Campaign 101 Part 4: Your Coach

This is the fourth part of a six-part series written by Dave Dellenbaugh. It is the backbone of what we do here at Clever Pig. You might want to start at the beginning with Part 1: Getting Started. If you just can’t wait for all six parts, you may download the entire series as a PDF.

Choosing a Coach

coach1There are many factors to consider when you are thinking about hiring a sailing coach. Perhaps the most basic is whether you need a coach at all. The primary downside of hiring a coach is the expense. Coaching fees average between $300 and $500 per day and that doesn’t include the coach’s travel, food and lodging. Then there is the coach boat charter fee and gas! In an Olympic sailing campaign budget, coaching expenses may be as much as 30% to 40% of total expenses!

But if you can afford it, using a coach may be your best ticket to climbing up the performance ladder. There is nothing quite as valuable as having an experienced person watching your every move and helping you daily with tactics, strategy, boatspeed, sports psychology, preparation and so on. A coach can take photos and video and watch what all your competitors are doing. They can tow you to and from the race course, bring out your extra gear and food, keep track of regatta points, make sure your head is in the game, take notes and organize a daily training plan and debrief.

Almost every Olympic campaigner has a coach, and the same goes for many of the top-level junior and youth sailors. You hardly ever see a soccer or baseball team without a coach, and sailors are now starting to see the value of coaching in their sport, too. Once you realize the potential gains you can make from having a coach, there are two main questions you must answer: 1) How can you get the best coach for your particular situation? and 2) How can you keep coaching costs at a reasonable level?

Finding a coach

The ideal coach is not necessarily the most popular one, nor the one who is perceived as the biggest expert. You want a coach who communicates well and understands you. This person must be able to comfort you as well as push you in the direction you are trying to go. A “bad” coach is often worse than having no coach at all, so be prepared to invest some time in finding the right person.

Before committing to a coach for an extended period, try out a few coaches. Look for someone who has experience with your class, age and gender. Recommendations and word of mouth are often the best way to connect with new coaches, so talk with other sailors, parents and coaches about what you are looking for.

When you hire a coach, set aside some regular time to evaluate how things are going. This could be as simple as spending 20 minutes every week to tell the coach what you like or don’t like about their approach. This will go a long way toward building your relationship and getting as much as possible from your coach.

Coaching Costs 

As described above, the costs of having a sailing coach can be high. This may not be a problem for the top campaigns with successful fundraising, but it is a limiting factor for most everyone else. Here are some things you can do to keep costs under control:

  • Share a coach – Get together with one or two or three other boats and share the coach (and the coach’s expenses). This will cut your costs greatly, but it also means you will get proportionately less attention from the coach.
  • Prioritize coaching days – Instead of using a coach for every day of training and racing, hire them only on the days when they will help you the most.
  • Bulk discount – If you are going to use the same coach for an extended period, sometimes you can negotiate a reduction in their daily fee.
  • Use a lower-priced coach – Less-experienced coaches, who are often younger and more enthusiastic, often provide the best value in coaching (because they charge less when they are starting). These coaches may work well for junior and youth sailors.