Choosing Your Path in Sailing
Published on January 5th, 2017
Max Stein was at a fork in the road, and shares here how this 22 year old German sailor chose the path of a professional sailing coach instead of pursuing an Olympic sailing career.
Let’s start from the very beginning: I was born in 1993 in a city called Ulm which is located in the south of Germany. If you are familiar with the geographical situation, you would know that the next ocean is at least 800km away and sailing, if any, is done on small lakes.
My father was an avid sailor and back then owned a small keelboat on Lake Constance, a bigger lake between Germany, Switzerland and Austria. My childhood memories include spending all our summers there, sailing around the lake and enjoying our free time on the boat.
Once I was old enough, I made my way through several summer sailing camps, and when I showed talent, started to begin with weekly practice in the Optimist on a tiny quarry pond close by to my hometown.
After winning my first local Optimist regatta, we started to travel around for regional training camps and regattas. Soon that wasn’t enough anymore, and since we were lacking a decent training venue close by, distances became bigger. Not much after, I was travelling all around Europe.
We realized, that if I wanted to keep up with the top sailors who live close to the ocean and have the possibility to train on the water regularly, I somehow needed to increase the time I can spend on the water as well as maximize the quality of the training. We decided that the only way to succeed was to practice with international sailors and qualified coaches.
So I started to attend International Optimist Clinics. The first one in 2006 in Spain, the second one in 2007 in Peru, where I went by myself when I was 13. In the meantime, I spent the winter flying to Barcelona on the weekends for training.
By the end of my Optimist career, I attended Optimist Clinics in Singapore, Puerto Rico, Peru, Spain, and Virgin Islands, all mostly held by different but highly qualified coaches (Gonzalo Pollitzer, Bocha; Fernando Alegre, Happy – Team Singapore; Leandro Spina, USA. Already then I was fascinated by the different approaches and methods each coach was using to pass on their knowledge.
I moved to Laser 4.7 in 2008 where we also stuck with our approach of attending international training camps and work with international sailors. In 2010, I finished 11th at the Laser 4.7 Worlds in Thailand and also won the European Championship which was held in France that year. Moving to Radial after the 4.7 Europeans in 2010, I only had one season left in the Radial youth circuit.
I have always been a small guy, struggling to put on weight. The only Radial season I had, my weight was never more than 60kg. However, I spent countless hours in the gym, trying to compensate the lack of weight with superior fitness. Additionally, I spent the winters in the Dominican Republic at the Laser Training Center, where I trained together with Coach Rulo (Javier Borojovich) and sailors like Juanky Perdomo (PUR, ISAF Youth Worlds Winner 2013).
Having only one year in the Laser Radial, I won the national qualifiers for the 2011 Youth Sailing World Championship, where I finished on a disappointing 15th place and achieved a 23rd place at the Laser Radial Youth Worlds in France, struggling with the heavy wind conditions.
After my incredibly exhausting year in the Laser Radial, all my friends and top sailors moved on to the Laser Full Rig. However, with me only weighing 60kg, this was not an option. Furthermore, I went to the doctor to check if I would still be growing learned that, at 173cm, I was already fully grown.
After the diagnosis, I didn’t really know what to do and how to proceed my career. I tried out the 420, which I really liked, but it did not go well with the crew I was sailing with. So here I was, one of the top youth sailors in Europe, without knowing what the future will look like.
I decided to take some months off sailing, since I also was in my final year of my compulsory school education and wanted to focus on getting good grades. During my time off, I had a lot of time to think about how I wanted to go on.
I always wanted to try out coaching. Also, I did not want to start university right away but rather have a year off in between school and Uni. I talked to my Coach, Rulo (Javier Borjovich) about my thoughts and my future plans. And then one week later, Ari Barshi offered me a job at his Laser Training Center in Cabarete, Dominican Republic. I didn’t think twice about it and took it.
It was only to be for one year but I ended up staying two. I am very thankful about this opportunity Rulo and Ari gave me. Rulo was and still is incredibly supportive and acted like a mentor to me, always giving me feedback about my training sessions and telling me how I can further improve. To have a coach of his caliber to work with was the best thing that could have happened.
At the Laser Training Center I worked my way up from giving beginner lessons, to helping Rulo as an assistant Coach during his clinics, to at the end running my own clinics. In 2013, I also got my first coaching job outside of Cabarete, having the opportunity to coach an international Team at the Laser 4.7 World Championship. With a top 5 and a top 15 finish, it could not have gone much better.
After two years, however, I decided it was time to broaden my horizon and acquire an academic background for my coaching. I left Cabarete in April 2014 and started my studies at the German Sports University in Cologne later that year in October. The subject I study since is Sports and Performance, which is a Bachelor of Science degree and is designed for people who want to work in competitive sports later on. Currently I am in my fifth semester, which means that I will be done soon as it is a six semester program.
Obviously I didn’t want stop coaching back in Europe, so I started to work with one of the regional federations right away. I ran several clinics, bringing in other international sailors as training partners to the group. At the same time, I started my own coaching company Stein Sailing where I offered my service.
However, I soon found out how hard the coaching business in Europe actually is. Until then, everything has been easy going. In the Dominican Republic, I was a respected coach and people respected my opinion despite my young age. But in Europe, I felt like nobody was taking me seriously in the beginning.
Back then I was 20 years old, sometimes only 3-4 years older than the sailors I coached. I never had problems with the sailors I actually worked with; it was rather a problem with other coaches, officials and parents who didn’t know me. Additionally, the World Sailing Coaching Seminars Level 1-3 which I successfully attended in the DR were not worth anything in Germany and I had to start over again, doing the German Coaching Licenses.
Finding new sailors to work with was especially difficult as I found out that there was a big aversion by the parents to send their children on a clinic with a guy who is not much older than them.
Therefore, I relied on the help of other coaches whom I have known from my active sailing career. Some of them helped me out with contacts and with finding sailors I can work with. Without them, I do not know if I would be where I am now. Contacts and a good name is everything in this business, but while I was well known as a youth sailor, nobody knew my name as a coach.
I stopped working with the federation in 2015 and decided to 100 percent focus on my own company from 2016 on. I ran the first Stein Sailing Clinic in March 2016, which was a great success with sailors from the USA, Germany, Hungary and Finland attending.
Later in the year I coached three German girls at the 4.7 World Championships in Kiel as well as an international Team of Standard Sailors at the U21 Laser Standard Worlds. The U21 Worlds was especially great, with a team consisting of sailors from Peru, Uruguay and Switzerland. Working together, the Suisse sailor achieved a top 10 finish and a top 25 with the sailor from Uruguay.
Currently I am working on my schedule for 2017. My goal is to organize clinics where top international sailors train together as well as set up a consistent Stein Sailing Team for a long term project. During the past year, I have invested in a good infrastructure, now owning a coach boat, four Lasers in prime racing conditions as well as all the coaching material necessary to deliver the best coaching possible. Especially for people who want to come from overseas and enjoy the competitive racing in Europe, this could be a great opportunity.
People sometimes ask me if I miss sailing myself. If I am honest, I do. A lot. During the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, a lot of sailors who I sailed and trained with in the past were competing for a medal. Sometimes I ask myself, “what if…“, but then again I am grateful that I am still part of the sailing family and am able to help other sailors to go on the right path. My goal is still to go to the Olympics one day, not as a sailor though, but as a coach.