Youth Development

Youth Sailing is just the beginning!

US Sailing is on a mission to build confident, adaptable sailors with well-rounded skills who can sail any kind of boat safely and successfully. Youth Sailing is just the starting point - the point where a lifelong passion is born.

We believe...

A model that starts with fun and age appropriate training,

Taught by well-prepared and enthusiastic instructors,

Empowered with modern teaching tools,

Guided by consistently high curriculum standards at every level,

That offers progressively advanced challenges at the right times,

In a variety of sailing disciplines and boats,

Will keep kids sailing through childhood and into adulthood.

It's Time to Square the Pyramid

Pyramid a-few-get-to-sail-graphic

The Pyramid: the sporting model for generations. A wide base of new participants narrows quickly, and only the elite competitors climb to the top of the pyramid.

But what about everyone else?

The pressure to climb the pyramid, at the expense of long-term participation and well-rounded skill development, has parents, instructors, and program leaders looking to US Sailing for guidance and a different approach, and they're not alone. This concern exists in almost every youth sport, and the impact is real. Sports participation in America is declining.

The US Olympic Committee (USOC), National Governing Bodies, professional leagues such as the NHL, NBA, and MLB, and non-profits such as the Aspen Institute all recognize the need to rethink how we organize, operate and execute sport activity in the United States. The Aspen Institute's "Project Play" Initiative has collected best practices from across American sports and provides concrete recommendations for sporting organizations. The USOC's "American Development Model" provides general guidance on applying the principles of Long Term Athlete Development to any sport.

By drawing upon the research and experience of these leading sports organizations, US Sailing seeks to reinvigorate the sport with an updated approach that resonates with the next generation and carries forward the American sailing tradition.

Support our efforts and help Square the Pyramid


A Skills-Based Pathway Model

The cornerstone of the Youth Sailor Development Model is an updated, skills-based pathway model designed to serve as a skill development roadmap for young sailors.

The model is based on five skill levels that build towards mastery of essential sailing and seamanship skills. Competency in these skills prepares kids for lifelong participation as adults in one (or more) of the following sailing disciplines:

Stages of Learning and Development

Age-Appropriate Sport Experience

While skill development can start at any age (and continue for a lifetime), a positive and engaging experience starts when a young person begins sailing, and changes with them as they age and mature.

Rather than treating youth sailors as "mini-adults", the Youth Sailor Development Model recommends that kids learn and compete based on their level of physical, mental and emotional development. This is referred to as their "developmental age."

This model draws upon the work of Istvan Balyi in the field of Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) to identify the developmental ages at which kids are best suited for different types of instruction, challenge, and performance. Based on this information, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) has produced guidelines in the "American Development Model" for National Governing Bodies such as US Sailing to use as a basis for sport-specific recommendations.

Developmental Stages

Discover, Learn and Play (ages 0-12)

Areas of focus:
  • Safe, fun and social learning environment
  • Discovery of boating and the sailing environment
  • Learn basic concepts and techniques
  • Free-sailing, games, and deliberate play
  • If competing, focus on fun races and challenges

Long Term Athlete Development Recommendation:

This is the developmental-age at which kids develop a range of fundamental movement skills, such as agility, balance and coordination. Often referred to as "physical literacy", this skill set is the foundation for future development of sport-specific skills. Therefore it is recommended that kids have access to frequent physical activity and participate in a variety of sports and activities throughout the year. US Sailing recommends that youth sailing programs offer daily physical activities such as playground games and swimming to help develop the physical literacy of participants.

Develop and Challenge (ages 10-16)

Areas of focus:
  • Safe, fun and social learning environment
  • Develop well-rounded sailing skills and technique
  • Emphasize decision-making and good judgement
  • Explore new sailing challenges and disciplines
  • If competing, seek local/regional competition that match skill level and motivation

Long Term Athlete Development Recommendations:

i). This is the "golden age of skill development". Young people at this developmental-age are capable of learning skills and developing technique at an accelerated pace. Instructional focus should be on learning a well-rounded skill set and sailing in both structured (drills) and unstructured environments (free-sailing). If competing, emphasize skill development over competitive success.

ii) Avoid single sport specialization. Kids are still developing their physical literacy and should be encouraged to engage in multiple sports and physical activities throughout the year.

Train for Mastery (ages 13-19)

Areas of focus:
  • Seek opportunities to further develop, and eventually master, skills
  • Try new sailing disciplines such as keelboats, multihulls, dinghies, windsurfers and kites
  • Participate in more advanced, structured training
  • Develop technical and tactical understanding
  • If competing, maintain a balanced practice-to-competition ratio, such as 70:30

Long Term Athlete Development Recommendations:

i). This developmental-age is particularly important, and challenging, because most young people will go through puberty at this stage. Growth spurts may challenge kids to sail new boats or learn new positions. Physical endurance, flexibility, and strength improve, and it's recommended that kids continue to play multiple sports to improve physical development.

ii). If competing, travel demands often increase due to regional and national competitions. However, over-emphasizing travel competitions can take away from practice time and inhibit multi-sport participation. US Sailing recommends focusing on quality competition and maintaining a balanced practice-to-competition ratio.

Applying the Youth Sailor Development Model

Sailing is a sport that offers experiences and opportunities like no other. It's also a broad and complex sport, demanding skill, knowledge, and experience in order to be safe and successful. Famed Olympic coach Jim Saltonstall describes sailing as "the most challenging sport in the world".

"The most challenging sport in the world" - Jim Saltonstall

The Skills-Based Pathway Model and Developmental Age Levels offer guidance that can help youth sailors, parent, instructors, coaches and organizations navigate this complex sport so that more sailors fall in love with sailing and participate for a lifetime.

Have a question, or want to get involved? Contact US Sailing at