by ANDREW SCRIVAN
Coaching is a crucial ingredient of success in any sport. As sailboat racing has become more mainstream, and thus more competitive, top-level coaching has become just about a necessity. For all ages and all skills, to get better we all need coaching. There are areas of our sport where coaching is overused, and a sailor’s money (or their parents’) is either virtually wasted or at least could have been far better spent.
When a sailor is young and is showing a great deal of enthusiasm for the sport, you can introduce them to more advanced coaching with private lessons and when he/she is ready to benefit, enroll them in a high performance training group. What is crucial is to immerse a gifted and motivated sailor into an environment with like-minded individuals with the same goals. As a unit, they will make large strides forward and start to realize that they love training, competing and most importantly, that they’re good at what they do. Building self-confidence in a young sailor is just about the most important factor in determining their long-term ability to rise to the top of their one-design class.
There is an unfortunate, growing issue of parents isolating their sailors from other possible training partners and groups. These parents often simply spend money on private lessons, hire specific coaches at events and fly their kids around the world to events in which they have no chance of being competitive. There are eye-opening events, and there are mind-blowing, demoralizing international championships that can derail sailors from their path to success. Just a few seriously overwhelming events that parents push their kids into can turn them away from sailing for life. To hammer home the point about how valuable and cost-effective small training groups can be, take a closer look at the US Sailing Team AlpahaGraphics (USSTAG) and the US Moth Team. USSTAG has made a large push to create a tightly-knit sailing circle within each Olympic Class so that the athletes can enhance their learning curve, with many specific training camps throughout the year with their Olympic class coaches. Six or seven years ago, Moth sailing was virtually unheard of in the US. In 2009, US sailor Bora Gulari blew the US Moth scene wide open by winning the Moth Worlds in Cascade Locks, OR. He attributed his win to all the hours he logged training with his countrymen in the US and down in Australia for a year or so before the event.
Because sailing has grown so much more competitive and coaching at events has increased, the spectator fleet and coaches are now often regulated to certain areas of the racecourse. As a coach, I know that my influence on a sailor’s ability to do well happens in all the weeks training for an event, not at it. In most cases, I find that my presence at an event is best used to reinforce what a sailor has already figured out with their game plan, and by handing them water, food and clothes and helping them keep their heads on straight. To fly a coach to the event, pay for their hotel, food and expenses, rent a charter boat and cover all the other associated expenses will typically cost several thousand dollars. Instead, try having one of the most relaxed parents get a ride on a spectator boat or an RC support boat to hand out water, food and advice, and leave the racing up to the sailors.
Most of what I have spoken of here applies to junior sailors. Adults can always contact the coaches of the junior training groups and request to join in. My policy is, as long as all the participants are motivated and have the right skills, they can always add to the group. Age is not a factor in my clinics. Adults have limited time in their schedule for coaching, so they may have to expect to pay more for it. Private lessons and traveling to pre-event clinics may be their only opportunities.
One of the best self-educational aids I have found over the last few years has been subscribing to Seahorse, Sailing World, Yachting World andWindCheck. At the end of the year I go back and cut out all the educational articles and classify them in binders by boatspeed, tuning, technology, tactics, strategy, etc. Besides all the onedesign sailing I do each year, I also race big boats. Watching the pros on the World Match Race Tour, and specifically keying in on their language and communication, has helped bring a new level of professionalism and clear communication to my racing program. As with everything in life, you must be prepared to succeed. Coaching is no different. I recommend you spend most of your coaching budget during training and in preparation for your events. When game day comes, rely on yourself and your abilities and you will eliminate all excuses. Good luck!
Andrew Scrivan is a former US Sailing Team member and former Olympic hopeful in the Laser class, and a professional sailing coach in southern Connecticut.