For my club KWS, I organizes in winter a couple of evenings, were we talk about rules and all related race issues. Yesterday evening we had a professional coach as a guest-speaker. He's involved in out National Talent Program for sailors and made some interesting points, specially about young sailors.
He expressed his concern about the unwillingness or inability of protest-committees to adapt the protest hearing to the age of the sailors. Children from 12 or 13 in the room, without help from parents or coach, no help with the language and very formal settings.
At that age, sailors are basically willing to play the game fairly. They want to tell what happened and accept that sometimes mistakes are made and they want to learn. If a panel doesn't give them the chance to do that, they feel treated unfairly and don't understand the disqualification. It's usually better to allow an observer in the room who can explain things afterwards and give feedback. If you allow observers, tell them what their roll is and what you want them to do or not to do.
If the panel has the time and the ability, they should set up a more informal hearing, where the young sailor is at ease and given the opportunity to express himself. An explanation on the rules afterwards is also very much appreciated by this age group.
Oh, don't expect at that age they can draw on a piece of paper. Model boats are better, which should be at least 5 times bigger than the ones you would use for a little older sailors (16 and up) or adults. For Optimist kids, the coach told us, he has boats 40 to 50 centimeters and uses the floor to explain situations.
We also had a discussion about alternatives for protest hearings, like arbitration. And perhaps allow a less severe penalty than DSQ, like a percentage penalty. Specially the ones who hand in the protest, sometimes express there unhappiness with a DSQ for the other. They want to make clear that they feel it's unfair what has happened, but don't want to trow the other out of the race. That's perceived as too much.
The coach did want more action when sailors at a young age express there emotions inappropriately. He thought for example that judges on the water who were subject of foul language should use a rule 69 hearing much sooner. Don't let it "slide" because a sailor is emotional about a yellow flag penalty or a penalty in a medal race. This should be used to educate young sailors, as with protest hearings.
Attention span of children is much less then for adults. Long races are boring! This coach wanted more shorter races on a day. His rule of thumb was: with 10 children, do 10 minute races and with 20 children, do 20 minute races. Agreed, much more to do for the race committee, but when a child had a bad race he or she could do another one shortly thereafter, with a better score forgetting the bad result easily. And positive experiences are essential for the learning curve.
Finally he talked about the role coaches play at an event. The RC should use them, give out information and expect feedback on how things are going. Coaches are mostly professionals and know more about "the game" then most RC-volunteers. Less forced removal from the race area, more cooperation with each other. Most coaches will take care not to disturb the sailors, but need to be close, to be able to give feedback on the performance of their charges.