Friday, June 30, 2006


Thanks to Joe for doing an excellent job of blog-sitting for the last few days and also to all the readers who wrote comments on his posts. I may invite him to write an occasional post as a guest blogger in future if this topic of race management is of interest to some of you.

While Joe was blogging for me, I spent the first three days of this week assisting with some beginner sailing lessons for kids at the lake club where I sail in the summer. It turned out to be an incredibly frustrating experience.

I worked the last three summers as head instructor at another club and was invited to run these lessons too. But as I wasn't sure if I was going to be available I told the club not to rely on me, to find another lead instructor, and gave them a vague promise that I would "help out" if I was still around. The instructor in charge of the classes is a nice guy but has much less experience at teaching sailing than I have and has a very different style and approach to sailing instruction. That was the cause of my frustration.

Almost every thing he did in running the sailing classes was different from how I would have done it. I kept thinking, "No, no no. That's not the way to teach this. There's a better way." Or wanting to tell him, "Look at the wind. We shouldn't be doing this now. We should be doing that." But it was his show so most of the time I kept my mouth shut and made myself useful supporting his program. But I was still frustrated.

I'm not a good follower of a leader with whom I fundamentally disagree. I kept telling myself, "He's not wrong. He just has a different approach. Go with the flow." When I could I made polite suggestions to him on what I thought the class should be doing or on how to teach a particular skill. Some of my suggestions were accepted; a lot were not. I fumed quietly and just concentrated on helping the kids as best as I could.

Every night I came home and ranted to my wife about what had happened at the classes and how I disagreed with it and why it didn't work as well as it would have if they had just done things my way. Strangely I rarely used to do this when I had a job in corporate America and felt much worse annoyance at my occasionally incompetent bosses. But I remember my father used to do this almost every night after work. Am I becoming my father? Probably.

So it was a vexing three days but it did make me realize that through six years of working as a sailing instructor, three in charge of a junior program, I have developed a personal philosophy of how sailing should be taught to kids. It was the contrast with someone else's different approach that brought my own views into focus.

Fundamentally, teaching sailing is all about balancing three aspects - safety, learning, and having fun. Sometime these seem in conflict with each other but in a well designed course they don't have to be. There are tricks of the trade on how to maximize learning while running activities that let the kids have a whale of time, and all the while maintaining a safe environment for them.

I'm going to write at least one post on how I think this should be done. I promise to try not to rant; but I don't guarantee I'll succeed.


derrick said...

Co-coaching an instructor's night mare. I don't have that problem since of course I'm always right. :-)) Actually that's the trick, determining what is style difference and what is really in-correct. Most of the time, they just skin the cat differently. I know in kayaking we are really going through this issue as we learn that there is not "A Holy Law" brought down by Moses, but a variety of valid options depending on a variety of conditions. Then there are the guys who are just out of mind and out of touch. Sometimes you just want to bean them!

Jessica said...

It'd be great if you could get the how sailing should be taught commentary up by the weekend. I realize that this isn't a leisurely timeframe, but I bought a sailboat* yesterday and I would like to put it in the water this weekend.

Failing that, I'll have to follow the pictures in the book that came with the boat. *grin* At least the water's warm now that it's July...

*Yes, one of those. I am part of the used Laser market. Someone has to keep those resale values up and I figure it might as well be me. No, I don't know how to sail. No idea at all. Ask me again come Monday -- perhaps I will know more by then.

joe "i'm a pirate" rouse said...

", learning, and having fun." Bingo! I stopped teaching sailing when the organization (Sailing Education Adventures) I was involved with ignored my advice by eliminating dinghys in favor of keel boats and the requirement that instructors be certified.

Pat said...

We took a lady and her daughter for their first-ever sail last weekend and are working on pacing what we teach her.

Tillerman said...

Jessica - I'm not sure my thoughts on how sailing should be taught will help you much. When I get round to writing them they will be more in the way of tips to instructors on how to structure a kids sailing program - not tips for beginner sailors themselves.

The dirty little secret that all sailors are trying to hide is that it is actually incredibly easy. There are basically only two things you need to know.

1. Push or pull the stick thingy the opposite way from where you want to steer.
2. Pull in the rope thingy until the white flappy thing stops flapping.

Have fun with your Laser this weekend. Send me an email if you have any specific questions and I'll either reply via email or post the answers here.

jessica said...

Last night, there was sometimes enough wind to put little tiny ripples on the surface of the water. Mostly there was less than that, but still enough to move the boat around gently. It worked better if I sat more front. I steered and I played with the large sail-controlling rope and I fumbled around dropping things.

It was fun. It was not hard. In such minimal wind, doing things incorrectly means the boat just doesn't go anywhere. I think that more wind would seriously jack the difficulty, but as things were, it was not particularly difficult.

Tillerman said...

Souns good Jessica. You are right - it's harder to learn in stronger winds but pretty soon you'll be hoping for such conditions. And you have discovered that the boat goes better in light winds if you sit right up at the front of the cockpit or even nearer the bow.

You're also discovering another secret that sailing instructors don't want you to know. In the end you don't really learn sailing from books or instructors, you learn it mostly by actually doing it yourself.

Adrift At Sea said...

I found it is easier to, I mean train new sailors if you take them in smaller numbers... :D

I've got one poor boy convinced that he loves sailing, and it only took a single day sailing.... his sister is also on the list of victims....students... for the summer.

fairscape said...

Isn't it sad when the person who takes responsibility for being in charge wants to do things their own way?

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