Small Boat Sailing: Teaching Sportsmanship

When you’re trying to teach sportsmanship in competitive sailing, there are no proven methods to follow. You need to try different approaches because every group you teach will react differently to the request to “act sportsmanlike.” Practice sessions can fall apart if your team isn’t getting along and all you can is, “Will you please show some sportsmanship out there.”

Here are a few helpful hints on how to teach and reinforce sportsmanship to new sailors coming into the sport:

– Have a team meeting where one of he sailors leads a discussion and makes a list of all the things the group thinks make a good sport. Then list the top ten items.

– Make sportsmanship a team or group goal for the season.

– Teach personal improvement, not winning, as the most important aspect in your program.

– It may seem basic but winning is not everything. Teach your students that the challenge to get better is the source of enjoyment, not the award that collects dust on the shelf.

– The mistake most new racers make is becoming too focused on the end result rather than on the facets of the race itself. That’s where you can be a real help to your students. Use the concept of rewarding those that tried their best and who did some things correctly.

– Show concern for the “whole person,” and not just winning.

– Give an award based on votes by the sailors’ peers at the end of the season. The award needs to be recognized as equal to any other top award given.

– Teach your sailors to be courteous to other boaters not racing. Sailors in a race are often heard screaming at a daysailor or fisherman to get out of the way. No one “owns” the water we sail on, and those water users have just as much right to be there as the racers do. Teach your students to avoid other water users whenever possible and be polite if they have to ask them to move.

– Teach respect  for other people’s property. In some countries, all the racing boats are locked in huge “hangers” overnight to avoid theft and vandalism problems. Having to worry about this at the hands of other sailors damages relationships between sailors and impacts the of the sport.

– Teach your sailors that thanking the race committee before they sail for the dock is key. Remind them that many people give up time to provide them a day of racing.

– Point out to your students that if sailors need gear, they should avoid the temptation of borrowing it from others. Part of being a good sailor is having the spare equipment when you need it. If one does need to borrow something, then first ask for it. Most sailors understand and will gladly lend what they can.

– It’s very important that your students never get the feeling that it is ok to cheat so long as they don’t get caught. There are too many ways to cheat in sailing, and the system is built on trusting the sailors not to do it. Another advantage in downplaying the outcome of the race is that it doesn’t reward those who may have not played by the rules.

– Remind them, what goes around, comes around. A sailor who acquires the reputation for taking things, cheating, is rude on the race course, and is never around when it’s time to clean up, can be assured of receiving no favors from the other sailors in the future.

– Ask your students, “Are you someone people don’t mind losing to?”

– Teach them that “please” and “thank you” go a long way!

Finally, sailboat racing is a cooperative sport. We all need each other to want to come out and race against us. If people aren’t enjoying the racing they will not participate. Knowing that people are screaming, swearing, cheating, and stealing will drive people away from the sport faster than if there was no more wind. On the other hand, if you can teach your students that if you are fair to race with, generous on the race course and on shore, honest at all times, they will find people wanting to race with them and to help them out when they need it. The bottom line is that we all need friends, and the one that truly wins is the one with the most friends, not trophies.

For more from US Sailing’s Small Boat Sailing and Coach Workbooks, visit US Sailing’s online store.