daddy issues

Kevin Hall talks coaching and kids.

It’s blowing a solid 25-30 kts from the East. The surf isn’t bad on the lee shore where I stand- the beach is protected by a volcano which reduces the fetch to Narrow Neck to only about 2 miles. There are 6 or 7 Optis out sailing. They launched from the Wakatere Boating Club, on the North Shore of Auckland, New Zealand. One small coach boat accompanies them. They all look pretty comfortable. My guess is they all want to be out there.

The previous Sunday, it was blowing only about 6 knots, and there were maybe 50 Optis out which had launched at 9am. They were split into two groups, one group sailed back and forth around two buoys, the other sailed a course with a little upwind involved. Our oldest son was among them. These kids didn’t have the experience and skills of the bigger, older kids who were out in 30 knots, but they might one day… if they continued to ask to go sailing over all the other things competing for their attention and time. They probably had the most fun when it was time to try walking around the mast. Lots of splashes, lots of giggles.

There aren’t many ways for kids to go out and about in this world which don’t have some kind of path pre-defined for them, whether it’s a sidewalk for their bikes, or a hiking trail, a basketball court or a pool lane. Things are generally pretty laid out for them at school. Piano lessons, the same.

Skiing and snowboarding occupy a bit of a middle ground, since once you choose your chairlift, you can go just about wherever you like to find your way back to the bottom. I’m sure there are a few kids who get into back country stuff early and have even more wide-open experiences. Not many of us are on the hill all the time, much less backcountry. I haven’t been for years. Gotta fix that.

I think one of the reasons high performance boats are so important for kids to get into as soon as- reasonably & somewhat safely- possible, is otherwise they are at risk of feeling like they aren’t going much of anywhere. If the challenge of staying upright diminishes quickly with just a little experience, and the ability to catch a wave or stay on a plane only comes when it is blowing really hard (so the days actually doing it are very limited), it’s just not that exciting to go sailing. The sense of progress can be very subtle in slow boats which stay upright at the dock by themselves.

I will now place myself firmly in the fuddy-duddy camp when I say that guys basejumping in wingsuits on YouTube did not compete for my attention when I was a kid sailing. I believe it really was different back then. I can also say the only time 15-year old skaters have come to speak to me rigging up on Takapuna was when it was a moth. To them, it passed some kind of street cred test and was worth checking out, even if the guy rigging it had a bit of a gut and a receding hair line.

For the few kids who already know they want to do whatever it takes to win sailboat races, this speed and cool stuff doesn’t matter too much. Their focus on competition and its requirements will be enough. The proven path to success will probably be the one they look to master. It may or may not currently involve fast boats where they sail.

For the rest of the kids, the ones not wanting to dedicate their afternoons to being on that path, I believe the best way for them to want to continue sailing– but also to one day become successful at racing- is to have as much time on the water as possible not knowing exactly what is going to happen next. The windier it is, or the faster the boat, or the less structured the plan, the more that will be true.

One of the hardest things in coaching and parenting is definitely just watching. It can start on the beach. Which is better – rigging your kid’s boat for him, or letting him slowly but surely come to appreciate that thoughtful choices and movements can make things much easier? (Tip : don’t use words like “in the long run”!)

If you need to make it onto the water to make the first drill on time, sure- help out. Before I could step my mast myself, it took me a long time to figure out that if I put my sabot in the water, capsized it, pulled it against the dock with the stern tied just right and the daggerboard in to keep the front at dock level, I could then slide my mast in sideways. I would then right the boat, bail it out, and voila! I had put my mast up myself. The “loss of time” was far outweighed by the thrill of problem-solving, and more importantly, the sense of accomplishment and self-sufficiency that comes with eventual success.

Come to think of it, parenting doesn’t have any good lines painted on the road either. I very often wish it did. I hope in my efforts to give my kids a chance at the world, I occasionally find ways to remember that doing so includes watching them struggle, on their own, while everyone around them might be getting a gold star for advancing to the next level.

Our monthly feature from Kevin Hall is brought to you by Mauri Pro Sailing