How to Get the Most Out of a Coach

Published on December 19th, 2017

Coaching isn’t just for pro teams. It is a lot more accessible and cost effective than you might think. Pro coaches Ed Baird and Scott Nixon share their advice on for how to get the most out of the coaching experience.

Coaching doesn’t have to be an expensive venture for it to add immense value. Whether it is coaching in preparation for the TransPac or the big local regatta, coaching is an investment that will pay dividends. It won’t only improve your team, it will help everyone have a better experience. Start with these steps and try implementing some of the alternative ideas, too.

Step 1: Find the Right Coach
“There is a fine line between information flow and actual improvement of skills,” says Ed Baird. “Search for coaches who can help you find answers within yourself.” According to Ed, a good coach is not someone who gives answers, but someone who helps guide a person’s process of improvement.

Consider avoiding a coach who has a personality similar to yours, which is a common mistake. “Sailors often assume that understanding the sport will come easier when explained by a like mind,” says Ed. “But benefits often come from those who notice your weaknesses. Seek coaches who are experts in your weak areas.” For example, if you struggle with starts, look for a coach skilled in that area.

Ed’s favorite coach wasn’t one particular person. “No single coach is the magic bullet. It comes back to you. Look at things from an outside perspective and then decide if you can and will make positive changes.” Be open to change. “Even if what a coach is saying doesn’t seem right for your team, you have to consider what they’re saying,” says Scott Nixon. “There is usually a method to the madness.” If you need help finding a coach, start with your local loft.

Step 2: Show Up With the Right Attitude
Showing up with the right attitude is another crucial step in getting the most out of being coached. You’re not there to show the coach how much you know, you’re there to grow. Show up with an open mind, ready to improve or learn something new. Keep your emotions in check; they cloud the experience and distract from getting every bit of information from a coach during a race.

Step 3: Come With Questions
If you have a question, chances are that someone else does too. Either as an individual or as a team, spend time writing down a few questions to ask the coach. Having questions ready will help the coach make sure you get the experience you’re looking for. “Coaches love hearing people ask questions,” says Ed. Everyone gets more from the coach’s time, including the coach, when they are addressing what an individual is interested in.

Step 4: Expand Your Horizons
“Understand that large teams come together when mini teams work together,” says Scott. As an athlete on a team, your goal is to own your position, but you also need to know the other roles and how your position fits into the machine. Pay extra attention when the coach is discussing another position or a maneuver that doesn’t involve you.

Step 5: Debrief
Take time to debrief with the coach and then debrief with the team immediately afterwards to share thoughts and the biggest take-aways. Discuss ideas for improvement and make a game plan for implementing and practicing new techniques.

Step 6: Document & Implement
Turn your game plan into a playbook for the boat. In addition to being a great resource for the team, a playbook gives new crew ideas on how maneuvers are made. The key to an effective playbook, stresses Ed, is that it shouldn’t be intricate. It might include the special name you use for a last-minute gybe set that requires an appropriate rate of turn by the helm or the correct kite rotation by the trimmer. “The focus of the playbook is to help with the very basic principles,” says Ed. “Get the simple things right and the rest will follow.”

Alternative Coaching Ideas:
• Video: Coaching doesn’t have to be expensive. Ed recommends that teams take GoPro videos and have a coach review them. Teams can also trade and evaluate each other’s tapes. “Instead of watching a sports game with your crew,” advises Scott, “watch and critique sailing tapes–and provide beer, of course!”

• Peer Review: Sailors can find coaches in their peers. Sail with similar boats and ask crew for advice. Take turns making maneuvers and then discuss what went well and what didn’t. Exchange ideas. Remember, rising tides raise all boats.

• Split Costs: Set up a few-days training session or clinic for the fleet, and split the coaching costs. This works especially well if you have a one design fleet in your area.

• Seminars: Take advantage of seminars. If there aren’t any in your area, call your sailmaker and arrange one for your local yacht club.

• Sail Shape: Show performance notes and sail shape photos and videos to your sailmaker, who can point to adjustments that could improve your sailing.

Talk with your team and find the right program for your needs, and don’t forget to ring your local loft for help and suggestions.

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