Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Chesapeake Bay Laser Masters Championships - the Highlight of the Year

2010 www.jdeutsch.com

mugging for the camera in front of the beautiful Fishing Bay Yacht Club house

What is becoming a home away from home for me, the Fishing Bay Yacht Club, hosted another spectacular Master's event, the Chesapeake Bay Masters Championships. This regatta was the highlight of the year for me (and I had a big year). It had the perfect combination of organization, venue, facilities, conditions, and most importantly the sailors who attend. It hit all the notes perfectly.

Tidewater Virginia

Fishing Bay Yacht Club is located in Tidewater Virginia, rural, flat lower Chesapeake country. In this quiet Chesapeake country the changing of the seasons are evident. The air is not cold yet, but the leaves are turning and the frontal winds are beginning. There is a feeling of the transition into full autumn, but it can be still quite warm and sunny. The farms that populate the whole southern Chesapeake area are filled with old dried-out corn stalks or maturing soybeans that create a carpet of golden brown. Nature abounds with migratory birds passing through and groups of deer foraging along the field edges.

The Fall is the absolute best time for racing on the Chesapeake Bay. You don't have to deal with the cold water temperatures of the spring or the summer doldrums and summer storms. The fall is when the frontal winds reappear mixing with the warm water to provide shifty and challenging racing.

25-32 knots first race - 2010 www.jdeutsch.com

Jon Deutsch, photographer and regatta organizer extraordinaire. I used his photos for this blog.

The regatta is superbly run by Jon Deutsch and a small group of volunteers. It is a low-key affair but Jon's attention to detail is greatly appreciated. One of the highlights of the two day regatta is Saturday's dinner cooked by Laser Masters sailor and French gourmet chef Alain Vincey (who doesn't sail so he can prepare the dinner). The clubhouse is a modern structure with the the dominant features of the ground floor being a sitting area in front of a fire place and a well-appointed kitchen capable of catering large events and a large covered porch for dining. The second story is a beautiful "trophy" room and bar area with high ceilings. About half the competitors camp on the club grounds and others stay at bed and breakfasts.

gourmet chef Alain Vincey surrounded by his four sous chefs - 2010 www.jdeutsch.com

sunset dinner with the Solomon's Island team - 2010 www.jdeutsch.com

preparing for a big night around the fire - 2010 www.jdeutsch.com

The majority of the sailors who attend are from the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding area; there are always a small band of sailors who come down from Newport, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Delaware. As with all Masters regattas it is a true reunion and celebration. What was particularly special was seeing a group of nine sailors who came from Solomon's Island, Maryland. This is a newly formed laser fleet that is well organized and focused on growing. They had apprentice sailors all the way up to grand masters with varying ranges of abilities and experience. Their enthusiasm and spirit was what this regatta is all about. I hope this is a trend that catches on in other areas around the country and others realize how much fun it can be getting wet in a dinghy.

the inside course, notice the big breeze past the point! - 2010 www.jdeutsch.com

After running the first race in "epic" 25-32 knots conditions (with a lot of resulting carnage), the race committee decided to move the course in near the club and close to shore. It was really shifty, puffy, short course intercollegiate-style racing. The following situation happened at one of the windward marks that perfectly defines Master's sailing. I rounded the weather mark ahead of the second and third place boats who were neck and neck. As I past them on their approach to the mark, they were having a full-blown, animated discussion about the shifts on the leg and how they played the windward leg. I'm sure it went on even after they rounded the mark. This is something you see a lot in Master's sailing and for that matter in junior sailing. It's all about the joy of racing.

Race report

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Brenner's Response

It's obvious that Dean Brenner has a selective memory...or Luke and I do. Luke and his family are now reaching out to US Sailing and I hope to be able to report a positive outcome. Stay tuned.

Chairman Dean Brenner (photo credit Walter Cooper)

Dean's response, published in Scuttlebutt:

"In Scuttlebutt issue 3196, the lead story was an excerpted blog post with some opinions and statements about the US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics, some of our athletes and the new culture we have instituted. While each of us is entitled to our own opinion, we are not entitled to our own facts. And, quite simply, there were several factual inaccuracies that should be corrected.

Luke Lawrence is a member of the 2010 US Sailing Development Team. Period. And, as far as we are concerned, he’ll be on the team for the remainder of the year unless he chooses to step aside. We think Luke is a great talent, and we hope he’ll apply again for the team in 2011. We’ve never kicked him off the team, we’ve never asked him to resign, and we’ve never excluded him from any team meetings, barbecues, or training sessions. The blog post in question made lots of statements about his removal and exclusion from the Team. I was surprised to read that, it was news to me, and I maintain a complete open door policy to chat with any sailor at any time about anything that concerns them.

Our Development Team is intended to be a path for young sailors to learn to compete as Olympic athletes… something that Olympic sailing in the USA has been in desperate need of for a long time, and that we are proud to have created. We give them coaching and lots of other kinds of support, and we give them opportunities to train alongside and learn from our top athletes, like Finn Silver Medalist Zach Railey. We look for developing athletes who have the skills and the commitment to be a part of this team, and if they want to take advantage of the opportunity, we welcome them with open arms. If they would rather go their own way, then that’s fine also. We’ll cheer just as loudly for any athlete who would prefer to follow their own path and who finds a way to win an Olympic medal on their own. If Luke chooses his own path, then that is great. On the other hand, if he wants to take advantage of the opportunities on our Development Team, then that’s great also. Either way, we will cheer his success.

We believe strongly in the system and culture that we are building on our Development Team and on the US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics. We believe that shared training and a collaborative culture is better for everyone. We believe it helps stretch our resources further. We believe it creates a better environment for our sailors. And we believe it creates something that sponsors, donors and fans can embrace.

We have a system, and it is an entirely new culture. But it’s not for everyone. It would be impossible to create a structured system that also caters to every specific need of every athlete. And with about 100 hyper-competitive, goal-oriented athletes on our teams, it’s also unrealistic to expect that all of them will love everything that we do. But we do believe that a system is necessary, and if someone wants to work outside the system, at the end of the day, the sailors on the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Teams are still representing the USA and we’ll be there alongside them, cheering and supporting.

One of the key issues with our system, however, is the role of the private coach. We work hard to hire staff and per diem coaches who believe in our new culture and can have a positive effect on both their athlete(s) and the entire team at the Olympics. In the lead-up to the Games, the role of the private coach is an issue when staff coaching is present at the same event. We understand full well that some athletes will want or need some additional, personal support. Those private coaches are welcomed into our training and our meetings, with a few specific requirements. The coach has to be trustworthy, has to be a team player, and we won’t hesitate to respectfully exclude someone whom we determine, in consultation with other athletes on our team, would have a negative impact in any way on our culture, training and effectiveness.

Finally, I want to applaud our Finn results over the last two years. The record speaks for itself and we have a world-class Finn program in the USA for the first time in a long time. That’s a credit first and foremost to our sailors, but also to our coaches and our friends in the Finn class who have worked so hard to make USA success in the Finn a reality.


Dean Brenner


US Olympic and Paralympic Sailing Program"

Monday, October 11, 2010

The US Sailing Team - Does One Size Fit All?

Sarah Lihan's got game and a great sense of style!

The cover story for this month's Sailing World Magazine, "Stress Test," highlights the changes within the US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics for this Olympic cycle. It is an insider's look by reporter Stuart Streuli, who spent time with the team at a physical training camp at the US Olympic training center in Colorado Springs last March, and at the Kiel Week regatta in June. Streuli gives a glowing review of the new direction and philosophy that Olympic Sailing Director, Dean Brenner, and head coach, Kenneth Andreasen, are taking. Stressing team unity and overall fitness are cornerstones of their approach. However, I was dismayed to read that certain sailors on the team were singled out for not being team players, allegedly hurting the US team's chances for medals at the 2012 Olympic Games. The sailors singled out included the very talented young sailor I have been coaching in the Finn, Luke Lawrence. In Luke's case, nothing could be further from the truth. Why would the "Brass" at the Olympic Sailing Committee go public with such an allegation? I believe this sentiment revolves around a management philosophy and mindset akin to the infamous statement "you are either with us, or against us." I believe it highlights a glaring weakness in understanding, and also a lack of desire to understand how to effectively develop an individual's potential within a team environment. In others words, does one size fit all?

Streuli writes that:

"Not everything that Andreasen and Brenner touch turns to gold - literally or figuratively..... A big part of the USSTAG's new culture is intra-squad training; all the U.S. sailors within a specific class working together under a common coach for a large part of the Olympic cycle..... Erin Maxwell and 2004 Olympian Isabelle Kingsolving won the 2008 Women's 470 World Championship. Amanda Clark and Sarah Chin finished 12th in the 2008 Olympics. Together they could form a potent training duo. However to date they haven't trained together. USSTAG officials imply this is due to a personality conflict...."

"The same can be said of Luke Lawrence, a confident Floridian who won the Laser silver medal at the 2008 ISAF Volvo Youth World Championships. In his first Finn regatta, the 2010 Rolex Miami OCR, he finished in the top half of the 37-boat fleet. But, unhappy with the attention he received from Andreasen at the first two European regattas of the 2010 season, he hired 1984 silver medalist John Bertrand as his personal coach, isolating himself from the rest of the U.S. team. It appears to have benefited Lawrence, who won the Finn Junior World Championship in San Francisco in August, in the short term. But will it hurt the U.S. team's medal hopes (and those of Lawrence) in 2012 and further down the road?"

just moments after winning the Finn Junior World Championship
Luke is proud to have represented the United States

The situation that Streuli refers to in the article is Luke Lawrence hiring me to coach him in the European World Cup regattas. Luke, who is the 2009 ISAF Youth Worlds Silver medalist in the Laser class, made his debut in the Finn earlier this year at the Miami Rolex OCR. He is also a member of the 2008, 2009 and 2010 US Sailing Youth Development Teams (USSDT). As a current member of the USSDT, he was offered free shipping of his Finn to Europe, coaching support from the Finn (and head) coach, Kenneth Andreasen, at the World Cup events, and the opportunity to attend team training camps. The USSDT, according to the US Sailing website, is "designed to provide an elite environment designed specifically to prepare the young sailor for the highly competitive world of Olympic Sailing, with knowledge-transfer and experience-sharing that can only come with (their) Olympic coaching staff and athletes." The website also states that the USSDT "is designed for the developing sailor who is highly interested in becoming an Olympic-caliber athlete and who has shown the skills and commitment to such a goal. It is designed for the sailor who is willing to learn to make decisions on his or her own." In this instance, Luke showed initiative and drive by hiring a private coach, myself, to further his development as a sailor, become more competitive, learn the game faster, and get the coaching resources he was lacking from the team.

Luke was not satisfied with his results after his first two World Cup regattas. Luke, being the newbie in the four-boat team, was frustrated with the lack of on-the-water support he was receiving and how he was being treated by the coach. At times he was hard pressed to get access to the coach boat to get food and water, let alone access to Andreasen for post-race observations, because the priority was Zach Railey and Brian Boyd, the number one and two US team sailors. Luke, as a committed, motivated sailor, needed Andreasen's knowledge and experience, but simply wasn't getting it. With the prospect of no coaching support at the upcoming Finn European Championships, which Zach Railey and Andreasen were not attending, he decided to hired me to coach him. We spilt the cost of the coach boat with Brian Boyd, and I provided the on-the-water support for all three US Finn sailors at the regatta.

In the practice days leading up to the Europeans, Luke, Brian and Caleb Paine (the third US Finn sailor at the regatta) trained together. I took video of these practice sessions, which I shared daily with all the US sailors, giving everyone as much insight and help as I could provide. Luke really benefitted from these sessions and I saw tremendous improvement is a very short period of time. He ended up being the top placed US sailor at the Europeans and won a Silver medal as the second-highest scoring youth sailor. Because of his rapid improvement, Luke decided to keep me on as his coach for his next regatta, the Delta Lloyd regatta in Holland.

We were given a shock when Andreasen arrived in Holland and promptly told Luke in a private, two-minute meeting at the boat park that he was not allowed to tune up with the team or attend any of the team's briefings. In fact, Andreasen told Luke he needed to resign from the USSDT. The following day we stressed to Andreasen that we would share any information with him and the team, including photographs and video like we did at the Europeans, and we would also actively participate in the team's scheduled tuning sessions and daily debriefs. However, Andreasen didn't change his position. He said it was not fair to the other sailors that Luke would enjoy the benefits of having a private coach. I was perplexed by his position, given the team's stated emphasis on inter-squad training, openness and sharing of knowledge, and that we would be adding another set of eyes and experience that could be utilized by the entire Finn team. This attitude is not present in other classes. Over the winter, I trained with the US Laser team in a number of US Sailing training camps that included as many as 15 international sailors and as many as five international coaches all working together in daily sailing sessions and video debriefs. It was amazing to see the level of cooperation and willingness of the sailors and coaches to work closely together sharing their observations each day. It is unfortunate that the Finn team could not utilize all the benefits of having another coach on board, a free one at that, not even using the limited US Sailing Team resources.

Effectively, Luke was banned from the team, and he and the two top women's 470 teams are being held out as examples for not being team supporters, supposedly hurting the team's chances for medals at the 2012 Olympics. In Luke's case, he is actively being shunned by OSC Chairman Dean Brenner and head coach Kenneth Andreasen. During Kiel Week, Brenner never approached Luke, and he was excluded from the team barbecue, unlike all the other USSDT members. Is the leadership of the US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics correct to force Luke to resign from the team? Could Luke have just accepted the limitations the Finn team provided and waited until the following year to improve his situation? Does Luke deserve this type of treatment from the leaders of the team?

When considering the current crop of the world's top Olympic sailors who, like Luke, are singlehanded-trained sailors, you find the likes of Ben Ainslie (GBR), Paul Goodison (GBR), Tom Slingsby (AUS), Robert Scheidt (BRA), Ian Percy (GBR) and Ed Wright (GBR). Are any of these Gold medalist and world champions entirely products of their national teams, or did they benefit from focused individual support? In the case of the dominant GBR sailors, the answer is that they are not entirely products of their national teams. They may have risen through a system, but they each put together their own programs and have individual coaches giving them full support and pushing their limits. Most top-level sailors, regardless of class, benefit from individual coaching. They may also benefit from significant financial support from their sailing federations. Would Ben Ainslie or Paul Goodison accept a situation they knew limited their opportunity to be the best? I don't think so.

The notion that the best chances for the US to medal in 2012 by strictly adhering to the "new deal" is very limited. Exclusively working within the limited resources of the team, including only working with team coaches, works for some classes, but in other classes it is obviously not working. For example, under Dave Perry's leadership the women's match racing teams are making great progress by working together. However, in the Finn class, I see the opposite happening. After his hard-earned 2008 Silver medal performance, Zach Railey should have had a breakout year. However, as Streuli's article points out, Zach is dissatisfied with his finishes in 2010 and likely the net negative effect it has on his 2011 funding. The Finn team is in tatters with the number two sailor Brian Boyd retiring, and the coach's self-inflicted drama surrounding Luke. It is likely that Zach's performance is suffering from this turmoil and a lack of focused coaching. If you consider that Zach was working singularly with Andreasen as his personal coach in his rise through the Finn ranks and his surprise performance at the Olympics, it would be easy to conclude his struggles this year could be due to the change in his coaching situation as Andreasen's attention is divided.

In US Sailing's pursuit of their agenda, it appears to me they are willing to make an example out of certain sailors who want to supplement their programs to get better quicker. Wouldn't it be better to have the flexibility to focus on the individual needs of the sailors? In other words, instead of focusing so much on what a sailor is doing to support the team, they would be better off looking at how the team can better support the individual sailor so that each can make progress in the best way possible within the team, together making the team better. I believe this attitude is coming from the top.

Based on my recent experience with the team, I believe their "one size fits all" approach is hurting the team's prospects in the short term and is creating a long term problem that may take years to recover from. There may be a feel-good aspect to what they are doing, but I fear that it will limit the development of our future stars, who tend to be "different" and creative, and who are naturally driven and impatient. By trying to totally control the environment and support only their favorites, the USSDT will discourage the new blood, and this may lead to a drought of good sailors for future Olympics to come. A very strict and controlled system is only successful if resources are available to allow intense competition from a group of many sailors.

Team GBR can take a more strict approach than US Sailing, because they can financially afford to bring in large numbers of sailors to see who rises to the top under their strict system. These sailors are provided with almost everything and can just focus on sailing. The US on the other hand is attempting to adopt the British model, but only a very few top sailors can get along without supplementing their campaigns with their own money. Only the very diehard, stubborn, and / or well-off sailors can commit to the 4, 8, or 12 years it takes to reach the top level of funding under the current system. If a sailor on the USSDT has drive, talent, and funding, US Sailing needs to take advantage of it for the benefit of the team. The current lack of resources can be remedied by an open-minded attitude, willingness to accept help no matter where it comes from, acceptance of limitations, openness of communication, and inclusiveness.

It is a tough dilemma for US Sailing, and they all, including Brenner and Andreasen, genuinely want to improve the system. However, while they struggle to figure it out, I would expect them to treat every sailor who is making a commitment fairly, respectfully, and evenhandedly. Politics, personal fears, and selectivity should take a backseat to openness and inclusiveness.

two of the most naturally gifted and creative sailors I have ever met who are not currently on the US Sailing Team
Luke Lawrence and Brad Funk

Luke touching base with his sailing roots - catamaran sailing