In all sports the majority of kids learn the techniques of the sport with the help of an instructor. As the child progresses and maybe wants to compete, the instructor becomes the coach providing technical expertise and assisting in the other vital elements of being competitive: fitness, tactics and mental toughness.
Windsurfing has been behind the times with few parents requesting the help of a coach for their child beyond the early stages of learning even when they begin to compete at national racing and freewave events. Become very good at racing and the RYA do a great job at providing support but how do kids get to that gold winning standard when the RYA take over?
Well one teenager is utilizing the coaching powers of Jem Hall to reach that gold standard. They have formed a working relationship that they both benefit from and Jem has now taken on more of a ‘mentor’ role with the up and coming Connor Bainbridge.
We asked them how it all worked:
The coaching setup
The Student: Connor Bainbridge
The Mentor: Jem Hall
Who approached who first?!
Connor: It all started in Tobago, two to three years ago, during the Boards test fortnight. We both clicked and Jem was making me work really hard on upwind and gybing properly and I was getting better every day (despite the bleeding hands). At the end of the two weeks Jem offered to help me on an ongoing basis and made himself 100% available to me.
Jem: I met Conn and his dad, John Bainbridge, out in Ireland briefly. Then when they came out to Tobago as guest testers for Boards Mag we really hit it off. They approached me and I said yes let’s do it but you have to come on clinics as much as possible!
How does he help you on a day-to-day basis with your windsurfing career?
Connor: Jem has loads of experience and as well as all the technique and fitness advice he gives me pointers on how to behave, how to promote myself and how to be professional. I want to make a career in windsurfing and I think it's important to be a good example for the sport at all times. If I come off the water and I am struggling with a move I can email/text/skype Jem that evening and we will work through it.
"I am there to support and nurture him and of course to get him to chill and have fun, this is very important"
Do you pay to have Jem as your mentor?
Connor: No. The coaching is event based and I pay to be part of that programme but the mentoring is ongoing and works more like a partnership between the two of us.
So Jem, what exactly do you do for Connor as his mentor AND as his coach?
Jem: When he comes on the clinics I am coaching him and for this I ensure that all his fundamentals are spot on. This is the most important; tacks, carve gybes, heli tacks, stance, early planing. Then I set him some stunts to work on and as soon as he has it one way he has to do it on the other tack. I make sure he has kit tuned right and selects the right kit for the sessions and also get him to try new kit.
As he is so hyper I have to keep him fed and watered. I make sure he has fuel stops and drinks/eats the right stuff. Lastly I give him his homework; stunts to be nailed after the trips.
When it comes to mentoring we communicate after sailing sessions / races / regattas etc or he sends me a disc of clips of him sailing that I critique and give him feedback on. I get him to believe in himself and to choose a positive self dialogue. We also make sure that he knows his product and is being a good ambassador for RRD / EZZY. I am there to support and nurture him and of course to get him to chill and have fun, this is very important – we have a good laugh together.
How often do you talk and what do you talk about?
Jem: We talk as much as possible which is difficult with our hectic schedules. Sometimes the medium for this is good old dad, John. We discuss anything and everything – there is no agenda. It might be his latest moves or the last regatta. He comes on two clinics a year and his dad says ‘the step change after a clinic is phenomenal,’ the improvement he makes is amazing and this is where most of the work is done. The results are plain to see.
Connor’s racing career: do you leave that up to those nice chaps at the RYA?
Jem: The RYA do a great job, I just get him ripping in all areas. I am like his skills coach; stance, wind range, tacks, gybes etc. I also work on the psychology and give him a high work ethic with sound preparation in fitness and diet. I think a lot of the youths and racers have transitions that could be improved on. I have got him the transitions of an adult from the age of 12.
A big part of my windsurfing is
based on racing and Jem is starting to coach me on some different techniques. I have been a member of the National Junior Squad and I am currently fighting for a place on the U19 National Youth Squad so at 14 I have a lot to prove to the selectors. I have had a lot of input from RYA coaches on race techniques but basically everyone gets the same training so with Jem we are looking at some different ideas on how to get the most out of the RSX one design setup and make me more competitive than everyone else.
What’s Connor’s greatest asset when it comes to ‘making it’ as a pro windsurfer?
Jem: He works very hard, listens and takes advice and is well grounded. When he was 12 I said ‘can the fizzy drinks, get on the water and start eating some good food’. He did it straight away. When I set a task, he does it, though I have to bring him back in line occasionally. He is also intelligent, mature and a damn good laugh. The asset all children should never forget is their parents – he comes from great stock and they are behind him 110%.
"Difference between coaching Skye/Audsley and Connor? Connor listens a whole lot more!!"
What’s Jem’s greatest asset (apart from being able to beat a calculator when it comes to addition, subtraction and multiplication)?
Connor: He knows what he is talking about. If I do exactly what he tells me to do I get better quickly so I am really confident in his training. In Prasonisi this June, he taught me to Wymaroo on Thursday and had me scoring my first loops on the Friday by doing exactly what he said I needed to do. The Spock 540's are taking a bit longer though!!
What drives you mad about Connor?
Jem: Not a great deal. He is a little bit fussy about his food but come on - he is a teenager! I could barely speak before I was 16.
What drives you mad about Jem?
Connor: He makes me do the same thing again and again until I get it right or he won't teach me the next thing. I know it's the right way to build my skills in layers, but sometimes I want to go faster than I am ready for.
Having mentored John Skye, Chris Audsely and Louise Emery before through Team Fakefish, how is it different and similar with Connor?
Jem: It is different because there is perhaps more focus from Connor and he listens a whole lot more. My Fakefish relationships were always up and down as we were developing together. Conn just gets on with it and listens, people that do this always improve the most. The difference also comes in that Conn’s moves are less technical at the moment, though I am sure that will change. The Fakefish crew were having it large on big and technical stunts.
"I said 'can the fizzy drinks, get on the water and start eating some good food'"
It is similar in that the Fakefish crew were very gifted in seeing what could be improved by video analysis. Conn also has great eyes for this.