Youth Development

Welcome to US Sailing’s Youth Development Program

US Sailing is on a mission to build new generations of skilled, avid sailors. Youth sailing is just the starting point - the point where a lifelong passion is born.

Core Values

  • Focus on Lifelong Sailing
  • Skill Development for Every Sailor
  • Embrace Multiple Sailing Disciplines
  • Fun, Age-Appropriate Learning
  • Well Trained Instructors and Coaches
  • Build Life Skills Through Sailing


It's Time to Square the Pyramid

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?

US Sailing is Squaring the Pyramid by creating a model that provides skill development and fun for all participants, with multiple pathways for participation and advancement.

Leading sports organizations such as the US Olympic Committee (USOC) and National Governing Bodies, professional leagues such as the NHL, NBA, and MLB, and non-profit organizations 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 and the USOC's "American Development Model" provide guidance for growing youth sports and improving athlete development:

By drawing upon the research and experience of these leading sports organizations, US Sailing provides a new approach to youth sailing.

Sailing for All

Support our efforts and help Square the Pyramid


The Skill Pathway Model

Skill Up Pathway Model

The skill pathway model is designed to promote lifelong sailing in a variety of sailing disciplines, including both racing and non-racing, and provide a skill development path for every sailor. US Sailing recommends that sailors try different boat types and sailing disciplines. By gaining experience and building confidence in a variety of watercraft, young sailors are better prepared to take advantage of new sailing opportunities in the future. The skills built at an early age lay the foundation for safe, fun, and successful sailing for a lifetime.

Stages of Learning and Development

Fun, Age-Appropriate Sailing

Rather than treating youth sailors as "mini-adults", the Skill Up program recommends that kids learn and compete based on their level of physical, mental and emotional development. This is referred to as their "developmental age”. Every kid develops at a different pace, and instructors, coaches, and parents should consider the developmental age of participants in order to provide an effective and fun sailing experience.

The following developmental stages, based on the USOC’s American Development Model, help identify the developmental ages at which kids are best suited for different types of instruction and racing.

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.

Multi-Sport Participation

US Sailing recommends that kids participate in multiple sports until at least age 13. Research indicates that multi-sport youth athletes have improved long-term athletic potential, and have a reduced risk of burnout and injury.

According to Project Play, “In a survey conducted by the U.S. Olympic Committee at the request of Project Play, 7 out of 10 Olympians said they grew up as multi-sport athletes, and nearly all called it “valuable”. The emerging research says that a sport-sampling pathway leads to less burnout, less social isolation, better performance, and, most importantly, more lifelong enjoyment in sport.”

Applying Skill Up at Your Sailing Program

The Skill Up program is a roadmap and toolkit for instructors, coaches, and organizations to develop and retain youth sailors, so that more kids fall in love with sailing and participate for a lifetime.

Now available for US Sailing member organizations- the Skill Up App and Dashboard

If your organization is interested in getting started with the Skill Up program, please click the red button to the Skill Up Organizations webpage for more information. Please contact with questions.

Skill Up and US Sailing logos

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

More information on the Skill Up Program for Organizations