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.
“Education is the essential purpose of junior sailing programs,” says Perry. “I tell parents that their job is to ‘support’ and the coach’s job is to ‘develop’ sailors. When parents try to develop their kids into better athletes, it usually goes south quickly.”
I once observed a coach struggling with a group of parents who arrived with their aspiring sailors and then rigged the boats for the kids, gave lectures on winning, and yelled from the dock. I could see the rejection in those kids’ faces, plain as day.
Another unfortunate side effect to the growth of coaching is the extraordinary number of coach boats on the water at regattas. This is true at Optimist Dinghy events all the way to Olympic class regattas. Sailing is supposed to be a “green” sport, and having dozens (sometimes hundreds) of coach boats buzzing around the course does little to lessen our environmental impact.
Coach boats, however, can be very helpful to event organizers by serving as safety boats. Before an event, top race officer Tom Duggan will hold a short meeting with coaches to set the ground rules so no one interferes with the racers. He also asks them to monitor a specific channel in case help is needed on the racecourse during an emergency.
In the past few months, Olympic sailors, event organizers, and administrators have voiced opinions that the coach boat population is becoming a problem. Thirty year ago, support and coach boats were almost non-existent at Olympic-class regattas. Today there are often more coach and committee boats than competitors, and from my perspective filming events from helicopters, I can attest to the dramatic effect powerboat wakes have on a fleet of racing dinghies. It’s time to address this issue by limiting the number of coaches allowed into the venues. Coaches should also be required to watch from designated coach boats that fit many people. This would eliminate the dozens of small craft buzzing around the course, level the playing field, and reduce team costs.
At the Olympic level, most sailors use coaches, and multiple coaches at that. Not many years ago this was rare, but this is the nature of Olympic competition today. Coaches are a critical part of the team. There are many logistical tasks they assume, and act as psychologists, speed specialists, or mentors. Sailors improve the fastest when they are able to maximize their time on the water, and both sailors and their coaches must be careful that creativity during a race is not lost. As depicted in the film “Chariots of Fire,” for example, the gold medalist in the l00-meter dash trained with a coach for months leading up to the Games, but on race day the runner was on his own and won. The coach realized there was nothing more he could do; come race time it was all up to the athlete. I wonder how the dynamics of the Olympic regatta would change if sailing coaches could only watch from ashore.
If there’s one niche of our sport that seems to have a healthy coaching environment, it’s college sailing. Beyond the junior level, collegiate coaching has evolved and improved over the years. I’ve attended the college national championships the past six years and have been amazed watching the coaches in action. They have the right balance. I have noticed coaches helping rival teams with protests or logistics when that team does not have its own coach.
The collegiate protocol requires that all coaches watch from the same vantage point. Fairness is the key. I also like the way these professionals work with their sailors by asking questions and offering only a few tips at a time. In fact, the college competitors actually seem to coach each other in between races during boat rotations. It makes for a nice atmosphere at regattas and everyone has the potential to return home a better sailor.
Sailors can benefit from a coach. This is true for business leaders who take courses or hire consultants for guidance and, of course, for athletes at all levels. But if taken to an extreme a pampered sailor will not have the skills to perform consistently at a high level. The key is to balance the use of outside help with letting the sailors make their own decisions. In the end, they will be stronger.