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Watching from the Sidelines

Published on August 13th, 2018

Two-time Olympic medalist in the Women’s 470, Kiwi Jo Aleh is now looking at the race course from the coach’s boat. While her view from on top the podium was well-earned, she’s now finding the business of watching to be a challenge too.

I was coaching at the 2018 Sailing World Championships, where all the Olympic classes have their World Champs at the same place and time, and is the second biggest event of the four year cycle after the Olympics.

Jo Aleh

I sailed in the last three of these, and this was my first time as a coach. It was eye opening! I said the same after coaching in Palma, but the added pressure of it being the World Champs, and the difference in perspective you gain as a coach compared to an athlete just widens.

I escaped the tunnel vision that I lived in as an athlete. I saw for the first time what goes on behind the scenes, with the coaches and support staff, and I experienced the difficulty of watching your athletes struggle and not really being able to turn things around.

As painful as it is when you stuff things up as an athlete, I actually think it can be harder to watch from the sidelines, powerless to change anything, seeing it all happening but not being able to step in and do anything about it.

I think the week was also extra hard because I was there watching the 470s, and sailing that boat is something I still very much know how to do. I have no doubt that I could jump in and be near the front of the fleet, but I also know that I don’t want to… I still feel I have nothing to gain by doing that, nothing there I really want to learn, and no reason to go through that experience in that boat again.

For me, for now in the sailing world, I will be sticking with the coaching and not the sailing, who knows what the future will hold, but the next two years are clear… I really enjoyed being a part of the NZL Sailing Team again, and bringing something different to the team as not only a very recent athlete, but also a woman.

Female coaches are still a rarity – with the 2020 and 2024 Olympics looking to go 50/50 gender split for sailing athletes, wouldn’t it be great if we channeled some of that over to the support structures too? That’s me though, always on some mission!


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