Youth Worlds Cancelled, Now What?

“On Wednesday, May 13, World Sailing announced the cancellation of the 2020 Youth Sailing World Championships that was scheduled to be held in Salvador, Brazil on December 12-19, 2020.” This news is devastating to the sailors, parents, friends, supporters, and coaches of all athletes striving to represent their country at this world class youth event.

The Youth Sailing World Championships is the pinnacle event in youth sport, with selection earned through a rigorous qualification system that determines one representative per boat class (29er, windsurf, Nacra15 [mixed], ILCA, i420) for boys and girls 19 and under.

Will the event be rescheduled? Will sailors aging out this year be given special permission to race next year? Is there a chance that a vaccine could change things?

Sadly, the obvious answer to these far reaching questions is no. The fact is: event cancelled.

At last year’s regatta in Gdynia, Poland 393 athletes from 66 nations in addition to their coaches, team leaders, physios, parents and siblings came together for a week of international competition and camaraderie. The current global pandemic makes this type of event unfathomable, if not a little chilling.

“World Sailing’s Board of Directors and the Confederação Brasileira de Vela (CBVela) agreed to cancel the event in anticipation of global travel restrictions and to ensure the health and well-being of athletes, coaches, parents, officials and suppliers.”

But what to say? What to do? For those athletes who sacrificed weekends and holidays with family to be on the water training for a shot at this event.

As a coach and team leader who has been devoted to preparing athletes for this event for the past four years, I can only pivot and call this what it is: A Real Life Moment.

Those of us committed to sport believe that sport teaches us the qualities and values to succeed beyond the racecourse. That the challenge and adversity inherent in competition gives athletes the tools to develop grit, perseverance, and determination. That we may thrive in moments like these.

The reality is that this pandemic has taken from us.  Taken from those who’ve succumbed to covid, health care providers working round the clock, government representatives and corporate leaders finding the clear path for their constituents and customers, for students working from home, teachers who struggle to make sense of online platforms, and business owners closing shop. This moment is bigger than a sailboat race.

Every day we rig up it is a privileged to do so. And when gliding across the water it takes but a moment to recognize that the wind in your ears and salt spray is a blessing to be grateful for.

But this was my youth worlds.

Learning moment: One event does not define you.

What defines you is your response to adversity. Your next move. We can’t control this moment or this decision anymore than we can control the wind. But we can control our response. The action you take displays the core values that make up the fabric of who you are.

Whether first, or last, one regatta is just that: one regatta. And this event is just one less in a lifelong pursuit of becoming a better sailor and better person. So let’s move past those 4 early stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression) and move to acceptance.

The reason it is such a devastating blow that the YW is cancelled is because we view this event as a litmus test and proving ground that we as sailors can achieve excellence. But herein lies the truth: excellence is not a grand sweeping title. It is every decision and step along the way. Excellence is a commitment to the minor details, short term sacrifices for long term gains. It is the adherence to keeping first things first.

“Our priority is, and always has been supporting the sailors who want to achieve excellence,” says Leandro Spina.

In the here and now, let’s focus on taking steps to improve our health, relationships, and happiness. There are no regattas to train for this summer. But you don’t need an event to motivate you to train and improve. Your state or county might not even allow you to sail at this time. But once you can rig up, even if it’s your family’s Lightning or a windsurfer you dug out of your parent’s garage, do it to remind yourself that you love this sport. And with each puff and lull learn to move the rig through the water a little faster, and with a bit more control.

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