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On the Future of Team Racing
Yesterday Stanford University assistant sailing coach Clinton Hayes claimed that American team racing needs a new dinghy, more spectator participation and innovation in his piece The Future of Team Racing. He writes:
“One reason why people love team racing is because you don’t have to own a boat. They have the time of their lives racing in college fleets and want to do the same post college. Combine this with a tough job market and little free time and its no wonder why no one wants to own a boat. Traditionally, the Vanguard 15 was the boat to get after college. V15 team races often drew 20+ teams and fleet racing nationals over 100 boats. There is still solid participation but less than half of what it once was. For team racing to grow it needs to give the people what they want!”
I couldn’t agree more and I think the most critical piece is the social aspect. In other post-college sports, when jobs and new realities get in the way of maintaining peak physical condition and practice time, the most important element becomes camaraderie. Players show up for games and compete against other teams, but a big part of the fun is shooting the sh*t on the bench, grabbing a beer/bite afterwards and traveling to and from the venue together.
Any changes to the racing format should keep this in mind. In my mind this means the following, many of which Clinton covered:
- The boat needs to be durable, so that team racers don’t have to spend much time off the water making repairs and so that the boats remain cheap (either for private or club ownership.)
- Knockouts are great, even though it means the bottom tier teams aren’t competitng at the end, since they are sticking around and cheering on the top teams.
- Making the race course accessible for spectators is critical.
- Maintaining “pick up” events like the various random pairs team events will become increasingly important as teams get better and better.