Coaching the coaches 

Coaching more features

“My coach inspired me most within my sailing. He’s coached me since I was 17…  As my sailing’s improved, his coaching has improved and he’s definitely a good coach and someone to trust and rely on when the pressure’s on.”

The sentiments of double Olympic medallist and two-time RS:X windsurfing World Champion Nick Dempsey are shared by elite athletes around the world.  

In any professional sport, behind every elite performer, is an elite coach aiming to provide the right guidance and the right input at just the right time.  

But in such a diverse and multi-faceted sport as sailing, who provides guidance to British Sailing’s coaches to ensure they are providing World Class support and steering Britain’s sailing talents in the right direction?

The RYA’s Coaching Development Manager David Mellor is the man tasked with ensuring the British Sailing Team coaches are keeping pace with developments both in the sport and in the wider coaching sphere, helping them understand how to address their sailors’ individual needs in a bid to realise their potential.

“It’s the coach’s role to work with the sailors and the wider support team to put a programme in place that maximises the individual sailor’s medal-winning chances,” Mellor explains.

“Currently we have a number of approaches to our coach education programme which supports this, for example courses, qualifications, conferences, group workshops, expert advisors, individual projects and so on. 

“We do this so that the coaches have exposure to different learning environments.”


“It’s a long list of qualities that go into making a coach World Class, but put simply it is the ability to help the sailor to consistently go in the right direction as fast as possible that wins regattas,” Mellor continues.

“To achieve this it takes a very individual and tailored approach, so my mantra to the coaches is right approach: right time.

“Experience of having been an elite athlete can help, but there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.”

This month, ahead of the main racing season, saw coaches on the RYA’s World Class Programme (from National Junior Squad up to Podium level) assemble for the latest of their Continuous Professional Development biannual workshops, which provide the perfect platform to share ideas and best practice – as well as a bit of friendly competition and team building among the predominantly home-grown cohort.  

“At the recent CPD we continued a programme of modules that we started in 2011,” Mellor explains.  “There are four modules and each coach completes a module per year, making this a four year programme to upskill their learning. The modules are ‘Leadership & Management’, ‘Skill Acquisition’, ‘Learning & Development’ and ‘Communication & Relationships’.

“Overall the CPD works well, we have been following this successful format for three years now. We will make a few changes for next year to allow a bit more time for the coaches to share information and meet up with coaches that they don’t ordinarily see in their normal coaching work.

“With such a range of skills involved in coaching sailing, and across the diverse range of classes we have to work with, our biggest challenge is making sure we tailor the CPD appropriately. 

Barrie Edgington with Nick Dempsey

"The obvious place to start is by making the learning individual, we do a bit of this currently. Another important part to this challenge is to help coaches better understand the breadth and depth of their current skills and knowledge, this can then be used to tailor the learning environment to suit their needs.”

For the club, or indeed any, sailor wanting to get best out of their coach, Mellor has two top tips:

“Get to know them,” Mellor advises.  “Building a sailor-coach relationship can help them understand you better and where you want to get to, this will allow them to make their coaching more relevant to you.

“Also, give them feedback as to what they are doing that is helping you learn and what is not. It is very hard for them to see the learning, so help them out with feedback.”

For Nick Dempsey’s long-standing coach, Barrie Edgington, the benefits of the RYA’s investment in coach development have been immeasurable, and show that coaching as a career choice can be ever-challenging, but ultimately fulfilling and with longevity.

“Over the 18 years I have been an RYA Coach, the CPD programme has evolved beyond recognition. Ensuring that coaches have the correct balance of leadership whilst understanding and deploying the best learning techniques to suit the environment we work in is at the heart of the coach development programme.

“When I look back at where I started and my level of understanding of the how people best learn and develop skill, I would hope and believe the CPD programme has also changed me beyond recognition and for the better.”

Think you have what it takes to be an RYA Racing Coach?  Visit the RYA website for further details on courses and qualifications.