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Skipper’s Tips

While our skipper is at sea, we decided to hijack his column for our watersports issue to put forward some correlations between the older, more traditional tips of sailing (hmm…fighting words, David?) versus some newer, perhaps faster modes of transport. In particular I have found, being a coach and having been coached over the years, that there are certain no no’s for both coach and student including attitudes that are often unspoken whether it be sailing, kiting or windsurfing.

When teaching beginners, I always stress the fact that there is no real natural talent to standing on a board, lifting a sail and mentally willing it to go in directions that seem to dictate speed and pizzazz at will. In fact, the RYA coaching methods were shattered a few years ago by a revolt of instructors and professionals in the industry who got tired of teaching levels as opposed to achieving goals and working on them.

The result was a format called fast forward, where the fun elements were learned first to gain confidence and to start being part of something rather than simply reworking a level over and over. I have had many students who claim to be stuck on level one, whilst they are actually out there doing level three, and I scratched my head coming across instructors who were reluctant to sign off on the achievement of the level even though the student was showing massive potential. Result: student quits. I can only refer to my professional coach that installed and hammered the mantra into me, that there are no levels. He considered levels equivalent to platforms to stay put on. Instead, there are ceilings to be smashed like a wild banshee released from hell and rattle the gatekeepers of the sacred tribe of no-can-do. (Yes, he was Irish.)

So, onto the frustrating sport of sailing, an age-old, learned experience of watching others and teetering commitment over the winch or sheet, “Can I have a go? Will I be able to do it? What if I accidently gybe the boat and make an ass of myself?” Well, here is the golden clue— with all sports, it’s very doubtful you look like an ass even to begin with, and if you aren’t being encouraged to have a go and find your way, and that keenness isn’t appreciated, then that has a lot to do with the company you are keeping rather than your skill level, unless you are sailing with the flying Scotsman who wants to be strapped to the wheel for an eternity of penance. If that’s the case, ask the salty dogs to fetch their own rum.

So, back to watersports and the unspoken between said teacher and student. The teacher was once a student, and the teacher learns as much about their own communication and skill set as the student progresses. The teacher, not being gifted with telepathic powers, can only see the physical results of the instruction, and the student, not being gifted with any Zen-like powers either, need not be quiet, so do speak up! The space between is the uncomfortable silence of, “Am I doing well?” versus “Well, it’s only another hour, and then I think I will pass this, okay, I mean I paid for it so I can do it.” You know the bottom line: if it feels right, and you feel confident in what you are doing, then you are doing it right, and a good teacher can sense that. It makes them want to teach you more. And when it gets stale, and you are sitting on the weather rail, think fast forward that you are on holiday, too and would like to sail then ask, “Can I have a go?” Because it is not a natural-born talent but a learned one. Say it one more time, “I want to have a go.” The response will be, “Of course!” Ever wonder how kids start so young?


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