The Team Concept and Junior Racing
Does anyone doubt that today's young people are pack-like? Look at teenagers dating and they tend to go out in groups. Observe young people in shopping malls, at school, and at play and invariably they interact within a pack, gaining validation and acceptance by being in a group.
When Carolyn Boersma, junior coordinator for the US Windsurfing Association, took on the challenge to create more racing activity for young people in the USA, there were two important decisions that she made. First was to create a team concept, and she named this TeamUSA. The second was to select FE as the racing class and to have a goal, a target. The goal is for the TeamUSA kids to participate in international events.
Carolyn put the word out to all members of the USWA through the newsletter – US Windsurfing was forming a national team of young sailors to learn to race and to compete against other young people from around the world in the FE class. She created a youth membership within US Windsurfing for only $10 per year and this was the only requirement to get started in youth windsurfing. Before the year was out, Carolyn had 60 kids join up so we had our list from which to select the team.
We selected 9 young men and 4 young ladies who were willing to commit to training and to going to the European Championships in Portugal during 2003. This group ranged from 12 to 18 years old, with an emphasis on younger kids because we wanted to aim for the future. Applying for the team is open to anyone who will work hard to improve and to follow our rules, which include good school grades, sportsmanship, and character building requirements contained in our code of conduct (which all the kids and parents sign.)
We needed Buzz and branding so I went to a windsurfing friend who was a graphic design artist and asked him to create a logo for TeamUSA. He designed a great logo and we immediately produced T-shirts and hats with the logo and the designation, Member of the US National Team. Kids wanted the Team T-shirts with a passion. Imagine how cool it is to wear your countrys national team clothes and hat.
Carolyn and I contacted manufactures of windsurfing gear and obtained sponsors who provided rashguards, discounted gear, backpacks, wallets, hats, T-shirts, and a host of things for the Team. I went to foundations and individuals and raised money for local kids who could not afford travel to Europe and almost every one who was asked donated funds in support of the Team. The kids raised their own money, too. We had raffles, grants, sponsors and gifts and the best part was, because we made a movie on DVD about our Team and shared this with our backers, most of our supporters want to continue providing funds for years to come. When people see the kids representing their country competing in FE, wearing our Team clothes, and behaving well, they want to support this kind of activity for youth. Equipment sponsors want to provide affordable gear to any kid who makes the team. All it took was branding, execution, and asking.
The rest is just a matter of continuing the program we have started. More kids are joining TeamUSA in 2004, and the excitement level for windsurfing is the best we have seen in years. Finally we have something that is working.
To conclude, the key elements of success were (1) forming a Team endorsed by US Windsurfing, (2) choosing the FE class which is the best choice possible in my opinion for developing junior and youth racers, (3) Branding which means having a Team logo, clothes, and all the honors of being chosen for a national team, (4) the actual FE events, where the competition is fair and the performance of the boards and rigs is so exciting that it motivates the kids to want more, and finally (5) funding the activity with grants or donations so that the program is not limited to only the wealthy kids. I might add, it does not hurt when raising money to mention that your team has a code of conduct, school requirements, and good sportsmanship. In the USA we have a saying, mom and apple pie. This means being good and decent. People have a way of knowing when this is your goal.
The FE class is clearly the best choice, in my opinion, for such a program. In the FW world, the equipment is three times more costly and the juniors are never going to be the featured attraction of events. The FE class is all about developing young racers and doing so within rules that restrict the ability for wealthy kids to out-spend their competitors. In FE, the racing is fair and level, so kids develop their skills and hone their tactics – they will be well prepared to go on to FW as adults and the best may even go into the PWA. What fun, and it works.
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