Friday, 1 October 2010

Top Sailor's Coach Andrew Palfrey on his approach to Coaching Big Teams, including Artemis Racing

Top Sailor’s Coach Andrew Palfrey on his Coaching Technique as Applied to Artemis Racing and other big teams

Andrew Palfrey, Artemis Racing's coach. Image copyright Sander van der Borch/Artemis Racing.

by Anne Hinton

Long-time Etchells sailor, Etchells and 5.5 Metre World Champions in 2010, and Star boat Olympian, Aussie ‘Sailing Dog’ Andrew Palfrey, who is currently coaching Artemis in the RC44s, TP52s and Louis Vuitton Trophy, and Kiwis Hamish Pepper and Craig Monk for the 2012 Olympics in the Star is “one of the best sailor’s coaches”, as Pepper puts it. How did he get into coaching, and what is his approach to this tricky, and rarely done well, aspect of the sport?

“I have always been that way inclined”, admits Palfrey. The commencement of this direction in his career was when he was placed in charge of the junior scheme at the Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron at the tender age of 20, when he wasn’t much more than a junior himself. “A lot of that was management, but there was a fair amount of coaching too,” says Palfrey.

From growing up in Melbourne, Palfrey got into Etchells and moved up to New South Wales to sail and sell them with Ian Bashford, who had started building very high quality boats. Palfrey continued with the firm after Bashford’s untimely death in 1996. In 2001 he moved on to Sydney to start sailing on a Star and Etchells with Iain Murray. In Sydney he picked up coaching work in the Mumm 30s and Farr 40s. “I coached one Farr 40 team over 2003-2005. They were aimed at winning the 2005 Worlds in Sydney and Evolution (Richard Perini) achieved that goal.

“Over that time I evolved a style of what to provide to the team. There’s no real template for sailing coaching. However, there is a definite template for a football coach, and most other sports.

Approach to Coaching

Andrew Palfrey, Artemis Racing's coach, on his coach boat. Image copyright Sander van der Borch/Artemis Racing.

“I err more on the people side of coaching than the technical side. You do need to be a good technician. I think I am sound technically, but I am not a sail maker, I am not a mast builder, I’m not someone that will study photos of sails all night and tell you whether they are fast or slow. I have a good enough eye that I can say ‘that looks good’. I can see the differences between two boats sailing and say what’s fast or what’s slow.”

Palfrey’s approach to coaching in a particular case depends on whether it is a long-term campaign or just a regatta. “If it’s just a regatta you are just trying to add gloss here and there,” says Palfrey. “If there are technical flaws or a lack of basic skills there’s not a lot you can do over just one regatta. If it’s longer term then you don’t do so much at a regatta – more just observing. It helps you identify where they are weak and where they are strong and it helps you target where you need to work. You make the gains between the regattas. That’s where a good coach focuses his/her energy – between the events.

“You need to be at the events to be sure, to observe the way they sail, the way the athletes deal with the pressure and stress, and the way they prepare themselves, etc. I approach the coaching in the same way that I approach the sailing.

“There’s a lot of detail in the sport. It’s just really focusing energy where you can help most. For one team it might be more technically or equipment related and for another team it might be more about psychology or just help them generally prepare and feel good through an event.

“Working long-term with a team you become another team member and just work together to help. The better the teams are, as with Artemis at present, there’s not a lot of teaching involved. It is a question of helping all the individuals combine well and get to the stage that if you put two people together, each giving 100%, you get 210% out. Like the idea of one plus one equals three; get two people working together really well.”

Artemis: RC44s, TP52s and the Louis Vuitton Trophy

Andrew Palfrey, Artemis Racing's coach, videoing the team. Image copyright Sander van der Borch/Artemis Racing.

“Terry Hutchinson, whom I had known from Farr 40s, called me up about RC44 coaching in relation to the Artemis and Katusha programmes. Then, having seen Palfrey in Nice helping BMW ORACLE Racing with some training prior to that event, Hutchinson called back about the Louis Vuitton Trophy too. Paul Cayard’s move to tactician and Cameron Appleton moving from coach to fill the strategist position had left a coaching vacancy in that team,” which Palfrey was happy to fill.

The RC44 involvement with Artemis commenced with a match race camp in Dubai ten days prior to the RC44 regatta there in February 2010. “It was an awesome week,” said Palfrey. “All the pros from the Louis Vuitton Trophy came and sailed on the RC44s, we had umpires in from Italy, etc. It was just fantastic. I sailed most of that week and it was an amazing opportunity for me as a coach to be able to sail the boat first. We swapped around and I had various positions throughout those few days; everything except bow and steering!

“The match race camp went really well, the regatta went really well, and Artemis ended up winning that event. Then we went to Auckland for the Louis Vuitton Trophy and that also went really well. Awesome! It was all very positive and Auckland was too in terms of my role within the team and the way that I was accepted. From there, I was asked about the TP52, as well, and said ‘yes’.

“It’s been pretty full on. By the time we got to the end of the Audi MedCup in Marseille I was pretty tired! It’s going really well; they’re great people, really well resourced through Torbjörn Tornqvist, the owner, and hopefully we will move on down the road towards the America’s Cup.”

Big team coaching

Andrew Palfrey, Artemis Racing's coach, in discussion with Paul Cayard, in Michele Ivaldi's and Cameron Appleton's presence. Image copyright Sander van der Borch/Artemis Racing.

“The approach with a really big team like Artemis in the Louis Vuitton Trophy is very much like the Star campaign. I always keep in mind ‘If I were in that team what would I want to hear? What would I want a coach to do?’ A lot of what I do is creating an environment whereby they talk things through. Where it would come off the rails is if there are personality clashes or differences of opinion that are not really being addressed. If there’s a big stuff up that is not talked through properly it might fester and become a negative for the team.

“A lot of what I do is convening debriefs and providing the video and some still photos of sail trim and so on, but that’s all designed just to get them talking - and I basically facilitate that and I am very well supported in that by Terry Hutchinson, who basically said to me ‘You are running the show. Just tell us when and where we have to be and we will go through it.’

“By the same token, if there was a major stuff-up, sometimes you just don’t need to discuss it; the guys have debriefed it themselves. For example, they put a spinnaker in the water in La Maddalena. It was just a simple mistake that one person made and he put his hand up and there’s no point even talking about it. That will never happen again in that guy’s sailing career, so you don’t need to beat on stuff like that.

“Before a race, in the morning, you do a bit of strength and weakness analysis of the teams you are going to face that day. Look at other people’s pre-start styles, etc. It’s not rocket science. I might pick two or three things with 30 second clips of an opposition team.

“A lot of it, too, is listening. On the dock straight after the race I will go and talk to five or six of the guys, just randomly, pick guys I will know will tell me straight in that particular situation how things went on board that day. We talk a lot about manoeuvres, and we talk a lot about pre-starts, after a race. It would be the same thing with a Farr 40 or any similar boat with a large professional team.”

The fact that Artemis earnt a convincing victory in Barcelona and finished fifth overall in the 2010 Audi MedCup, in a highly competitive fleet, and was fourth in both Auckland and La Maddalena in the Louis Vuitton Trophy, as well as experiencing continued success in the RC44s, is testament to Andrew Palfrey’s skills, and very positive relationship with the team, in carrying out his coaching work.

To be continued... Part Two will be on the Kiwi Southern Star campaign

An account as to how the Etchells Worlds 2010 were won may be obtained here

Artemis Racing