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Growing a New Breed of Champion A model program for developing young sailors – and citizens By Dan Dickison


were taught that basic hard work eet Allan Gowans. He’s been delivers results. Consequently, our a sailor for more than six sailing program is demanding. decades. Most of his on-theDespite that, in six years of operation, water time has been spent onboard I’ve never had a kid quit. We work smaller boats, Thistles and the like. with every kid to make it a success.” Over the years, he’s developed some One of the tenets in LMSA’s junior useful perspective on the sport – and program is an emphasis on decisionon life. A retired business owner, making. “We teach these kids to make Gowans now spends much of his time sound decisions,” explains Gowans. as the coach and executive director of “That’s as important on the water as it the Lake Murray Sailing Association is in life elsewhere. Consider that in (LMSA) in central South Carolina. sailing, everything changes, the wind, And for the past six years, he’s been shepherding a remarkable youth sail- LMSA executive director and coach Allan Gowans, the sea state, the position of your boat on the right, and one of his young students. relative to others. The same is ing program there. true in life. You have to be able to So, what makes this proadapt and make good decisions. gram special? In Gowans’ We teach our kids that when you words, “It’s as much a leadermake decisions impulsively, such ship program as a sailing proas going on the water without a gram. We not only teach sailing, PFD or getting into a car with but also leadership skills.” Okay, someone who has been drinking, that’s not so unusual. All around you can wind up dead.” the country there are youth sailIt all starts with the suming programs that can make a mer camp, says Gowans. Some similar claim. But Gowans’ attendees pay their own way approach adds a novel twist: and others benefit from scholar“Unlike a lot of sailing proships that he has managed to put grams, our goal is not just to proin place. On average, about 150 duce winning sailors,” he kids – ages 10 to 18 – participate. explains. “I always say that our The majority, he says, are just goal is to produce championship there for something to do, but a people. If we produce a champiCoach Allan Gowans and one of his few of them have a true affinity onship sailor along the way, Top Gun Sailing School classes. for the sport. And those individwell, that’s just gravy!” uals get invited back at the end of the summer for a oneIt’s fair to say that LMSA’s youth program has been week, intensive program that Gowans has dubbed Top Gun shaped by two elements: Gowan’s appreciation for the inherSailing School. “We bring back the most promising sailors ent values of sailing and his personal worldview. Shortly and we have a very focused week of competitive sailing. At after retiring, he established the association as a nonprofit the end, there’s only one winner—we don’t believe in handaffiliated with the Lake Murray Sailing Club. “I wanted to get ing out awards just for participation. However, all of these a youth program going, so I set up the association, and since kids are invited to join the association for $200 a year.” I’m a member of this club, we gave our new organization Gowans says that membership gives them access to all three membership status, too. That offered us access to the lakefleets of boats that the association has (Flying Scots, MC front and to the rooms in the clubhouse for classes, etc.” Scows and FJs), but that’s where the real work begins. At the core of this program is an eight-week summer To be fully accepted into the association, these youngsailing camp that serves as a feeder system for the associasters must first complete a course of training based upon a tion’s year-round activities. Gowans is keen to tell you that rigorous 10-point qualification book that Gowans developed. although they’re fun, both the summer camp and the rest of “It’s purposely difficult,” he explains. “For most kids, it takes LMSA’s junior training program are also rigorous. That’s a couple of years to complete, and that’s because our expecwhere his worldview comes in. tations for them are high.” After completing that, the young“I’m from a generation that wasn’t given anything. My sters are essentially treated as adult members. “What really parents lived during World War II, and they had to sacrifice. separates our program is that our kids have to race against When I was a kid, you had to work for everything, and we 54 April 2014