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National Conference Recap (5 top Takeaways)

10 Feb 2020 4:54 PM | Stuart Proctor (Administrator)
Five Takeaways from US Sailing’s National Conference (SLF) 2020
  1. Yacht Clubs and Community Centers acknowledge the need for improved diversity and inclusion practices.

  2. Fun is in.

  3. Yacht Clubs are beginning to think like Community Sailing Centers and vice versa (in good ways!)

  4. The DSC is a major leader in community sailing… and then again….

  5. It’s not about the boats: It’s about the people.

On Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity

Over the course of the Sailing Leadership Forum, which took place from February 5th through February 8th, it became clear that sailors recognize sailing needs to become inclusive and diverse. These efforts are being heralded by some of the biggest, most prosperous yacht clubs, too. Community sailing programs like The DSC have the biggest access opportunity to connect people of all backgrounds to our beloved sport, and clubs across the country are also lauding the initiatives. 

There is still a major need to get honest about (the lack of) equitable practices in our sport… but there was much grumbling about the need to reconcile our mistakes. Nearly one quarter of the seminars were dedicated to improving inclusive practices within our sport. Many communities are already creating equitable, inclusive systems in their clubs and centers. Though US Sailing has yet to define a concrete means or methodology to improve diversity, equity, or inclusivity, the “elephant in the room” is finally being acknowledged.

On Fun

One easy area for improvement is to focus on the fun rather than the winners. Traditionally, the national conference has focused on racing and winning. There has finally been a shift: US Sailing finally recognizes that sailboat racing is a small part of the total landscape. It also recognizes that long-term competitive excellence will not be possible unless sailing becomes fun and focuses on the relationships created through sport. 

This “Sailing is Fun” mantra connects all of the takeaways, and it was nice for John and I to have some time to go sailing just for fun on some brand new boats, too. (The new boats are nice but, well, you’ll see further below…).

Yacht Clubs + Community Sailing Centers

There has traditionally been a divide, real or perceived, between Yacht Clubs and Community Sailing Centers. Clubs are often, by their very nature, exclusive; Community Sailing Centers are, by contrast, supposed to focus on inclusivity. Without getting too deep into the reasons for this classic perception, I am happy to proclaim that Yacht Clubs are beginning to adopt a number of the best practices that Community Sailing Centers have developed. A brief list includes: club owned fleets; women’s only programs; open access junior programs (youth and their parents do not need to be full-fledged club members); and support for adaptive sailing programs.

In the other arena, Community Sailing Centers are beginning to think like Yacht Clubs. Community Sailing Centers are focusing on strategic growth and stability. They are partnering with Yacht Clubs to provide better opportunities. And community programs are learning to save, to invest, and to plan for the future. We, at The DSC, are focused on efforts such as these. The mission now is balanced with the ability to keep fulfilling the mission into the future.

The DSC is a Leader. True? Absolutely Yes. And also just kinda.

The DSC is doing awesome work and accomplishing awesome things. We have a great adaptive program for people with disabilities. We have an awesome sailing school. We have a rigorous safety protocol. We have a vibrant, connective membership. We are the regional Reach Hub and we are a regional Siebel Sailors Program Supporting Center. We have a phenomenal workforce development program. We, The DSC, are doing awesome work through the sport of sailing. 

But we aren’t the only organization in the country doing amazing things. The DSC is ahead of the curve in one very critical, important area: we are leading the effort on being honest about our lack of diversity and we are rectifying our errors through targeted, equitable practices. These practices include youth and junior memberships, summer camp scholarships, after school programs, the Siebel Sailors Program, and Women on the Water (among others). However, other Community Sailing Centers and even some Yacht Clubs are innovating more quickly in other areas. Some organizations are doing amazing things with adaptive sailing; others are bringing youth of color into their racing programs; and still others are fostering gender-balanced and women-only programs that are stronger, more developed that ours. 

I was exceedingly impressed by the Wayzata Community Sailing Center, who went from nearly shutting its doors a decade ago to raising over $2 Million in donations to build a new clubhouse and docks. Fortunately, other leading programs are excited to share, support, and collaborate with us. The DSC has a great opportunity to improve our programs in ways that will benefit more people within our community. We have allies and advocates within the sailing community; we have systems that we are developing through a consortium of schools, centers, and clubs; and we have a growing network of sailors who care about people. The conference also reaffirmed my belief that The DSC has THE BEST PEOPLE in sailing. No other community connects people the way we do, and few have the opportunity we do through The DSC. 

It’s all about The People (Not the Boats)

US Sailing is often focused on new boats. Or Olympic medals. Or technology. At This Forum, we were constantly reminded that our sport is not about the boats: it’s about the people. There were five keynote speakers over the three full days of programming. All five of the key note speakers - including Doug DeVos, of AmWay fame - iterated and reiterated that “it is not about the boats: it’s about the people.” And at the end of the conference, after nearly four days of presentations and networking, Jack Gierhardt, US Sailing’s CEO, wrapped up the conference with these closing words: “It’s all about the people.”

Truly, it is “all about the people.” At The DSC, it has always been all about the people. It was comforting to know that US Sailing recognizes this, too. I was renewed, refreshed, and excited to return to the work that lies ahead of us.


The Downtown Sailing Center at the Baltimore Museum of Industry
1425 Key Highway, Suite 110, Baltimore, MD 21230
(410) 727-0722 • info@downtownsailing.org