Graham Evans of the Topper Class Association South East Area reports:

At the end of November, we held a one day course to introduce the key elements of effective race coaching to national level Topper sailors from different sailing clubs in the London & South East region. They were:

  • Aaron Evans from Silver Wing SC
  • Bill Hudson, Seaford and Newhave SC
  • Lawrence Donnelly, Surrey Docks SC
  • Harry Newton, Hampton Pier YC
  • Oliver Hickling, Wembly SC.

Most of them are already assistant instructors but as they are 15 years old have to wait until they are 16 before they can attend an RYA Race Coach Level 2 course.

The aim of the course was to enable them to become more involved at their local clubs to encourage new and less experienced junior sailors into racing at the regional Topper Traveller series.

The event was hosted by Queen Mary Sailing Club, where on a wet Saturday morning they prepared their Toppers prepared for the day ahead. It was going to be a new learning experience for them.

David Bickerton was the race course tutor for the day. David normally runs RYA Race Coach Level 2 courses over two days.

After brief introductions and discussions about what the sailors wanted from the course David gave a presentation on the role of a coach. He took the group through the “burger” method, the “filling” being the key points to improve on, and moving on to the ask-discuss-solve ‘traffic lights debriefing system’. The three P’s (pose, pause, pounce) questioning method was also used; with a small group there was no room to hide.

The group went through the purpose of a briefing, then learnt how to structure a good briefing. Each member of the group was given an area (starts, windward mark etc.) on which they had to plan a briefing and then deliver this in the classroom on video and on the water.

First to have a go was Aaron. It’s not always easy being the first one, but briefing completed and filmed, it was time to go sailing. David had the video recorder to hand to record each on water training session. By this time the rain had stopped and the sailors were keen to get into their dinghies.


Whilst they are all experienced Topper sailors some issues could be spotted from the RIB. Maybe, because they felt under pressure to perform or perhaps just complacent as they were not in a competitive situation.

Debriefing back in the classroom, good humour was displayed in the reviews of the briefing and debrief of the exercise. This helped, as they all knew each other and are of a similar age.

This was followed by briefings by Bill, Harry, Lawrence and Oliver.

Bill said of the day: “I really enjoyed the course and found it really useful. I am now confident that I could confidently assist a race instructor and could probably run some of the sessions myself. I would definitely recommend to other sailors as it will be a massive help. I will definitely go on to do the race instructor course.”

Lawrence added: “The weekend was an amazing insight into what goes on in coaching. It reinforced ideas I had been taught in my sailing as well as raising my competence in speaking to a group - I was given constructive feedback by the group and the instructor, so I was able to get a range of opinions on my methods. It was also extremely fulfilling to see my ‘lesson’ in practice and to develop skills in running an exercise with a group”

Oliver said: “The instructor was excellent; he kept the class entertained with jokes and good PowerPoints. There was limited time to fit in the on water exercises. The venue was excellent because the waterway was not cluttered and the club was very accommodating.”

The day was a success: the participants had fun with their friends and came away understanding what happens behind the scene when preparing for a coaching session. They are now keen to go back to their respective clubs and help out with race coaching. All the participants want to attend a RYA Race Coach Level 2 course next year when they are 16, and in the meantime they aim to complete RYA Power Boat 2 and first aid courses.

Find out more about the Topper Class Association South East Area