do some rules stuff, pairs is a great fun game, though I recommend refereeing rather than umpiring.
Le mans starts off the beach with crew’s holding the boats in the water.
Adventure races that include capsize/free style element/ treasure hunt are good fun

There is a lot of information here, if you like it feel free to comment below or share!


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