We've all seen it; the moment the lightbulb goes off and the penny drops when a youngster is sailing upwind. That moment where, for the first time, they really understand the wind and what they need to do to move forwards.

That is a child demonstrating their ability to think creatively.

Developing creativity is arguably the most significant outcome of learning to sail. In the work we've done on broader learning and in the 'Getting the most from your OnBoard sessions' cards we’ve produced to support this, creativity is defined in two ways…


1. The ability to have a good idea when needed.
2. Can see how different experiences can be connected.

In fact, Professor Bill Lucas, who we are working with on developing character through sailing and windsurfing, thinks creativity is so important he's written a whole book about it called 'Teaching Creative Thinking - Developing Learners Who Generate Ideas and Can Think Critically'!

So why is it so important and what does it look like on the water?

Hannah Cockle, RYA OnBoard Operations Officer, explains: "Nurturing creativity is about a shift in mindset from 'I don't think I can do this' to 'I'm going to learn how to do this.' It's about a child getting to the point where they don't immediately ask for help, rather they use what they know to try and solve a problem.

"Being able to think creatively is a skill that, once learned, can then be applied in every type of life situation, and sailing and windsurfing are brilliant at encouraging and nurturing that ability in kids."

What is creative thinking?

In 'Teaching Creative Thinking', Prof. Lucas and co-author, Ellen Spencer, describe creative thinkers as inquisitive, collaborative, imaginative, persistent and disciplined. Creative thinking is original, purposeful and valuable.

In an educational context Lucas and Spencer say schools which foster these habits of mind in learners need to be creative in engaging children and young people by embedding creativity into their everyday educational experiences. Put that into a sailing context and the onus is on instructors to be creative in engaging children and young people by embedding creativity into each session to help foster 'these habits of mind'. 

Hannah continues: "In Australia developing critical and creative thinking is a core part of the curriculum, but that isn't yet the case here. This is why sailing can play a massive part in kids developing these skills in a way they might not be getting in the classroom, but which they can apply when they are back in the classroom."

Head to wind

So back to sailing upwind. It is no coincidence this is the skill focused on in session 4 of the cards, the session focused on developing creativity.

Sailing upwind is one of the hardest things for youngsters to grasp, yet as instructors we know it's impossible to hold the hands of six sailors at the same time as they attempt to sail upwind for the first time. They have to be thinking for themselves and using their creativity and problem solving skills to develop their understanding of the wind and how to make the boat more efficient.

Every instructor has had that moment when they've looked back and seen a boat sat in irons in the middle of the water, sail flapping, as the sailor tries to figure out why they have stopped. But that's the moment, as instructors, you want to inspire their creativity to kick in and rather than telling them how to do it, encouraging them to think about how they could be doing it.

Hannah concludes: "You've got to be a good learner to sail upwind so as instructors how can we help sailors understand why they're not going anywhere and get them to work out how they can go forwards?

"This is where you start to see them connecting their different experiences to solve the problem. Some might need more guidance to get there than others but once they've got it you see their confidence grow from not only being able to do it but through figuring it out for themselves.

"If they can master creative and critical thinking in sailing and windsurfing they really can master it everywhere. That's why seeing the penny drop in a young sailor is one of the most satisfying things you can experience as an instructor, as you know the impact will ripple far beyond the water."