Nick Thompson on the Role in Laser Sailing Coaching

laser sailing coaching

Nick Thompson ISA Coach

Train with Nick Thompson in Vilamoura, Portugal for the ISA Master’s Laser Sailing Clinic

Nick Thompson is a world-class laser sailor and coach. He is a 2-time Laser World Champion and Olympian with 6 years of coaching experience at the highest levels of sailing. At this point in his career, he says, it’s increasingly about giving back to a younger generation. In a recent interview with ISA coach Vaughn Harrison, Nick talked about his role as an elite laser sailing coach saying,

“I love when I have an opportunity to give somebody something that will either make them want to stay in the sport or get better at the sport.”

For Nick, the enjoyment of laser sailing coaching is in figuring out what makes a person tick and how to get the best out of them; a strategy he uses on himself. “Being in a laser for nearly 20 years you need to find things that keep you interested, fresh and motivated. I'm always trying to figure out new ways to get better or change.” A good coach gets the best out of you by seeing the big picture and keeping a plan in mind. When you know what the end goal is, he says, and how much time you have to work toward it then you can start figuring out where you can make the biggest jumps with your athlete.

What else do good coaches offer an athlete who’s working on developing peak performance to compete at world-class events?

Coaches can keep you moving toward your goals when you’re having a hard time staying motivated. “You can’t always have 100% motivation as an athlete,” he is fond of saying. A coach can help keep your motivation up. But every coach is different. Some coaches may use enthusiasm to motivate their athletes, while others may use a more balanced approach. Ultimately, Nick notes, it’s all about alignment. Are the coach and athlete aligned on the level of performance and working toward the same goals? This type of alignment helps a coach and athlete harmonize to find an approach to motivation that works.

For younger sailors just starting out Nick suggests that the best motivation to get from supportive coaches, friends, and family is focusing on a love of the sport rather than becoming a world champion. Too much pressure early on causes people to burn out and leave the sport.

Nick suggests that good coaches provide emotional consistency. “The best coaches I've ever worked with are the ones that are just consistent. The emotion is there, and they care, but they're not spiking and dropping. They're not screaming at you one minute and over the moon with elation the next. As an athlete, that's not what you need.” A coach who can provide that kind of emotional balance, he says, helps their athletes stay emotionally level, especially at regattas.

How do good coaches help athletes get good results?

Nick suggests that good coaches just give the facts as they see it and then let the sailor work out a plan. “It’s very important,” he says, “that you just give the facts as a coach.” Whether that’s a tidal gradient, wind shifts or line bias. This leaves room for athletes to learn. When a sailor can take those facts and work out a plan that’s where growth happens. Nick believes, “as a sailor, it's better to have a plan that might be wrong and execute it well than to have no plan at all.” A good coach might help clarify a plan by asking questions to help you consider the possibilities, but they won’t tell you what moves to make. “You're not learning from that,” Nick says. “That might work for that one race but is that going to work for your career in sailing?”

And when you’re on the water, keep it short, he says. You’ve covered the details before you hit the course so any discussion on the water should be focused on priorities. As a sailor, Nick says,

“all I need to do is go alongside the rib and have a 30 second conversation with my coach. That's enough."

"It doesn't need to be a full discussion about the day’s tide, what's going on in the water, the weather forecast. That's all been done beforehand.”

Nick’s holistic approach to laser sailing coaching fits well with the other coaches at the International Sailing Academy. At ISA we believe sailors need to develop the tools to someday become self-reliant. Often those tools require a certain language or system to eliminate unnecessary variables and distractions. Our concise delivery of the fundamentals helps you stay focused during your practice and racing sessions.

Nick will be bringing his experience as a world-class laser sailor and coach to Vilamoura, Portugal in November as a guest coach for the International Sailing Academy Master’s Laser Sailing Clinic. Learn more about our upcoming clinic and register.

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