There’s something about sailing that makes it quite unlike other sports. More than just skill and strategy, it teaches certain values that shape sailors into the unique athletes that they are.
Yet, we’re often so focussed on the physical aspects of sailing that we forget how much we stand to gain from the sport – both socially and emotionally.
Here’s a list of the top 10 socio-emotional benefits of sailing.
You could say that just about any sport offers a lesson on resilience, but sailing is a sport that demands an inner strength far greater than most.
In this sport, it’s sailor versus the elements. Whether you’re a novice experiencing strong winds for the first time or a national sailor met with three-metre high waves in foreign waters, you learn to keep fighting – no matter how uncomfortable it is.
Capsize? Just upright your boat and keep sailing.
Most sailors’ foray into the sport begins with the Optimist. It’s a single-handed boat, which means it’s controlled by a sole sailor. Alone on the boat, sailors – as young as six or seven – are constantly required to make their own decisions. They don’t always make the right ones, but the opportunity to think for themselves helps them grow in self-confidence.
Once you’ve conquered three-metre high waves, you can do almost anything.
Though they sail individually, sailors are forced to work together from day one. After all, no one sailor can flip his or her Optimist boat alone. Over time, sailors gradually realise that working together not only helps speed things up, but also allows them to learn more from one another.
As two-time SEA Games Gold medalist Yukie Yokoyama put it: “If you want to go fast, you go alone, If you want to go far, you go together.”
Perhaps one of the most valuable takeaways from sailing is the friendships forged. It’s inevitable that sailors bond with one another during windless days and scary storms.
You also get to make new friends with international sailors as well, especially during those international regattas.
“The experiences gathered, boundaries stretched, friends made, cultures learnt are truly invaluable. (When I train overseas,) I do miss family and friend back home. It does help to have close friends abroad that become another support circle,” shared Kimberly Lim, a 2014 Asian Games Gold medallist.
Touched a mark without anyone catching you in the act? Complete your penalty anyway.
Sailing is a self-governing sport, which means it’s completely up to sailors to abide by the rules and uphold the fairness of racing. It’s a matter of integrity and sailors learn the importance of playing fair and respecting the rules of the game.
6. Learning to Lose
In sailing, the conditions are ever-changing. Regattas are held over a few days and every day presents a different sailing condition. As a result, positions are always changing during a regatta – and even during a race itself. Unpredictable conditions also mean that you could go from leading a race to coming in dead last.
You can’t win every single race in sailing, so sailors learn to accept defeat and move on – a particularly important skill since races are held back-to-back.
Whether it’s mastering a sailing maneuver or waiting for the next wind shift, sailing is a test of patience. Sailing maneuvers are so complex that it could take weeks of practice to execute them well, consistently.
Even then, practice doesn’t always guarantee immediate results, as double SEA Games Gold medallist Ryan Lo would know: “Being determined to continue to push hard even though I cannot visibly see the results of my hard work has been the key to my progress in this sport.”
Sailing is a sport that requires a fair bit of equipment. From bringing your sunglasses, gloves and wind indicator to cleaning your boat before a regatta – sailors learn to take ownership of their equipment from the very start of their sailing journey.
They learn to be responsible for their decisions as well – be it a bad tactical decision or a sail setting.
9. Managing Emotions
As we’ve mentioned previously, sailing conditions can be quite unpredictable. It is through experiences of winning and losing that sailors gradually learn to control their emotions. They find ways to deal with their feelings when they’re alone on the boat – the joy, frustration, et cetera.
At the end of the day, the best sailors are the ones who are able to best manage their emotions and prevent them from affecting their performance.
Due to its nature, sailing can be quite a time-consuming sport. It takes up a significant amount of time on the weekends too – precious time that could be spent on school work or with friends. That being said, it builds a sense of discipline in sailors, as they learn to prioritise the little time they have and stay focussed.
On the discipline he had developed since becoming a sailor, 17-year-old SEA Games medallist Daniel Ian Toh shared: “As I had a hectic schedule since young, I have been trained to make use of any spare time I have to catch up with school work. As such, I would like to think that I am quite disciplined – I prioritise the things I need to get done and stick to a schedule.”
And with that, we realise how sailing is not just a sport that keeps you fit, but also one that develops you into a well-rounded individual – something far more important than winning medals.
For more details of our Learn to Sail classes for kids, please visit this page.
(This article was written by SingaporeSailing’s 19-year old intern Samantha Yom, Singapore’s first Youth Olympic Games Gold Medallist. Photos by Donovan Ho.)