UKLA Training Officer's report

Training Officers report 2016

The 1st of June is probably a date on many people’s minds for that is the deadline for countries to decide if they will be sending an Olympic representative or not. For some, years of hard work, and they will have spent the last few weeks agonising over whether they will be selected, or even if they are the top performer if their country will allow them to go (just because a country has a place, doesn’t mean that they will take it!)

The UK is arguably the top sailing Nation and this is a situation we are hardly ever in. Indeed in every class we are in the hunt for the medals and perhaps especially the Laser where at the time of writing we have the current 2 World Champions. This must surely be an historic event, and from memory has been achieved only once before by the Dutch in 2014. So it goes without saying I wish Nick the best of luck in Mexico, hoping he can repeat Ali’s success, but no doubt the result will be old news by the time Gybe hits your doormat.

Please remember this was not always the case. Indeed, Helena Lucas who won Gold (in the 2.4 class) in Weymouth previously qualified to go the Olympics in a 470 but was not sent. Now we have a huge successful Team GB it is almost unthinkable for us not to feed a full team of sailors… the difficulty of course is who to choose when there is little to choose between sailors.

Imagine the situation in New Zealand where two best friends have tried and raced and trained together for 8 years in Lasers, separated by a hair in performance, and whose sisters have already been selected to go, sailing in the 49er FX. I am glad to be a coach and not a selector, as I have the much simpler job of just making the sailors better.

Of course I am biased when I say how well Ali Young sailed in Mexico. Indeed, my focus on the last race of the event was very much on her and Paige’s position. For me she was a worthy and popular winner and I could see her dedication to fitness from 400 metres, probably the fittest girl in the fleet at the moment. It would be extremely remiss of me not to mention Hugh Styles who has done an amazing job, and people often underestimate what a key role the coach can play.

At the Worlds this was the noticeable difference: nearly every sailor had a coach, indeed at some events I have seen sailors have two… as opposed to the lower level and it always seems a bit chicken and egg (of course historians will point put they believe some dinosaurs had eggs and they came well before chickens) but you know what I mean. In other words the top sailors have good coaching, whilst the lower level sailors tend not to… so it would be easy to hypothesise that one of most important ways to get good is by having coaching (as well of course the fitness of Ali or Nick!)

The problem is a long term plan, of slow improvement, months and years to get to where the top sailors are. It takes commitment and perseverance. We all have our setbacks and it seems unfair that in 2 weeks it is possible to lose 2 months of fitness gains but that is the same for everyone. Some sailors will have to wait many cycles to get to the Olympics.

It is only fair for me to offer my congratulations to Andrea Brewster and Charlotte Dobson who have both been selected to go to the games in the 49erFX. Both of them did the UKLA circuit and qualifiers without count for many, many years. Finally, after years of effort they will get their moment in Rio, and again I will watch their progress with huge interest.

The thing to remember is, everyone had to start somewhere and every single thing you do (or don’t do) has an effect. I hope after this Olympics, just like in 2012 we will have a resurgence of interest in sport. Especially sailing. It will be strange not to do the Nationals this year, especially since it is in my home town of Weymouth, but I hope the time difference will allow people to follow the racing.

Now this magazine will of course have arrived in peak summer time when there is a huge number of events going on. Indeed, Castle Cove Sailing Club where I currently sail will have racing 3 or 4 times a week, something which I think is true of many clubs. So now we should make the best of the British weather (which my foreign sailors complain about continuously) and get those boats on the water.

It is always very sad to see how many covers go green with mould with no one giving them any love. I am sure the boats which don’t go on the water must be extremely jealous of all those which do. So I ask you, not only to try and increase your own sailing (especially as the days are now finally getting longer and warmer – snow in April who would have thought!) but to encourage others to go afloat.

For me, racing a big fleet is always more fun and in today’s electronic world it is far easier than ever to hassle people to get their boats on the water. Just an email with all the Laser sailors in can make a huge difference to participation. After all people can get so busy with work and school that they don’t realise it is blowing 14 knots or that if you really hurry you can still make that Wednesday evening race of the day if the wind stays for the full 60 minutes.

For those of you looking to take the next step I think the UK has a wonderful Grand Prix circuit which provides the perfect step up from club racing. You don’t need to be World class and you can be home for dinner after racing. (Many venues will give you a free tea afterwards as well!)

If you want to attend international events or just get good enough to go, there is the Qualifier series and I would strongly recommend any aspirational sailors to put these dates firmly in their diaries. I intend to be at 1 or 2 of them depending upon the exact logistics for the Masters’ Europeans, so if you want help setting up your club winter training I am always happy to talk face to face.

Talking about the Masters’ sailing, the circuit continues to go from strength to strength and it is my hope we can keep twisting Rupert’s arm hard enough that he doesn’t try and escape for at least a few more years. I’ve even be given permission by my sailor to do the Masters’ Nationals, although there is always a threat of a quick flight back to China hanging over my head!

Finally, we need to think about getting on a ferry and it’s not that scary. I wonder if it is the ferries that have led to such a low turnout for the Radial Open Worlds…. 1 ferry to England being scary but having to catch 2 (to get to Ireland) being just too much for people? On the continent there are a huge number of events, with some having greater entries than our Nationals and the Europa cup series always proving a good breeding ground for future Champions. Although very few Brits have attended in recent years, numbers are again growing and it is always great to see some GBR names at the top of any results table.

At the time of writing the future of the World Cup is under discussion. The World Cup Final in Abu Dhabi has been cancelled (maybe because once again they were going to try and block the Israelis entering) and the same seems to have happened with the Youth Worlds in Oman (again one would guess for similar reasons after what happened in 2015)… so we will be heading down under to Australia and New Zealand respectively, both incredibly strong sailing Nations and worthy hosts. I just hope there is a top sailor who wants my support at one of these events!!!

In the recent Masters’ Worlds those from down under (AUS and NZL) dominated, and I think part of this is because they had just finished their sailing season and were really peaked so I think a late World Cup Final and Youth Worlds should suit the Northern hemisphere sailors extremely well and hopefully by then people will have had a good rest from the Olympics and will be keen to get on the water again.

So, finally thinking ahead, for anyone with aspirations, whatever form the World Cup takes (my guess sensibly it would start in 2017 with Miami but I could well be wrong) that 2017 will be an ‘easy’ year. Well, as easy as it ever gets in Lasers/Radials over the 4 year period and an excellent opportunity for all those up and coming sailors where the old hands take a break or scale back the programme a little bit or even retire (although I always take any talk of retirement with a pinch of salt because I think for some it is easier said than done).

This is therefore your year: 2016 to get the hiking miles (and probably the cycling miles too) under your belt, to give you the best chance to spring into attack. The venue in Japan is already ready (indeed it already hosts major championships) and who knows who will be there.

Work hard and have fun. When walking around Mexico I saw someone wearing a T shirt which said cheat the nursing home and die in a Laser. Well someone came very close. Peter came ashore and felt he had run out of energy and couldn’t pull his boat out of the water. So he sat down to rest and commented that he had pins and needles down his left arm…

The cry went out sailor down, sailor down and his pulse was taken. It turns out that he was having a heart attack and indeed died………………. for 3 ½ minutes. Having died and been reborn in Mexico there he is now called Pedro, you will see pictures on the internet if you search.

My admiration for the older master sailors has no bounds. The 75+ category was perhaps the most fiercely fought with the eventual runner up going into the final day winning on tie breaker before he and the eventual winner scored 1,2 in the final two races and they are already looking forward to the battle next year. An inspiration for us all.

So whatever your age, fitness, get out on the water and enjoy!

Training Officers report 2015

You get only one body, so look after it. Never has a truer word been said! We all want to train as hard as we can but we have pain and fatigue for a reason: it is our body’s way of telling us to stop doing what we are doing or we will damage ourselves, and ultimately we will be forced to take even more time off, or sadly if we damage ourselves too badly we may never be able to do what we used to do again. (Some people may be forced to quit sailing due to knee or back injuries for example).

People are quick to learn not to touch something hot as the burning pain means we don't dare hold on for long. Yet when our body is giving us much more subtle signals like we are hungry, thirsty or tired then we may choose to ignore it, or worse still when our body is sending us pain signals it is telling us to stop doing what we are doing immediately or we will damage ourselves. Whilst our body has some self defence mechanisms like making us throw up if we ingest too much poison (like alcohol) it is hard to stop us harming ourselves, and at the time all the adrenaline may stop us noticing how much our back or neck hurts during a race.

You need to read these signals carefully: there are warning signals which tell us we are overtraining and just need rest, and there are acute signals that alert us that there is a specific action we need to stop doing. Normally a stabbing pain! This is nothing like the wonderful delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) which you should get approximately 24 hours after a good weight session, to let you know you did a good job (no DOMs, you didn't train hard enough.... DOMs peaking after more than 24 hours tell you you did too much!) All these signals give you an accurate understanding of your body if you choose to listen to them. I often think it is like a piece of rope: there will be a huge amount of fraying before the rope fails (and you have plenty of time to replace it or in the case of your body stop the problem) but yet somehow some people will choose to ignore things until they have no choice but to stop (like using a credit card until it has no cash on it and is finally withdrawn for a few weeks - or maybe even permanently if you were badly overspending).

Our bodies are truly wonderful:  you ask a 50 horse power engine to do the work of a 55 horse power engine and sooner or later it will break, and it will definitely have a reduced working life. If you ask a human body to do more work, 10% more work, it will adapt, with good training, good diet and good rest (I often think of this as the fitness triangle because if you completely remove one part then it is impossible to make progress) and become a 10% stronger human body. Unfortunately sometimes on the journey we may have injuries... again it is just part of being human.

You just need to give yourself time to recover and be extra careful when you first return to exercise. With post injury it needs to be a little at a time and you will get back to where you were, perhaps even better, but you need to do it slowly, so as to avoid any chance of re-injury (the same is also true of illness, you should gradually get back into your normal routine after you have been very unwell).

The reason I love coaching is because I love helping people and nothing upsets me more than seeing people injure themselves. I have probably had over my fair share of injuries and therefore I really know how frustrating it can be, but this always made me really more determined to help people avoid potential injuries. You can never change what has happened in the past but you can learn from it.

I often think that every cloud has a silver lining and I am a huge believer in making the best of a bad situation. I have always kept myself extremely busy, trying to cram as many days as I can on the water even when I was at University, and there is only such much time. We are all busy people whether in education or full time work; I do not know anyone who complains of having too much time. So we have to make the most of the time that we have.

The fact that we have limited time means that often things which are not seen as urgent get left undone. The worst injury of my sailing career and one I hope every sailor can avoid was when I "slipped" several discs in my neck. The word "slipped" to me seems all wrong as it implies it slipped out and can be slipped back in, just like a dislocated shoulder can be put in place... this is not true for discs.

Sailors must, must, must look after their backs (read the first sentence of the article again). An easier way to think about a disc is a small orange, if you stamp on it, it squashes and the contents get pushed out. No way will it ever be an orange again and as the inside of the fruit bursts out it presses on the nerves and these are what gives you feeling and tells your limbs etc what to do. So I sailed for quite a long time with numbness and weakness (but thankfully no loss of movement) down my left hand side (even now I still have no feeling in a couple of my fingers but it could be worse)... In fact if you are feeling really brave and stare deeply into my eyes you will notice the left pupil is larger than the right, just like a baddy from a James Bond film... all because I didn't look after my discs when I was younger, but I learned my lesson and I have been able to help others.

It was because of this I elected to have surgery, to remove the discs and to have the lower half of my neck fused together with titanium. As you can imagine this is major surgery and promptly put an end to my Olympic campaign at the time. The recovery time was huge, over six months, and immediately post surgery I wasn't allowed to do anything, lift anything. I wasn't even allowed to lift my laptop onto my lap (I have always favoured a 17" screen which I know now are pretty much out of fashion as everybody else seems to buy smaller and lighter machines). Indeed if the cat came and sat on me, I had to shout for my Mum to lift it off as I wasn't allowed to lift it! So if this experience is not a good reason to look after your spine, I don't know what is!

Every cloud has a silver lining though and with such a massive amount of free time I finally wrote my first book: Be Your Own Sailing Coach. Something I should have done years before but always put off, preferring to do "actual" coaching rather than write about it. Perhaps I should have learned to turn down more work and sooner (to give myself more rest) but anyone who knows me well, knows I always struggle to say "no" whatever the question. So writing Be Your Own Sailing Coach came easy in a way, all the diagrams are those I must have done hundreds of times on white boards all around the world - indeed some may still be there if I mistakenly picked up a permanent marker. The difficult thing was to put it in a good order and know what to leave out.

Being injured is an incredibly frustrating experience and it made me even more determined to make the most of my time when I was finally allowed to get back into sailing. To make the most of every minute on the water you need to analyse carefully your strengths and weaknesses to ensure you really spend your time in the most productive way. It is like going on a car journey: to have a good efficient trip you need to set the sat nav or look at a map rather than simply get in your car and start driving. During the writing of the book I was also lucky to have many talented friends (Paul Goodison: Olympic Champion Laser, Simon Hiscocks: Double Olympic medallist 49er and Joe Glanfield: Double Olympic medallist 470) who also contributed, sharing their key ideas on important topics. Even the professional sailors will have some time training without a coach, and it is crucial to make the most of this time.

The other thing I learned from this injury was to do Pilates (core exercises) and it has been a regular part of the coaching I have done with all my sailors, ever since. There was no way I ever wanted to risk this sort of injury again for me or my sailor. Indeed Lijia Xu’s core stomach muscles were so weak when I first started working with her that the Chinese doctors had her wearing two belts to support her back and she was finding it hard to complete any regattas. After she first injured her back they gave her one belt, which over time weakened the muscles (as they were not working) so she had to wear a second belt. In fact I think if she hadn't have started a proper exercise programme she would have been wearing three belts at the Olympics and would undoubtedly have several back problems for the rest of her life. As it is she worked extremely hard and was pain (and belt free) by the Olympics and which not only gave her the result she wanted but led to a much healthier life (with no surgery). Simply because she solved the problem rather than simply treating the symptoms. It occurred to me later that without the issues I faced as a sailor I wouldn't have been able to help so much as a coach and I am sure this is now why I am so concerned that all sailors take care of themselves (as no one likes going under the knife!)

It is not only backs you need to take care of. Knees and shoulders are also common injuries for sailors and it was after more surgery (this time on my shoulder) that I had the time I needed to update Be Your Own Sailing Coach which is now released under a different title: Coach Yourself to Win (as part of the Sail to Win series published by Fernhurst). This gave me time to reflect on (and hopefully improve) on the initial book as well as to give it a little trim. [Actually Be Your Own Tactics coach was written during different injury but that is another story... but if anyone asks me if I want to write any more books my gut reaction is no thank you!]

As a coach I am always seeking to improve, and I hope the book is an improvement too. As always I am open to (constructive) criticism as my sole goal is to help those people who are without a full time coach (and therefore, as according to the initial book need to be their own sailing coach, although I am the first to point out we are so lucky to have such great coaches currently working for the UKLA).

Training Officer's report 2014

I am writing this piece after just returning from the south of France, sunny Hyeres to be precise, where I was lucky enough to be part of what I believe was the largest Laser World championship in history... the Masters Worlds had over 500 sailors taking part and it was a great opportunity for me to get out on the water in my Laser again after a busy summer. Hyeres has always been one of my second homes. Having probably spent around three weeks there every year since the early 1990s I guess I have lived there for over a year of my life!

Before this I was coaching in equally sunny Santander for the 2014 ISAF Worlds, again another second home having actually lived at the Sailing club for one summer back in the days when I was racing 49ers and the top teams at the time were from Spain. The ISAF Worlds happen only once every four years and is the biggest Olympic event of the four year period (unlike for example the test event which is just one sailor per nation). This regatta is used to select the majority of the Nations who will be competing in Rio in under two years time, so everybody is there!

After spending several weeks in a RIB in just shorts and T shirts made it hard even a couple of days ago to think about, let alone write about, winter training but on flying home I got stuck on the World's largest car park in the pouring rain, desperate to get back to Weymouth.  I finally had to admit that winter must be on its way and will no doubt have definitely arrived by the time Gybe magazine lands on your doorstep (but perhaps by then I might be in Israel???)

Now that Lijia Xu has retired, my current job is working for the Israeli federation where I run the international Olympic programme for two girls: Oren Jacob and Danielle Maman (I also have several other jobs like coaching the coaches how to coach! plus working with the Youth and Standard rig sailors in Israel) We had a great year which finished with Santander:  200 days of coaching just flew by.

Although we missed Olympic qualification by just one place (and two points) on the face of this you would expect this to be a huge disappointment but actually I am delighted with how far we have come and see this setback as motivation for the future. When I coached (eventual Olympic Gold medallist) Lijia Xu I am sure one of the key things which helped her success was having just missed out on winning the World Championships in 2012. You often learn more from your failures than your success and it is how you handle life’s ups and down which determines the true Champions.

So our key aim next year is to qualify for the games before we spend some serious time at the Olympic venue (maybe all of August and most of December). This means optimising our performance for Europe as our next chance to qualify will be the European Championships in Denmark next year. It will be tough as Germany (the current European Champion) didn't qualify in Santander either but we are looking forward to the challenge.

When they initially asked me why anyone would sail in the British winter I did find it hard to answer for a moment, especially when I know the conditions they will have in Israel at the same time of year, but actually there are several answers. (Israel is certainly considerably hotter than the UK all year round).

The first is that actually we have very good winds in the UK over the winter with it far less likely for us to lose days sailing because of too much, not too little wind. Brits have traditionally done well in strong winds, as was demonstrated at the Masters Worlds where half the titles went to British sailors and this is one of the weaknesses of the Israeli girls.

The second is that a large break from sailing can make it very hard to get back up to speed for the new season (nothing wrong with a little break - life is all about balance). There are also some really big multi-class events such as the sail juice series ( which can be really good fun and well worth doing.

I understand the desire to disappear somewhere warm to train for the winter but it does need to be specific training (so many of the Olympic sailors will be hitting Rio for the final time pre-Christmas). Indeed after my Israeli girls complained how long it took them to get used to the British Weather (we only started sailing a couple of days before the first Qualifier) I suggested they should come to the UK even earlier in 2015 to experience a proper British winter.

Next year the season will start earlier than usual, February in fact (even if only by a day), so we will start training almost a month earlier in 2015 than we did in 2014. The qualification needs to be completed before the Princess Sofia regatta (in Palma) which is itself a qualifier for the first European World Cup in Hyeres.  The second European World Cup will be Sail for Gold in Weymouth, but again sailors will need to qualify at the Delta Lloyd regatta in Holland unless they are ranked one of the top sailors in the World. We also have to take in the fact that the Standard World Championships is in Kingston, Canada, the first week in July, so the sooner people know they’re in the team (and can try and book the cheap flights and good accommodation)the better.

So if we consider that our female sailors have their Worlds at the end of November (in Oman) then we have an extremely long competitive year in front of us. So now, over the winter is the time to work on our weaknesses, recover from any injuries and perhaps top up on our fitness for those who allowed it to slip a little bit over the Christmas period (of course I'm not talking to YOU but I am sure you know someone who may occasionally have a few too many sherries and mince pies).

Wishing you a very Happy Christmas,


Training Officer's report 2013.

I am writing this report after a very windy training day at Chew Valley Lake. It was great to get on the water! Actually it seems that the last few weeks we have had some extremely windy weather and since the clocks changed the winter weather seems to have set in.

Actually it is good news next year with the last domestic event of the year (the Inlands which is always a great way to end the season) being on the final weekend o f October.  This is good for three reasons: 1) We all get an extra hour’s sleep that weekend, 2) There will be much more daylight available on the Saturday for racing, 3) we can all be home for fire works night!

Well by the time this magazine hits your doormat it will be December, so winter will definitely be upon us. I have actually agreed to coach in Scotland the weekend before Christmas (21/22). At the time I was worried that the days would be very short making it harder to get lots of time on the water. Now I am worried that it might be snowing!!!

Training in strong winds brings about its own set of challenges. I can see from the sailors that they had a tiring but enjoyable day. The cold itself (just like extreme heat) can be tiring and it is important to make sure you drink enough - something people often forget to do whilst it is cold.

Although today saw a few swims it was great to see so much improvement in the sailors. Sailing over the winter is absolutely vital. Not only is it an opportunity to improve but if you don't, your sailing and your sailing specific fitness is likely to go backwards. It is interesting to see that recently lots of British boats have been packed off to Rio for the winter but actually we have some great events in the UK, so why not get involved?

Please do continue to ask about club training days. The earlier these are organised the better the coach I may be able to find you as the more experienced UKLA coaches tend to be in extremely high demand.

So bearing in mind when you are going to receive this I would like to wish you a merry Christmas and I look forward to chatting to many of you at the Dinghy Show!