When you’re coaching sailing, whether it’s from a coach boat or the stern of a big boat, it’s simply impossible to pay attention to every sailor at all times. You want to give each sailor quality feedback, but human limitations are real. How can coaches overcome this challenge?
According to Grant Spanhake, one of the world’s top sailing coaches, video and technology are the secret to getting the most out of your sailors. Grant recently sat down with Omer to discuss how he uses video and technology in his coaching programs, and how you can incorporate technology to step up your coaching game.
Why Coaches Should Use Video
As Grant points out, using video in your coaching can create a powerful combination that helps accelerate your sailors’ progress.
Traditionally, coaching looked something like this: a sailor does a bad tack. The coach points it out to them after the fact. The sailor tries to remember what they felt during that tack. The sailor goes to do another tack, trying to remember what their coach said, what they felt last time, and what they’re feeling now.
This feedback method relies on:
1. Opinion (the coach’s)
2. Feeling (the sailor’s)
3. Memory (the sailor’s and coach’s)
Memory is a big one here. Memory is limited to what we were paying attention to in the moment. A sailor may have oversteered coming out of a tack, but in the moment, they were paying attention to where their head was in relation to the boom or where their boat was in relation to a competitor. As a result, they’re not fully aware of where their hands and tiller were in space at that moment.
Likewise, a coach is limited by their point of view. If you’re coaching from a coach boat, your point of view is limited by distance. If you’re coaching from the boat, you have 7 other sailors to pay attention to simultaneously (plus other boats on the course, plus yourself–it’s awkward if the coach falls overboard).
Video takes the reliance off of memory, and it takes the opinion out of the equation because it presents the sailor with facts. Most importantly it marries what the sailor felt in the moment with these facts. Tuning the sailor’s feeling to the facts is an essential part of their skills development.
We may have grown up with a more traditional teaching style from our coaches, with the coach standing at the front of the room, doing most of the talking and the sailors sitting in neat rows (or not so neat) listening. This top-down teaching method risks the sailors checking out of the debrief and not being fully engaged in their training.
When you incorporate technology into your coaching, you can engage your sailors so they become active participants in their own learning. Video allows the sailors to see for themselves what happened–without relying on memory or the coach’s opinion. Together, you and the sailor can discuss what happened, why they did what they did and what they need to do to improve the maneuver. You and the sailor can set clear goals for the next training session, and then the sailor can practice those objectives with a complete understanding of what they’re working on and why.
As a coach, you want to create a cycle of learning for your sailors that looks something like this:
In this model of teaching, the coach acts as a guide to help the sailors articulate what they observe and understand the why. When the sailors become equal participants in the debrief conversation, their level of understanding and rate of retention skyrockets. When you review together the video and GPS tracks with the synchronized boat data, sailors can see clearly and understand why they oversteered, why they decelerated, or why one side of the course paid off over the other. When sailors feel engaged in their training, understand the why, and are empowered to be active participants in their own training, they can find deeper wells of motivation to push in practice and on the race course. This is how you as a coach can kickstart your sailors’ progress into high gear.