game change?

A commentary we don’t often see on US Sailing…

National and International Sailing authorities typically make easy targets and Sailing Anarchy, as well as my own personal opinions have targeted US Sailing often enough in past years for its failings and shortcomings. Typically the authority takes all the blame for poor organization and performance while success is attributed to the athletes themselves. I wanted to contact SA in light of an experience I had at the ISAF World Cup over the past two weeks (formerly Rolex Miami OCR).

My crew and best friend Eric and I began sailing the 49er last year. With little time on our hands and even less money we didn’t manage to acquire the most recent 49er equipment until just before the ISAF World Cup Miami. The idea of hiring a coach was simply out of the question and we left for Miami on Jan 16th content to spend the next three weeks training like crazy and learning from the typically very helpful sailors in the 9er fleet. With only one regatta under our belt it would be a serious challenge especially having never sailed with the new style rig or sails.

As we were leaving for Miami I received a group email from US Sailing’s new head coach Charlie McKee. We were informed that ALL US crews attending the Miami ISAF World Cup would be receiving complementary coaching. This made sense to Eric and I as we assumed that everyone else attending the event would be competing for spots on the US Development team. We did not expect that the team would be paying much attention to us as we would spending most of our time trying to keep the stick up and the foils down and certainly not hanging with the pack. Boy were we wrong.

Charlie assigned long time US Coach Luther Carpenter to work with the US skiff teams. Charlie was joined shortly before the event began by Trevor Moore recently of the US Sailing Team and an Olympian in the 49er. Over the course of 4 practice days and 5 days of sailing at the event Eric and I received daily attention and coaching from Trevor and Luther, and several times, Charlie himself came out to the course to deal out tips and advise. The coaches were low key and easy to work with. They took the time to learn our names and actually watch us sailing regardless of how poorly we were acquitting ourselves of the event. Over the 8 days of practice and sailing, that Eric and I were able to attend, their help and assistance easily helped us to make strides towards competitiveness  By the end of the event we were consistently mixing it up with the main body of the fleet (an accomplishment considering the age of our boat and our lack of time in the boat).

In the wake of the US National Team’s poor performance at the London Olympics, it is truly fantastic to see a group of experienced coaches and enthusiastic sailors not pointing fingers or naming blame, but getting to work and making changes. Charlie McKee has made it clear that he believes that long term Olympic success for the USA is not just about the next 4 years and is certainly not just about one crew. His commitment to building a true base of sailors in the Olympic classes was on show this past week in Miami. It can also be seen in key programs that US Sailing is already beginning such as the new High Performance Training Center at Oak Cliff announced a few weeks ago. My crew and I left this event feeling included and excited to continue our own training and racing. While the USNT may not be made of gold, simple gestures like offering coaching to all attending US athletes helps to build an atmosphere of friendly collaboration among US sailors and builds larger training groups for each class rather than the small elite group of the past. In a world where it is often easy to point fingers at our national authorities, it is a pleasure to see US Sailing taking a leading role in the conversation and working to build a team that all American sailors can be proud of. – Campbell Woods.