Proof Positive: COVID Wins from Wayzata Sailing

By Matthew Thompson
Executive Director, Wayzata Sailing (Formerly Wayzata Community Sailing Center)

As instructors, we work tirelessly to prepare, perceive, and predict – there’s nothing like testing in a real setting. That first beat has always shown what the course is like, more than any test sailing ever could. This summer put so many real challenges in front of our staff. Ever thankful that our staff and program is walking away from 2020 safe, more or less in one piece, and with plenty in mind for next year.

2021 Silver Lining Revelations:

  1. Kids do waaaaaay too many regattas. 

Hear me out. This summer, without a regatta calendar, participation, and energy in practice skyrocketed.  Rather than taking a break during “development” time, our kids were ready and raring to go. The regatta mindset came back to practice. Oddly, this seemed to bring a calmer mindset to the handful of local events we could do. Ultimately, this summer prioritized sailing skills over racing skills, something I feel like we miss. Kids that had never skippered had the time to take the tiller, rather than prep for a regatta. Students tried racing at nearby yacht clubs, in adult fleets, and looked for new opportunities. The free time was huge. The races we did run weren’t ladders with consequences, they were competition held for nothing else than the fun of competition.

2021 Goal: Leave room in the regatta calendar for something “spontaneous” – fun, regatta, or otherwise.

  1. Drawing a line in the sand isn’t a last resort.

This summer was tough on parents. For the first time ever, we asked them to stay in vehicles without a traditional drop-off experience. Students exited from vehicles directly to their class pods. Without the morning parent conversations, the Minnesota Goodbyes, we had to work harder. Providing images, connections for parents, “what I did today” artwork, and other “shareables” were essential to keeping parents involved. The major benefit? Day camps saw an additional hour on the water and new students quickly transitioned with less fear. Camp was camp. And the shareables generated their own marketing. I truly feared a negative reaction to the “mommy gate”. But streamlining drop off doesn’t mean disconnecting from parents! Parents told us it felt safer. Students felt wanted. Staff engaged immediately. Since when did rules make sailing camp more fun? Turns out, that’s why they’re there.

2021 Goal: Retain the new touchpoints, while balancing the gains made with a “parent free” drop off. 


  1. Diverse instructors really are that important. 

I know coaches work incredibly hard to connect with every student. But seeing yourself in an instructor puts a foot in the door, unlike any other icebreaker. Traditionally, Wayzata Sailing has class sizes of up to 26 students, working with up to three shared instructors. Under COVID-19 we broke up into smaller pods, with individual instructors per pod. It has never been more apparent to me, as students were focused on this single human, how much the diversity of staff helps folks connect. There was a student in every pod that just couldn’t connect with their single instructor. Some needed more laughter. Some needed more guidance. Some needed to see their life. Some needed to see their background. Some needed a listener. Some needed a talker. Some needed to see their gender, race, size, strength, beliefs. Make steps next year to add something but admit that it doesn’t change overnight.

2021 Goal: Hire a heterogenous staff and rotate instructors week to week maximizing the chance of a strong connection for all students. 

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