Thursday, November 18, 2010

Private Coaching - The Challenge and Rewards

coaching a one day Laser clinic at the Martin County US Sailing Center

I've had the opportunity to train with the best Laser sailors in the world over the past year, and I've learned new tricks and reinforced old ones. Now I'm ready to pass on what I know through private Laser coaching and a selective few Laser clinics this year.

I really enjoy coaching and teaching. I love the process of imparting knowledge to a wide range of people with vastly different skill sets. From the very beginner (no matter what age), to the most seasoned Olympic caliber sailor. I love to see someone improve, learn something new, and reach a goal. It requires an individual and personal approach.

We all learn differently, and there is no one approach that can be applied to everyone. To maximize the experience and overall benefit, it is critically important to determine how an individual processes information to make sure it is delivered and received properly. Finding the right learning channels and packaging the message properly is key. In other words, you've got to speak the language of the student.

The three major learning channels are sensory, auditory, and visual. If someone is a visual learner, you can talk until you're blue in the face, and chances are the message won't get through. If someone's strength is auditory processing, then demonstrating something is not gonna do it. The sensory learner needs to feel it or experience it before they can grasp a new technique. And the challenging part is it could be different channels depending on what is being taught or given different external circumstances. So knowing all that, the best starting point is to deliver the information or lesson in all three channels and be observant to which channels your individual students are picking up.

Annapolis Master sailor, Jeff Caruso and I having a private lesson

I recently had the pleasure of giving private lessons to a local Annapolis Master sailor, Jeff Caruso. It was really enjoyable because of Jeff's enthusiasm and his ability to apply new concepts very quickly. I saw a great improvement in his sailing in only a couple of sessions working with him. The first session was the day before the Chesapeake Masters regatta. He reported seeing a drastic improvement during the regatta from his normal competitiveness. It helped that our first practice the day before the regatta was in similar conditions (extreme) to the first day of racing. A few simple tips kept him on his feet and more comfortable and less energy spent in those conditions. On the second day in calmer conditions, he was able to work focus on applying some new principles and rig settings. It is very satisfying as a coach to hear a report like Jeff's; that at most mark roundings where he normally gets passed by boats, he was passing them instead. Also, after a rather tangled start in one race that put him near last at the first mark, he reported passing seventeen boats during the course of the race.

My analysis of Jeff is that he is able to pick up new techniques and theory very quickly. I think Jeff has at least two channels working, and maybe all three. My first impression of Jeff is that his auditory processing is dominant and well developed. From almost the first moment we met, he asked me to explain what it was we were going to work on for that lesson. And he was very focused on what I was saying and asked quite a few questions to make sure he fully understood the particular concept or subject.

Once on the water it was too windy to effectively talk (and I lost my voice in the process of shouting over the howling wind), so I demonstrated what I wanted him to do. I made him follow behind me and imitate what I was doing. This took a little longer for him to pick it up but he did after a very short time. We were working on sailing the boat super flat. Instead of using the mainsheet, I had him ease the mainsheet beyond the normal heavy air upwind setting and had him sit on the deck (not hiking) and only use the tiller to keep the boat flat. I wanted him to see and feel how the boat was when sailed flat. The other main lesson was the proper body position in the boat. This enabled him to expend less energy and he was able to "relax", even in the high winds. Just a few simple pointers gave him the ability to conserve his energy and increase his overall confidence.

Knowing the right communication channels greatly increases the information uptake and leads to a more productive and meaningful experience for the sailor.