According to the American Psychological Association, sports participation can benefit underrepresented communities, “but only in an intentionally created environment.”
This is exactly what the Siebel Sailors program aims for.
“In order to engage more black students, we in white-led organizations need to check ourselves to see if we are reaching out in a meaningful way and providing experiences that we feel are relevant,” said Blair Overman, head of Siebel programs. “We can’t just open our doors and expect them to come; we actually have to do the work to make them feel welcomed, included, and that the spaces we’ve created have their best interests at heart.
Unlike some unique experiences that give diverse young people a taste of sailing, the Siebel Sailors program aims to go further. Rather than fair opening doors and getting kids into boats, the program focuses on addressing the more subtle social and emotional barriers that black students face when entering the sport of sailing.
According to Overman, who completed a master’s degree in international development focused on poverty reduction and has spent most of his adult life working with underserved youth, other concerns like transportation, representation within the host organization, and the water comfort factor in minority participation and retention in the sail.
“At Siebel, we always consider these other factors when designing our programs and mentoring center staff,” Overman said. “It’s not enough for our Siebel Sailors to show up for one season and never come back. We want them to sail for life and make our sport better and sustainable.
For this effort, last year Siebel doubled BIPOC attendance (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) in three of their regions by supporting students with scholarships, inclusive mentoring, and providing materials. The program requires that 50% of students accepted into each Siebel Center be from underrepresented populations and receive a scholarship. Each center is required to examine the demographics of its region and ensure that the composition of its students reflects this.
Overman also pointed to the mentorship Siebel Center instructors receive even before their centers begin accepting students.
Instructors go through a 12-hour onboarding process before being approved to lead a Siebel Youth Program: six hours in the classroom, covering best practices, case studies, and language lessons; and six hours in the field, followed by a US Sailing Siebel Coach which gives feedback on how instructors can self-evaluate and create a more welcoming environment through their behavior.
In another effort to involve all members of the community, each Siebel Center is encouraged to reach out and invite families of prospective students to learn exactly what their child will do as a Siebel Sailor.
“Coaches go through all elements of the program, like swim check, boat activities, equipment provided and safety protocols,” Overman said. “We want the family to know what their children will be doing so they can be fully engaged and have confidence that they are in good hands.”
The Siebel Sailors program began in 2019 with a partnership between US Sailing and the Thomas and Stacey Siebel Foundation, which supports programs and organizations that work to improve the quality of life, environment and education for members of its community. .
Tom Siebel, a lifelong sailor who started sailing at the age of eight and competed on everything from catamarans to J-class yachts, saw huge potential in community sailing. He saw the need to offer a deeper connection to children to keep them engaged and wanted to create something new and transformative – thus, the Siebel Sailors program was born.
Since then, over 1,000 young sailors have participated in the program, many of whom are still involved in sailing even after leaving or past the Siebel program itself.
For example, Krista, a 12-year-old student from the Mid-Atlantic region, struggled with the comfort of the water and was initially hesitant to even set foot on the boat at the dock. It was only after hearing her concerns that she felt comfortable trying out the crew and skipper. His assistant coach Siebel played an important role in this.
Thanks to this support, Krista signed up for an eight-week summer sailing camp. Although she grew old out of Siebel, she now races on the high school sailing team hosted by the same Siebel Partner Center, DC Sail, that recruited her to Siebel.
The Siebel program keeps class sizes small so that students get all the individual attention they need. Daily check-ins are part of program delivery, as is the opportunity for students to give feedback to their coaches during the debrief on what they liked, disliked, want to cut out, and want to try. The student voice is central to all program decisions; According to Overman, coaches push as hard as a student wants.
As for the 19 centers involved in Siebel, they have witnessed firsthand the benefits the program brings – to the staff and students served.
Centers accepted into the program are fully equipped by Siebel, not only with staff mentoring and the US Sailing Siebel program, but with boats, life jackets and other sailing equipment they may need to support the students who may not have access to it. This equipment is an investment in the centers themselves – even after their participation in the Siebel program ends, the centers keep the boats and other equipment donated by the program.
“We’re really trying to train the centers to create a program that will last beyond our initial involvement,” Overman said. “We want Siebel’s impact on children to last for generations.”
Nino Johnson, former Sailing Director of Sail Sand Point, a Siebel Center in Seattle, WA, had no hesitation in evaluating the Siebel Sailors program: “I think the Siebel program is the most meaningful work that US Sailing has ever done. never realized. ”
But Siebel’s staff and coaches aren’t about to rest on their laurels just yet. “There’s still a lot of work to do and we’re just getting started,” Overman said.
To help expand the program, the Tom and Stacey Siebel Foundation has pledged to match all donations to the Siebel Sailors program in 2022 up to $5 million. Every donation will have its impact double. You can get involved and donate to: https://www.ussailing.org/about/ussf/donate/annual-appeal-siebel-sailors/ or by contacting Jill Nosach at [email protected]
To keep up with the expansion, the program is also hiring coaches for the Midwest and Northern California regions. Apply today: https://www.ussailing.org/about/our-people/careers/