Friday, June 12, 2009

Ban Mommy Boats NOW

There has been a lot of buzz in the sailing blogosphere this week about one of the greatest threats to the spirit of Corinthian sailing... those pesky coach boats, a.k.a. Mommy Boats.

First of all Scuttlebutt drew attention to a problem caused by Mommy Boats at the Optimist Team Trials (which are used to select the US Optimist sailors to be sent to major events around the world each year.) One young man who sailed
in the trials, Bradley Adam revealed that "some kids had coaches upwind who radioed back to the starting line what the breeze was doing at the windward mark." Oh come on! That's not fair. It may be strictly legal within the Racing Rules of Sailing (as long as it is done before the prep signal) but the parents who are paying multiple coaches to help their kids with tricks like this are doing everyone a disservice.

Then Earwigoagin wrote a post about the Laser Atlantic Coast Radials and the annoyance caused to many sailors by so many Mommy Boats buzzing about the race course. Jacob D left a comment on this post saying...
I was also disturbed by the last minute instructions to those with coach support. That just isn't right! Isn't there a FAIR SAILING rule (RRS #2)? The SIs should be written in such a way that this isn't possible.
Indeed they should Jacob D. We should either prohibit coach boats in the Sailing Instructions or, even better, classes should decide to ban the pestilence altogether from their regattas. According to Scuttlebutt (again), the Star class recently voted to address this issue by prohibiting "all contact between athletes and coaches after leaving the harbor until the end of the last day race of the day." Right on!

And check out what Susie Pegel said about REAL Laser sailors this week.
A REAL Laser sailor is someone who drives their own boat to a regatta and sails the event unaided by coaches or support boats.

Enough is enough. I'm mad as hell about Mommy Boats and I'm not going to take it any more. So please urge regatta organizers to use their regatta SIs to ban coaches providing unfair assistance to the select few who feel the need win so badly that they will resort to such dubious measures. And please campaign within your class association to persuade your class to adopt a rule banning communication between coaches and sailors from the time the sailors leave the dock until the time the last race of the day is finished.

I know this is going to be a tough fight. There is a whole generation of young sailors who don't know how to race without their Mommies or their surrogate Mommies helping them. There are a whole bunch of guys and gals making money by "coaching" at regattas. (But please don't misunderstand me. I'm not against coaches earning a living by training sailors outside of regattas. I just don't want you making the game unfair during regattas.)

And fellow Laser Master sailors... can't we at least agree to ban the use of Mommy Boats at Laser Masters regattas? Do we want to be "REAL Laser sailors" like Susie Pegel or to be more like the spoiled rich kids at those youth regattas?

So join the campaign. Let's Ban Mommy Boats NOW.

Update: to be fair, check out also The Other Side of the Argument.


yarg said...

In high school sailing coaching is permitted only between races and only if all sailors have equal access to coaching. In events beyond two teams head to head, this results in no coaching until sailors return to shore. It's basic fairness, a lesson we should have learned in kindergarten. Neither the winners nor the losers should tolerate a system that gives some people a little edge that others don't have. Next thing you know, sailing deserves and gets all the respect accorded to baseball on steroids.

Tillerman said...

Well said sir. I've always believed that the principal benefit of junior sailing is to teach kids values like fair play, sportsmanship, self-reliance, teamwork, persistence, self-confidence etc... Not to teach them that you can always game the system if you have enough money, or that "Mommy" will always be there to help you.

yarg said...

Any high school kid worth his salt knows plenty about gaming the system from his academic classes. Hopefully, sailing is a bit of an antidote to that.

Mal Kiely [Lancelots Pram] said...

Spoiled rich brats should be horsewhipped and then used as weighted anchors for marker buoys on the sailing course! Muwahahahaaa

Bursledon Blogger said...

Right on the money Tillerman, even over here in old "it's the playing that counts non competitive England" we are seeing these super pushy parents.

If they're not rushing to the school gates in their X5's then weekends - its chasing the oppi fleet in ribs with 3000HP motors on the back.

Carol Anne said...

There does seem to be this pervasive perception that if a person has enough money, it's possible to buy victory. The super-high-level racing (e.g., America's Cup) certainly supports this idea.

Parents seem to think they're doing their children a service by buying high-level coaching, thereby buying them victories. Instead, they're teaching their children that they should get everything they want, whether they've earned it or not.

Victory should come through hard work, not through money spent. The playing field should be level.

And that's a lesson that should go beyond sailing to the rest of life.

Bender said...

Why Blame coaches? Blame the parents for buying $10,000 Optimists and then spending another $10,000 to send them to "World Championships" at the age of 12. Or maybe lets all go back to horse and cart and canvas sails if you want things as it was back in your day!

Joe Rouse said...

$10,000 Optimists!!!!!!!!!!!!! I need a drink. What's the point? Freaking parents ruin everything.

Screw organized sports, I'm going surfing!

tillerman said...

Bender. Don't misunderstand me. I am blaming the parents, not the coaches. Well, not much...

I do think some coaches have promoted this culture of, "If you give me and my buddies enough money I will make sure that your little Sophie and your little Tommy will win some prizes at Opti regattas and qualify for a regatta in South America so you can boast to all your friends at the yacht club what a wonderful parent you are." But without the super-pushy parents they wouldn't have a market for their dubious services.

And thank you for the hyperbolic reference to horses and carts. I'm not quite that old! As I've mentioned before here "back in my day" was when we Opti and Sunfish parents took our kids to regattas, pushed them off, and let them do their best on their own without help from Mommy Boats or Mommy surrogates (aka coaches). And I think our kids learned more useful life lessons from the experience than the mollycoddled kids of today ever will.

Without any assistance from coaches radioing weather information from the windward mark, both my sons won their share of junior championships. They never sailed in South America... but more importantly at the age of 31 one of them is still having fun sailing with his Dad... as he did just this afternoon.

Carol Anne said...

Why spend $10,000 on an Opti when you can spend less than that and get a horse that goes on to win the Kentucky Derby ... after being hauled to the race by a trainer towing his own trailer while driving with a broken right leg?

Ari Barshi said...

1. Cheaters cheat with or without a coach.
2. If we want to race with the Europeans, Asians, and South Americans we better get used to Mommy and coach boats around the course right from early age.

A few weeks ago, (when I still thought that I was a Real Laser sailor), I participated in the North American Laser Masters in North Carolina. I was very excited to start for the first time with about 100 boats on a start-line.

From the beach, this huge event looked like lots of little white handkerchiefs out in the ocean. In other words it was hardly noticed. One of the ways of turning a sailing event to a festival is by having lots of motorboats following from a short and safe distance. For marketing purposes it would be great if each sailor would have 2 Mommy boats cheering him. Beach goers will clearly see that something exciting is happening out there, and some will even buy tickets to get on a spectator boat.
Sponsors will show up to take advantage of the opportunity.

Kids who spend their entire teenage years racing sailboats in a healthy environment should know, that one of their rewards could be a lucrative career as a coach. It is our responsibility to these kids to make sure coaching is more accepted.

The intellectual prosperity of this blog’s readers can be used to come up with ideas on how to increase on water coaching, in a controlled environment.

Maybe the Racing Rules of Sailing have to include penalties to racers when their coaches were found misbehaving. Example; In the Laser Master Europeans this last April, some coaches were speeding between races to talk with their sailors. I hit my head on the boom while resting, due to the wake they caused. At this moment nothing in the rulebook can stop this and similar things from happening. Coach boat distance, and angle to the course should also be considered in the rulebook, and can be reason for a protest against a sailor.

More thought should be given to even the field between non-coached and coached sailors. The committee boat on the start line gives us a compass bearing to the first mark. They can also give us wind direction and strength at the first mark. They usually know it anyway, as the mark boat has reported it. It should be given more or less 10 minutes to the gun. (This will also clear the top mark area from Mommy boats).

Last but not least, Tim Landt, Mike Matan, and I are looking for two more sailors to share the cost of Coach Rulo in the Laser Master Worlds in Halifax. Age group; Master. Sail size: full rig. If you are interested contact me at

Tillerman said...

Great stuff Ari. I love it when someone disagrees with a position I take in a post here. And even has the balls to advertise (in his final paragraph) for other sailors to join him in exactly the behavior which I am castigating. And at a Masters regatta too! Bravo!

I can't agree with most of what you say, but I did like your creative suggestion that the committee boat on the start line should let competitors know the wind direction and strength at the first mark. That would certainly eliminate at least some of the unfair advantage that sailors with Mommy Boats can have.

Anonymous said...

As I was reading the various comments regarding Opti's and coaching my son and his buddies came to mind. They grew up in the Northwest where coaching was hardly ever heard of at that time, they sailed and learned and when a coach appeared he/she was shared by all. That was 15 years ago, now grown and coaching/sailing in their respective areas I have taken a step into the world of the Opti. I spend a week or two each year in The Gorge with two clinics, one for the Opti crowd and the other for the Laser group and I am here to tell you I have never met such a great bunch of parents. The are fun, helpful in every way. These are great fun adventures. Jan Visser, Dreamer and Creator of WIND and Ripple Youth Clinics

Richard Jepsen said...

While I'm not sure that the 'give everyone the wind direction at the weather mark' rule keeps sailing as interesting as we want it to be, I'm intrigued by the 'out of the box' thinking. to compete internationally, we need to have more coaching for elite sailors, even at younger ages.. the US pipeline for Olympic sailors is narrow, not from a lack of effort from the NGB, but from a culture and structure that is different from and inferior to several other countries. We don't need to pressure kids who aren't interested in elite competition, but we do need to liberate talented sailors who could represent us internationally from restrictions that impair their ability to compete on a level playing field. Sorry, no solutions here; just trying to restate the challenge; perhaps it will prompt a suggestion.....

Anonymous said...

Biggest thing for me is their need to ALWAYS be towed out to the race course. AT a recent Finn/Laser regatta, when all the kids were being hooked up to tow lines on what was a very, very nice day, I asked one of the coaches why the kids couldn't sail their Lasers out to the race area. The junior coach's response? Hey, the parents pay us to tow out their kids. So all of us adults sailed our Finns out, while avoiding the long tow lines full of kids on their Lasers. Part of their experience should be the ability to sail their boats out to the race course like the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

You are seriously my hero!

Nothing burns me up more than the entitlement crowd. Hello Little League parents? Please welcome your awesome new best friends: Mommy Boat parents!

I qualified for several Laser & Sunfish world championships when I was young. All were overseas in fabulous venues. Guess how they went? I don't know. I never went to any of them because I couldn't afford them, and because my parents made me responsible for earning the things that went with my personal goals.

I did purchase my first Laser with my own earnings at age 15, and without a single penny from my mommy. My daddy did help though. He helped me bring my boat home from the Laser dealer. That was all I needed.

Some of the kids I know now who have the classic "Mommy Boat Parents" are quite successful as sailors. (Some not) They all have two things in common, though. The parents are self centered jerks and the kids are as dysfunctional as any I've ever met.

Long live Mommy Boat parents. They easily help define who the really good parents (and coaches, and kids) are!

Anonymous said...

here's an idea (its so simple I surely can't be the first to think of it) satisfy those that don't have the means to hire a coach for junior, why not make it compulsory to pool cash & resources and allocate 1 coach per (say) 10 boats, spread it around a bit.

One thing is for sure, everyone benefits from coaching, beginners or elite, and there is a triclkledown effect that does raise the standard of the whole fleet. Seems a shame to can coaches for regattas when that is the very place that the most intense racing & therefore learning occurs. For gwad's sake no knee jerk reactions from the authorities please. Its a complex issue. What next? Banning little Johnny from flying to the next regatta because he had a unfair advantage over little Mary who had to trail her Opti overnight with her parents to the regatta. Its the thin end of the wedge people.

Litoralis said...

Coaching is for practice. Regattas are for competing.

If you have a coach at a regatta, please keep your extended practice session away from those of us that are competing.

Anonymous said...

Nice idea to pool resources and share the coach, but it won't work. It's already failed miserably in the junior circuit. Why? Those same parents slip an extra $100 to those coaches and buy the coaches drinks and dinner every night to get little Johnny just one more piece of advice that no one else gets. And you haven't even begun to approach the coaches who teach their kids to team race within fleet racing, "ooch just a little," throw the empty bailer over the shoulder....yes, there are parents at huge yacht clubs that are paying $30,000/yr to have their kids learn how to cheat. And they absolutely hate the kids who can win without cheating. Our kids were so happy to leave the Optis behind and move up into "adult" regattas. It'll be miserable if Lasers allow these kids to get away with cheating....PROTEST them because in Optis, their teammates would be false witnesses so they got away with it! Yes, it is taught and planned on the water!

Anonymous said...

$10,000 Optimists? Give me a break! You're about $6000 high on that one guys for the baddest boat on the Opti planet, and a really nice lightly used boat is about $2-2500 all in. Cheap? No, but what's a set of decent golf clubs cost now? Try pricing out a super duper Unobtanium tennis racquet for Junior... heck, I've seen $200 lacrosse sticks lately!

I've attended at least 20 Opti regattas in the past 2 years, from the 2009 Team Trials to Orange Bowl to regional regattas and I just haven't seen the kind of widespread cats and dogs living together nightmare that some seem to have themselves in a tizzy about. Are there a few nutties out there? Yup? And there are in any sport. "Little League Parents" ring a bell? Are the VAST majority of Opti families, teams and coaches doing a great job raising good, decent sailors? Absolutely.

Andrew said...

How about turning it around. Instead of a ban we could have a 'Mommy Boat Free' sail sticker for those of you/us who do it all by ourselves at regatta's.
Any graphic designers reading this?

Tillerman said...

Or even better we could have separate trophies. Nice expensive flashy ones for the REAL Sailors who sailed without Mommy Boats. And some silly plastic toy awards for the Mommy's boys and girls.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I feel knighted by Ari as a regular reader (one of the three) of this blog.

In my intellectual prosperity I can only say that I sometimes envy the kids for the exquisite catering they recieve inbetween races while I chew on the soggy sandwich that I made in a hurry that morning, one that has been pressed and warmed all morning in the big belly pouch of my spraytop. The SIs should make it mandatory to bring food for others too.

Apart from that: as long as they stay out of the way, I don't really mind.

Anonymous said...

Well. Seems Mr. Tillerman is also victim of this Helicopter Parent syndrome. How else could one explain that he needs to write about this "problem"? I mean doesn't he have anything real to worry about.

First, if we are talking about junior regattas, most of these support boats are there also for safety&rescue. The RC / organizers are not taking any responsibility, so how can any parent send their kids out there by themselves, without any guidance. I recon it would be outright illegal.

And, who cares about coaches giving information @ top mark? Hey, the kids will be by themselves after the 4 min gun, the pathetic piece of information will not help them a bit. Really. The "hater" for these coaches sounds to me more like just an another excuse for a bad loser. Go get a life, and learn to sail?

PS. I thought it was (and always has been) a standard prcedure to check wind around race are (by sailing), so whats the big deal?

Anonymous said...

Coaching is an important part of growing as a competitive sailor. The real issue here is when and how kids are being coached.

A great coach can give a racer the skillset to make the smart choices on the water themselves. A great coach can also give a racer an understanding of why things - good and bad - went the way they did.

Invasive coaching is the real problem here. It's less teaching and more instruction following

If a kid is told to "stay left" without knowing why, then how is that going to help him/her down the road.

Additionally, we need to keep in mind these are young kids and we want to keep them in the sport of sailing as life long sailors - something that isn't happening as much today.

It also needs to be fun and that means all the kids interacting together - sailing out to the course together, rafted up at lunchtime, occasional bailer fights.

Jr. Sailors are the building blocks of future, and hopefully, lifelong sailors. If we teach them that to be successful you need money or unfair advantage then that's what we'll be seeing 10years from now when they start showing up on Wednesday nights protesting you for not having your MOB Pole properly stowed.

Arie said...

In many respects coaches are not the problem but the parents & there expectations. Perhaps before a parent obtains a coach they should sign a agreement that they might damage there offspring for there own ego trip.

Having said this my own experience with coaches are more positive. A coach saved my life. In a Olympic classes regatta with average waves of 1.5 meters and wind 4 to 5 I managed before the wind to get sucked out the boat by a wave. So much for the all the patrol boats they were watching the Yingling teams. An Italian coach saw my crew trying to get the mast aft back by himself and picked me a brought me back to the boat.

After that I have more or less always worn my life vest.

I am aware where a squall went thru the race course and it was only because off the various coaches that were able to help a wide variety of young sailors in trouble. According to a Race Officer it was because of the coaches they were able to prevent a tragedy. As with everything there is a flip side some coaches went straight to there charges ignoring teams closer by in trouble.


Rolfe'd said...

As a junior sailor myself I am disgusted by these "mommy boats." When I went to the orange bowl regatta in miami, a group of kids would have 2-4 coaches, all on different parts of the course. The majority of these "mommies" would have signals (touch of the hat, nod of the head, etc.) to let their babies know which side of the course was favored, what the shifts were doing, all during the race.

Anonymous said...

In college I coached at clubs with the ridiculously wealthy. I will say that most of the families we dealt with were very well adjusted and several -certainly not all- turned out to be accomplished and even olympic sailors.
One of the "tactics" I observed was coaches who would turn their chase boats one direction or the other at the weather mark to "broadcast" to their "students" which tack to be on. These kids were 10 or 11 years old, we were on the course for safety. I didn't use the practice, but at some level, I had to give them credit for at least being somewhat creative, even though, from what I could tell, it was only marginally successful.

Alex said...

I once asked Andrew Kerr about this problem. And if memory serves, he responded that he felt that the coaches should quit as a breach in ethics, because once the boat is on the water, they are presumed preparing to race and there should be no contact, preporatory signal or no.

In my opinion, I think we should teach kids the RRS. If one person is receiving these last second instructions it seems to me that they should be protested by the other racers for breaking Rule 2.

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