Behind the Scenes at US Sailing

With the Youth World Championships coming up in December, it’s a great time to check in with Youth Competition Manager, John Pearce. Read the Q&A for an exclusive insider’s look at US Sailing’s youth programs and the impact your support makes.

Q: John, can you tell us the purpose/goal of the Youth Competition department at US Sailing?
A: First, let me say thank you for the opportunity to talk about youth competition and give a huge thanks to all of the parents and donors who support young sailors. Our programs wouldn’t be possible without you!

Our goal is to support the health of youth racing across the country. This is a group effort as a sailing community, and we spend a lot of our time working with stakeholders to plan and share ideas. We also hold US Sailing regattas and clinics, which fit into the pathway to lifelong racing and support performance development. Ultimately, we want to retain youth participants and help them connect to the opportunities that lie ahead. My favorite thing is when a sailor reaches out with a question, and we can help them figure out their next steps in the sport.

Q: What was new this year for your department?
A: There were a few major format changes to the US Sailing Championships and USA Junior Olympic Sailing Festivals, simplifying event formats and increasing access to some of the newer, modern boat classes. It’s a tricky balance of maintaining traditions while also embracing new opportunities, and we spent several years working on the plan, so it was nice to put it into action.

Q: Was there a highlight in 2023?
A: Two of the US Sailing Championships really stood out. The US Youth Championship was great, with over 230 sailors competing at the US Sailing headquarters in Bristol, Rhode Island. We had great wind, and it was an intense week of high-level competition. The Sears Cup was also really special, with almost 80 youth sailors racing in Lakewood Yacht Club’s fleet of RS21 keelboats. Getting young people into keelboat racing is really important, because that is the bridge to lifelong sailing. Many of the Sears Cup competitors said it was their favorite event of the summer and they want more opportunities to race bigger boats, so it’s an area of the sport that needs to grow.

Q: Why is competition important for young sailors?
A: It teaches life skills. Sailing is an incredible way for young people to learn about responsibility, planning, teamwork, decision making, and so many other skills. Competitive sailing introduces complimentary skills like competitiveness, confidence, athleticism, and focus. All of these skills help prepare kids for life’s opportunities and challenges. Not to mention being outside, unplugged from devices, among friends, interacting with nature… I really can’t say enough about how beneficial that is in today’s world!

Q: Can you briefly explain the Youth Pathway and why it is important?
A: The Youth Performance Pathway is a roadmap that illustrates the steps between learning to race as a younger kid to getting into the performance youth classes and higher levels of competition. It uses the metaphor of sailing upwind to show that there are multiple pathways for different sailors, and that all youth sailors are heading towards lifelong participation, whether it is a competitor, coach, race official, leader, or career. We’re here to help make that happen!

Q: What are you looking forward to in 2024?
A: We’ve welcomed a great new staff member, Phil Muller, who is US Sailing’s new Youth Performance Manager. He’s a fantastic addition to the organization and I’m thrilled to be working closely with him. He has been very successful in growing the sport at the performance level, and it’s going to be a lot of fun to see him apply his approach nationally. I think we are going to see a lot of growth and opportunity for young sailors as a result.

Q: Do you have a message for donors to US Sailing and their impact on Youth Competition?
A: Your donations make a huge difference, and there is so much we can do together. I encourage anyone who has a particular passion to reach out to me about your ideas, because you can have a huge impact!

Q. What can people do now if they want to support youth competition?
A: That’s a great question. We’ve actually just launched a new fund to support Youth Performance sailing, and we would love to get more people involved with that effort. There’s an immediate need right now for funding to help our top young sailors compete at the Youth Worlds in Brazil this December. Anyone who wants to learn more about the US Youth Team or make a gift to help them realize their goals can visit our website, here.