Written By Willie McBride; www.mcbrideracing.com
In 2011, Tyler MacDonald asked me to sail the 29er Europeans with him in Switzerland, and I told him that I would be remiss to commit to a summer of sailing in Europe without putting in a full effort to prepare before hand. I was twenty years old, and I needed to make some money that summer; I just didn’t think it would be possible to work, train, go to Europe, and put a quality effort into any of the three. But then we started brainstorming. We called up our skiff sailing friends to see who would be available to train. We heard about new talent moving from optis to 29ers and we called them up to find out if they’d like to join in our training group. We organized coach boats and training venues, and then we set about organizing a summer training program in California to prepare for the Europeans in Switzerland. Throughout the summer we shared everything we knew with the upcoming group (guys like the Wiliford bros, Kai Frieseke, Dane Wilson, Jack Jorgensen, Adele Whitmyer, and many of the other top teams from recent years). We got Oliver Toole on the water to coach us. We swapped around in boats, sailing with the younger guys to get them to a point where they could push us, while simultaneously improving our own skills by forcing ourselves to take on more responsibility in the boats. Ultimately, we traveled to Switzerland, and finished top 5 at both the German Nationals and the European Championship (in which 160 boats competed that year). More importantly, we walked away from the summer with the basis for a training group that has grown and evolved ever since.
In 2013 Dane Wilson aged out of the youth circuit after competing in his second and final ISAF Youth World Championship, and I recruited him to begin passing on what he had learned to the next generation of skiff sailors. The learning curve as a coach is steep, but our athletes pick it up quickly using the same learning process that they have developed as athletes in the program. For the first few months, Dane primarily coached the younger group, but almost immediately we began sharing responsibilities with the whole group, and his perspective quickly became a huge asset for the whole squad.
A long term, elite level program requires the development of an ecosystem of sailors, parents, coaches, and administrators, that equips the next generation to take the program to ever greater heights. Todays Skiff Squad has become far more organized, regimented and sophisticated than the original model, in an effort to scale the program to teach more and more young sailors the skills that will help them to be successful in sailing and in life, but it is still based on the original core concepts at every level. In recruiting the next generation of coaches and organizers, my job was to scout the up and coming talent who could learn and grow into roles as great technical coaches, communicators, and organizers, and I am extremely optimistic about the future of the program in their hands!
I am now working full time with the US Sailing ODP program to help with big picture development of groups like the Skiff Squad around the country while simultaneously helping to build the next step in the pathway – the Olympic program – that Skiff Squad coaches and athletes will someday take to get to the next level of the sport.