Coaches Have Their Place
Coaches Have Their Place
The value of coaches is understated by most sailors, but the sport needs them if it is to mature. "Jobson Report" from our October 2011 issue.
Thirty years ago, the only places you’d ever see sailing coaches were in junior clubhouses, college boathouses, and sailing schools. I know from years of experience that coaching is effective, which is why, for the past decade there’s been a tremendous growth in the use of coaching. It’s mostly happening at opposite ends of the sport’s spectrum: competitive youth sailing and the Olympics. The bulk of amateur sailors—from one-design to club-racing PHRF teams—have yet to catch on.
Competitive sports such as tennis and golf thrive on teaching professionals and coaches. They’re fundamental to their sports. Sailing pros should be just as integral to ours. Lessons can take place on an individual boat, or with an entire fleet sharing the expense and learning together. Many sailors spend freely on sails, boats, equipment, and professional crew, but miss the opportunity to really improve by having someone else evaluate their performance. Self-analysis is always difficult, and a coach that joins a team and watches from off the boat can offer insight you can’t get any other way.
There has to be a balance though. Coaching is now standard in a few one-design classes, especially grand-prix classes, and it’s here where excessive coaching creates tension. This is where the “haves-and-have-nots” issue comes to a head. With coaching to be encouraged, class managers must regulate it with the class’s longevity in mind.
“I have no problem with classes that try to regulate coaching, just the way they regulate sail inventories, class rules, and pro sailors,” says Dave Perry, a veteran coach and educator who advocates using a coach at events. “People enjoy doing things that are fun for them, and when they feel they are growing more competent they participate more.”
Improving at any endeavor takes dedication. Practice, learning from experience, and having the courage to improve are basics to success in any sport. A coach can shorten the timetable: they can be used on a short-term basis for remedial work. I do this in skiing. A two-hour lesson helps me get more out of my ski vacation week.
“I think there is real value in having the coach see the performance of their sailors and competitors,” says Perry. “The debriefs and follow-up instruction will be more insightful than simply relying on the sailor to report what happened.”
Perry’s right. Coaches can be helpful, particularly for sailors who want to engage deeper into the sport. Occasional is one thing. Excessiveness is another, however. And this is what we’re seeing at the serious youth level, where only a few have coaches, and everyone else must fend for themselves.
One way to ensure a beneficial balance is to require youth coaches to assist all sailors at practices and events. Pointing out to others what they see in other sailors will only make their sailors stronger. When interacting with these young sailors, it’s critical that coaches ask questions, and encourage them to answer these questions. Having them come up with their own solutions only helps them clarify techniques and procedures for themselves.
Good coaches are careful to not push young sailors too hard, aware that overkill could result in them rejecting sailing. Novice racers are better off if they learn by doing themselves. Looking back on my own career, my father did me a favor by saying, “Good bye,” when I got on the boat. I did not see him until I returned home after a full day of racing. His first question was always the same, “What did you learn today?” Followed by, “Did you have a good time?” And, finally, “What’s next?” I wouldn’t be sailing today if it weren’t for his hands-off approach.