The pace of this seminar had to take into account the need to provide supplementary translation for those less versatile in English. The former Olympian and experienced coach and mentor, Aiko Saito, from the Japanese Sailing Federation, acted as interpreter, until she had to leave for Shanwei in China for the 2010 Asian Games on the penultimate day, when 'Kuro-chan' Kurokawa took on the interpreting role. Aiko was used to Jim's distinctive Yorkshire accent and his approach, having trained with his Youth and Women's Squads in 1979/80.
A regular visitor to Japan in the past, Jim was nevertheless a new phenomenon for many of the coaches and, especially, the sailors. Unused to the idea that they were 'ferrets' and, perhaps, understandably shy at first, they took Jim's frequent instructions to 'stand up', 'clap your hands' etc. quite seriously, but soon the characteristic grins of 'ferrets' the world-over broke out. These sailors, several already experienced in the 420 at international competition level, played their essential part in providing the coaches with practical experience, as well as giving important feedback in the de-briefings after class room and on-the-water exercises.
The seminar programme consisted of three parts.
Firstly, there were Jim's lectures. Aiko had listened to similar lectures in 1979 in the UK when Jim started his first Youth Squad. He has modified the content with new ideas and additional information over the years. However, the basics of coaching skills and the approach are still the same. He explained the ten key principles that he always emphasizes as essential to win sailing races. The delivery was energetic and fun.
Secondly, four volunteers each day gave 420 sailors five minutes briefing before going on the water, describing the exercise and explaining the details. Then, on the water, this coach conducted the training session, and later came in to de-brief participants for around 10-15 minutes. Sailors then asked questions, expressed opinions, and, finally, judged whether it was a good exercise or not, using the 'thumbs-up' signal.
The third part was to understand the 420 itself, boat handling, setting, tuning etc. First, Jim explained the theory and then took some video on the water. Once back in the class room, he used video footage to explain what to look for.
The second part of the approach was the unique session for the Japanese participants. One of the sailors commented that de-briefing by Japanese coaches was discouraging. She said that all that the coaches pointed out were the mistakes. In contrast, while Jim picks up on mistakes, he encourages the sailor, positively, in how to get it correct. This is motivating, and also easy to follow. Jim also suggested that, when giving lectures, the coach should not talk to the white board! Facing toward the sailors, talking to them and involving them ensures that communication is not one way.
Kenji Nakamura, Japan's National Coach for the Olympic Classes, joined the seminar for three days. He gave some guidance when boat preparation and boat handling was discussed. It turned out that when Kenji used to sail a 470, he had sailed against Jim's GBR squad. We saw Jim's technique in action of involving other top sailors and coaches to gain more knowledge and opinions. He knows that sailing and racing has many different answers.
As the seminar came to a conclusion, Aiko Saito and José Massapina, Vice President of the 420 Class, gauged the success, through conversations with coaches and sailors in the breaks, as well as observation of the enthusiastic behavior of the participants and the extent of their questions and contributions. It was evident that Jim had been very well received. Aiko reported that participants described Jim as "sunshine'" - 'because it's very easy and nice to learn with him'.
Aiko Saito summed up: "So, all the Japanese coaches had a great four days, and enjoyed working with the 420s. Sakaguchi, from Fukuoka, showed off his two wrist watches as he wanted to become an experienced coach like Jim; Jim Saltonstall always carries two watches - one for himself and one for the sailor who may break or lose his/her watch on the water. Coaches prepare and minimize risks so as to assure success!
"We had a great opportunity to have Jim Saltonstall in Japan for a four day seminar. It was a new experience for all the coaches who attended - a 'big' coach (Jim) coaching many other coaches. The most important thing was the communication, and we learned a great deal here".
José Massapina placed this initiative in the context of the 420 Class' Development Strategy. "This is one of a series of seminars for coaches, as well as opportunities for 420 sailors to be exposed to a variety of coaching styles and skills, that we are organising around the globe. One was held in Singapore with many coaches from other Asian countries. Over the last year we also have held training clinics for sailors and for coaches in South Africa, Angola and Buenos Aires (the latter two jointly with the 470 Class), building on Coaching Seminars in Europe and North, Central and South America. Our aim is to spread and increase participation in performance sailing in the 420 by young people and to strengthen and sustain high quality coaching skills.
"I am delighted by the enthusiasm shown by coaches and sailors alike at this very well-attended clinic in Wakayama. I want to thank Aiko, for all her help, particularly in her onerous task as interpreter, taken on by Kuro-chan for the last day, and Kunio Suzuki of the Wakayama Sailing Centre for his organisation and hospitality. From the 420 Class, we wish Kenji Nakamura and all his colleagues all the best as Japan's 420 sailors compete on the world stage".
International 420 Class Association - www.420sailing.org
Japan Sailing Federation - www.jsaf.or.jp