Wilmot Housberg: Reflections On A Successful FX Summer

"Clinic Cancelled" was the subject line I woke up to in my inbox. In two days I was supposed to fly to New York for a clinic with the FX squad, but attendance was dwindling, and as a result, the plug had been pulled. The next message in my inbox from Lucy Wilmot: "Half way across the country with coach boat and 49er. Making alternative plans. Will connect soon." Five minutes and one phone call later, Nate and Lucy confirmed that they would be there, training with me, one way or another. Last January, the pair set out on a mission to do a proper summer campaign in the 49er, and have done a phenomenal job of laying the groundwork for teams following in their footsteps. Here's what they learned along the way.
- Willie McBride, US Sailing Team Olympic Coach

Lucy Wilmot and I (Nate Housberg) have been training this summer in the 49erFX. We started as soon as school was over and based our training in San Francisco. We are currently training in Canada for CORK OCR and then will go to France for the U23 Worlds. We have 120 hours in the boat, and that number is increasing each day. This is what worked for us, what didn’t, and what we learned while doing it.

There were three things that we felt we did well: (1) making the absolute most of everything we were given, (2) being self sufficient, and (3) showing up.

Making the most of what we were given

This sailing is very different from youth classes. In youth classes most programs give you all the tools, coaching and logistics to succeed. In this class you have to do this yourself. Lucy and I were always thinking about how we could turn an inch of support into a foot of progress. Time with a coach and/or other good teams was valuable and rare so we planned carefully so as to not miss a single minute of time on the water. We showed up early to work out the kinks and had spares of everything so that if something broke we could swap it out quickly and not miss any sleep or sailing.

Lucy and I were always thinking about how we could turn an inch of support into a foot of progress.

We asked plenty of questions when we could get a coaches ear, but made sure to have a structure to what we learned. For us that meant taking something away from a coach that we could practice by ourselves. For example we started with tacking and spent the whole first camp in June learning what a good tack looks like and feels like. This didn’t mean we could do a good tack, but it meant that when we left the camp we could break down our solitary practice into footwork, handwork, entry, exit, etc. In this way we could turn four days of coaching into two weeks of progress.

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Being Self Sufficient

At this point you have to remember that you are not the priority, so the best thing you can do is be self sufficient. This is not just about solitary practice. Have your equipment organized and arrive ahead of time. Put a priority on planning ahead and having backup plans so that you don’t need to rely on many other people to arrive to a camp. I cannot repeat enough, have contingency plans so that when things change you can be flexible. For us this really meant purchasing our own boat and borrowing a car that we could rooftop it with. We even had a VSR that we trailered with us so we could post up and run a camp just with us anywhere we wanted to. This isn’t realistic for everyone, but the more you can do logistics and operations on your own the more value you will add to any good team or coached camp. This segways well to:

Showing Up

We got a private, 4 day training camp with Willie McBride in July simply because we showed up to a scheduled camp when no one else did. We didn’t let cancellations stop us, we called friends and clubs for a place to stay and sail when our housing fell through. We had spares so we didn’t miss any sailing or sleep when something broke. We are currently getting awesome practice against four good Canadian teams, just because we showed up early and had our act together. You may want to have other US teams to travel with and train against, but if those plans fall through and they cancel you still need to be able to show up. I promise you will be rewarded for it.

Something we had difficulty with was fundraising. I promise in all instances that this will be harder than you expect, and it will take more time than you expect. It was for us and I wish that we had started earlier with more sense of urgency. Start as early as you can and keep in mind that if you intend to keep sailing, you'll need to have a strategy that will be sustainable for the four to eight years of your sailing through all of the ups and downs. Be realistic with your budget at the beginning, but have priorities about where the money will go if you can’t meet your goal. We wasted a lot of time trying to get a 501c3 account with one of the established non-profits that generally helps Olympic campaigners, but found that this infrastructure is better equipped for full time campaigners than for summer campaigners. These are organizations where you will have to compete with much more established athletes for any attention, and more likely than not will lose that battle. If I were to do it again I would try to develop a close relationship with a couple of organizations or clubs close to home that have not yet been exposed to the type of sailing we are doing. Towards the end of the summer we found that these organizations are far more engaged in what we are doing and this means that they will stick their necks out for us when we need it.

Most importantly, start now if you have ambitions of doing this long term. There is no perfect time, but I guarantee that today is always better than tomorrow. It’s easy and safe to get a summer coaching job, but I have learned so many more valuable skills and made many more strong connections than I ever did coaching optis. Share this insight with your parents if they need convincing. And if the schedule seems to be falling to pieces don’t go running back to that safe job, figure out yourself how to be flexible and get another productive day on the water.

Written By Nate Housberg