On Making Sailors

May 1, 2010 § Leave a comment

First published in SpinSheet Magazine – May 2010

Let’s get two thing straight: 1.) Not everyone will be a sailor, just like not everyone will be a cellist or a fly fisherman; and 2.) Not everyone will be a mentor, just like not everyone will be a parent, or a teacher, or a coach.

It takes a certain person to commit the time it takes to “be” a sailor, just as it takes a mentor to commit the time to teach a sailor.

Why is the mentor so important? Consider the basics:

1.) It’s not the place or the program, it’s the person. If you want to help kids in cities develop an appreciation of the natural world, of course you will need some vestiges of the natural world in the city. Thus, the park. If you hope that kids will deepen their appreciation by learning more about one natural subject or another, you will create programs in the park. You might find a volunteer who knows about bats to give a talk each Thursday at dusk.

However, the kid who is inspired to become a wildlife biologist focusing on nocturnal mammals doesn’t do it because of the park or the program, but because of the volunteer’s authentic, contagious enthusiasm for bats. It’s usually as simple as that.

Likewise, if you hope a kid will develop an appreciation of wind and water, you’ll need wind and water. Thus the shared sailboat, perhaps part of a community or club fleet. Onboard, contagious, authentic enthusiasm for wind and water is the spark for a life of sailing. Learning to love sailing is often the product of simple, early shared experiences: like trading the helm or the mainsheet; or practicing a maneuver until it doesn’t require verbal cues; or stories about sailing places and people told while the passage is made. Contagious, authentic enthusiasm is evident when you hear either say, “Wow, that was awesome, can we do it again next Saturday?”

2.) The bigger picture is the draw. Mentoring doesn’t depend on only one activity; it works as well with fishing, cooking or gardening as with sailing. Mentors see activities as vehicles through which life lessons are taught, so they usually pick one that they enjoy deeply and are the most familiar with. Faced with a choice to teach through, say, sailing vs. accounting, the mentor will always choose the pursuit that is 1.) fun for everyone and 2.) provides the widest vista of teaching opportunity on broader subjects like nature, science, math, commitment, humility and responsibility. This combination of fun and context are what hold everyone’s interest. Here, you might hear an apprentice say, “That was a lot cooler than I expected… I never thought about clouds that way!”

3.) Mentoring is teaching infused with leadership; it is the art of issuing a challenge that is just barely out of reach. Mentors help apprentices understand and set goals. As goals are achieved, apprentices begin to trust the process and the mentor, while improving skills, and then new goals come into view. Reaching these goals is how confidence is created.

Here, you might hear a mentor say “Wow, you pulled it off today! I can’t wait to see what you do tomorrow.”

4.) It’s a simple, long-term investment. Mentors and apprentices give their most valuable resource to the relationship: time.

And here, in the continuum of teaching through shared fun and feedback over long stretches of time, we find sailing in its rightful place: the challenging lifelong free time pursuit that many of us know and love.

The best part of mentoring is that once it starts, it usually grows. Think, for example, about a great sporting coach from your childhood. Now think about all the great coaches that your coach inspired. Mentors make their own.

So where might you start mentoring?

Look for the first kid that you see with their nose buried in a smart phone or their thumbs stuck to a game controller. Your kids. Your kid’s kids. The neighbor’s kids.

Not possible? Then head to your local community sailing center. Most major cities near water have one. Undoubtedly, there you’ll find newbies looking for experiences, and programs in need of able volunteers. If you don’t have one, consider working to create one (more on that in a future piece.)

Interested in Saving Sailing? Start mentoring now. Start on your boat, and if you don’t have one, borrow one. If you can’t borrow one, then go where there are boats to use.

Your sailing life is sure to take on a completely new and more interesting form when you do.

If you or your club are interested in sharing ideas, feel free to email me at nickhayes@savingsailing.com.

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