Every week we write about technical, tactical or occasionally political matters of interest. This week we thought we’d share some philosophies and beliefs, and real action of Toplevel Sailing…
In 2012 we looked at the Olympic Games in Weymouth, and realised that the gulf in non-funding resources between the established successful nations and the “Emerging Nations” was so huge that unless something was done about it, it would remain impossible to cross. On this basis we founded a business called the World Sailing Academy, whose goal it was to try to support the “Emerging Nations” across the bridge to compete on a far more level playing field with the established nations.
For many years there have been theories around that putting large groups of sailors together and letting them train together will produce peer group competition and out of the top will pop a champion. Over around 30 years this concept has never once proven true. We have seen Chinese windsurfers make a huge impact through training hard, with easy access to good technical information. We have seen a single Hong Kong Gold in Savannah – someone who was coached by a genius Dutchman called Renee Apl, and never competed in the large training groups that were advocated – Renee just spotted the talent. We have seen a Chinese Laser Radial Gold, brought about by early adoption of coaching and not group training but elite training methods – most of the time Lilly (who won the gold) had five coaches with her. Singapore employed a team of 8 Australians, and were looking strong until things went wrong and the team was fired. That marked a hiccup in Singapore performances. So we can take lots of examples and say whatever they were doing it wasn’t working fully.
At this point we make one supposition that must be reliable. Asian and African people will have every bit as much talent and ability per head of population as the Western nations do. That’s natural and a solid base to work from. Often they have far bigger and better work ethics – they have the resources, a better climate (usually) for sailing, and often equal or better resources. That’s the positive build summarised.
Now we come to the crunch. The very term “Emerging Nations” suggests some kind of long term project with a junior partner. It is, in our opinion, a totally flawed phrase which prejudices matters at all levels, at every stage along the way. Why should any nation bear this somewhat derogatory junior title?
The only thing that “Emerging Nations” lack is coaching expertise and a “knowledge bank”. Now ISAF/WS have encouraged the culture of fly in coaches, where eminent (and not so eminent!!) coaches are often hired to work with the best sailors. To an extent we have seen this work well, but never followed through. There are many theories about why this happens, but essentially when the coach flies out, they take their knowledge with them. This happens time and again, on a repeated basis over the past few decades. Whilst WS is strongly of the opinion that coaches aren’t to be so influential, we have news: In every sport, coaches have become an integral and key part of performance management. It is regressive and unreal to think otherwise. A talented sailor with a poor coach will never reach their potential, yet an average sailor with a great coach and great work ethic will prove to surpass their potential. We’ve seen it happen many times, so maybe we should all take notice of evidence rather than continue to theorise.
As an interesting point to some, during our second year of operation, ISAF became World Sailing. We already had the name, but they “stole” it!! We decided not to take any action, but in the succeeding few months we were told that as we were part of World Sailing that it was difficult to believe that we were selling anything new – at which point we changed our name to Toplevel Sailing!
As an extension of the observations that we made regarding sailing talent, one of our main concerns was to try to educate coaches wherever we work. Whilst much of our work is subject to confidential clauses in contracts, we continue to run coach courses worldwide with very positive feedback, both in established sailing nations and new nations to the sport. Whilst we respect the necessity of basic coaching education, one of our key contributions is to define a coach’s role and to be very prescriptive within the basic job. Not many federations can successfully describe the role of a coach, or the job specifics. There’s an inclination to say “just make them better”. As soon as this happens, accountability and responsibility become ill defined. More to the point, the management within a federation, or club, or any organisation employing coaches loses some control of their own performance business. So we reverse this trend by preaching the need for continuity, building trust as a team, and accountability which is measured by our own unique system. It works – its proven, and we’re always looking for that key client federation and club who has the real commitment to carry this through. Yes, our coaching courses are 50% conventional, and 50% evolutionary, and the principles are both proven and effective. If you are a member of a federation or club who wishes to know more, please PM us. Loyalty and subscribing to team ethics, culture and practise is as important in sailing as in any other team sport, and produces results, which is why it is important at whatever stage for every nation or organisation to have their own coaching heroes.
Building the knowledge bank is another systematic approach that we encourage. Again, Toplevel Sailing have their own system which can be adapted for local or national needs. The big goal here is to create a legacy of building a base that gives advantages to successive generations of sailors. By building this knowledge bank of all classes and locations, the small details are soon magnified into big advantages and results will improve, which is usually a primary goal of any organisation.
We are indeed Performance Consultants, with expertise across the entire range of activities from President support to club sailing. These activities are conducted on a bespoke basis, where each individual report and following recommendations is treated entirely on a strength and weakness basis, with action plans available and continued engagement or simply web support, dependent on the client requirements.
Finally we come to Toplevel Coaching. This is our lifeblood – our vocation and what we love to do. Having coached many World, Continental and even Olympic medallists, we thrive in this field. The concerns that we have are to introduce our proven methods to sailors, and then to encourage a national approach to them – effectively success is defined by working ourselves out of a job! However, no matter what success, we will always support both sailors and federations/organisations until they have reached their goals – then hopefully support them more to reach bigger goals! Our coaching methods are popular. THere are some fine coaches in the world, but we claim as much success as any, and always bring fun to the process. Our secret lies within a philosophy of creating a “playground” where we have sufficient golden rules (boundaries) to form the playground, and sufficient latitude for the sailors to develop and show their individual talents. We have proved that our systems work, minimising risk of failure, and encouraging hunger for success. If you wish for more detail then please contact us and we would be delighted to talk, whether it is for squad or individual coaching.
Having described Toplevel Sailing activities, we hope that you are more enlightened about our missions, philosophies, progress and methods of operation. We are focussed on success, and success is built on knowledge and fun.