Friday, November 14, 2008

Laser Coaching

I occasionally receive emails from readers of this blog with questions such as...
  • Do you have information on places to go for Laser coaching?

  • What are the merits of individual vs group coaching?
My first reaction (which I don't voice to the questioner) is to wonder why the hell this person is asking me questions like this? Hasn't he been reading this blog? Doesn't he know that after a quarter of century of trying I am still one of the worst Laser sailors in the world, and probably getting worse?

But still the questions come. So I suppose I should have a stab at answering them. First of all a few random thoughts on the question.
  1. I've never had any "individual coaching" as such. All of the teaching about Lasers I have ever had has been in group situations. Maybe that's why I'm so bad. But I don't think so.

  2. There is so much to learn from group practice and coaching, because so much of racing is about the interaction with other boats. How are you going to learn to make killer starts if you don't have other sailors on the start line to try and beat off the line? How do you (or a coach) know if you have good or bad boat speed in any given conditions unless you are racing against other sailors? How are you going to learn race strategy, and boat to boat tactics, and mark roundings unless you are doing them with other boats?

  3. Sure there may be some value in having a coach watch you sailing by yourself and pointing out any flaws in your techniques.

  4. But at a good group seminar the coach will create opportunities to observe each student and give them individual feedback anyway.

  5. So my strong recommendation is to spend your money on a seminar involving a smallish group of students of similar ability which is run by a coach who understands how to run instructive group drills and who knows the latest tips on how to make a Laser go fast.
Since starting this blog I've been to a number of such group coaching session in various different places so let's review each of them.

Rick White Sailing Seminars

Back in April 2005 I went to one of Rick White's Sailing Seminars in the Florida Keys. The guest instructor was Brad Funk, whose name you will remember as the guy who lost out in a tiebreaker for the 2008 US Laser Olympic spot to Andrew Campbell. I was just getting into my blogging stride so I didn't write much about the seminar, except for one post Run Rabbit Run.

There was a pretty diverse group at the seminar of varying abilities, and there was a mix of Sunfish and Laser sailors. We sailed a couple of hours every morning and afternoon for four and a half days as I recall, and then there was an hour or two of review and debrief in the evenings too. It was pretty windy most of the week and some of the less fit sailors found that a bit too much sailing for them, and ducked out on some of the sessions. But as an older guy of average fitness it was fine for me.

We covered pretty much every aspect of racing. Rick has an excellent range of drills to cover every situation you will find on the race course. There wasn't a lot of time for individual coaching (apart from that Run Rabbit Run drill which I blew by capsizing). But Brad was ready, willing and able to answer any questions each of us had about Laser technique, so all in all it was an excellent week of learning and practice.

And it was fun.

Laser Training Center Cabarete

In January of 2007 and 2008 I went to the Laser Training Center at Cabarete in the Dominican Republic. In each year I attended a 4-day Laser clinic followed by the 3-day Laser Caribbean Midwinters, but they do run clinics at other times of the year too. In 2007 the coach was Brett Davis and in 2007 it was the resident coach Javier Borojovich a.k.a. Rulo. I wrote about these two clinics in several posts...

Read those posts if you want to get a flavor of the group coaching at Cabarete. I would say that these sessions are not for absolute beginners. In fact you will learn something from these classes no matter how good you think you are. And if you want to work on technique in big waves I know of no finer place. Rulo is a world class coach and worked with some of this year's Olympic sailors. But he still took the time to give some individual coaching to a duffer like me.

And it was fun.

Minorca Sailing

At the end of September 2006 I went for a sailing vacation at Minorca Sailing in the Med. This company doesn't really sell itself as a source of coaching and you can certainly just go there for a free and easy sailing vacation enjoying their full range of sailing toys. But there is also a very structured group coaching program at Minorca Sailing for sailors from beginners to advanced in various types of boats and windsurfers, along with racing every afternoon. I attended three different classes there, a week in the Advanced Laser Class, a week in the Beginner Asymmetric Class, and a few evening classes on Beginner Windsurfing for Dinghy Sailors.

I don't know if I was lucky in my timing, but that year the coach for the Advanced Laser Class was a guy who was the UK National Champion in a similar singlehanded class, the Comet. So his nickname was Comet. As well as running the usual group drills every morning, Comet gave me quite a lot of individual coaching, including one memorable afternoon when it was blowing dogs off chains and racing was canceled because it was too windy. I went out by myself on a Laser to play in the waves and Comet grabbed a RIB and cruised along behind me giving me advice on wave riding.

The posts I wrote about the coaching in Menorca were...

And it was fun.

Kurt Taulbee SailFit

In March of this year I participated in one of Kurt Taulbee's SailFit sailing seminars in Clearwater, Florida and wrote about the experience in...

Kurt is one of the very few sailors who has qualified for every US Laser Olympic Trials since the Laser became an Olympic boat. Couple that with his experience coaching top Laser sailors and he certainly knows Laser technique inside out. It turned out that this particular seminar was a fairly small group so we all got lots of individual attention from a superb coach who gave me oodles of individual feedback.

And it was fun.

Hope those looking for answers to questions about Laser coaching find this useful. If you know of other places to go for Laser coaching, or have any further questions, please fire away in the comments.


Anonymous said...

This obviously only applies to a few people, but if you are applying to colleges and looking for a laser coach, just go to a college that has a sailing team and that sends sailors to laser regattas (most regattas are in 420s or FJs). Many of the more competitive teams have professional coaches and team members who are laser sailors in their own right.

Carol Anne said...

Off topic, but I notice your count is approaching 86. On behalf of some men I know, might you commemorate Sail 86 by simply putting up two pictures of 43?

Anonymous said...

Great idea Carol Anne. Ms 43 will definitely be appearing again soon.

Anonymous said...

Props to Coach Ryan of C-Vane Performance Sailing. He runs a variety of clinics around the country, and has a tremendous resume. He does a good bit of video and debriefs with it. Really good stuff!

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