Preparing Your Staff for the Start of the Season

A Q&A with Kevin Broome and Katie Tinder

In a pair of discussions with Kevin Broome, sailing director of American Yacht Club (N.Y.), and Katie Tinder, sailing program manager of Columbia Sailing School (Ill.), we learn more about the importance of getting off to a great start to your sail education season and how setting the right expectations early will lead to a more productive experience for your students and staff.

US Sailing: What is covered in your staff orientation at the beginning of the season?

Kevin Broome: It is important to set expectations early. We do a full week of orientation and generally spend about 35 hours on preparing our staff in advance of the start of the season.

The first two days involve ‘icebreaking’, cleaning, organizing, ordering, creating lesson plans and planning. The third day involves participation at the JSA All Instructor Symposium. The fourth and fifth days are powerboat training, CPR certification, meet the local first responder resources and junior program commissioning. All staff must test out of certain powerboat skills each and every year.

We also run through an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) scenario.

Katie Tinder: We have a week long orientation period, where we introduce the staff to each other, the facility, and our equipment. Summer uniforms are also handed out during this time.

Coaches utilize this week to develop their lesson plans for the first weeks of the program, and perform final organization and maintenance on the sailing school equipment.

During our meetings, instructors are given a handbook, which includes a basic job description and a copy of the summer schedule, and any dates they are required to attend regattas or special events in addition to their weekly classes. The handbook also provides lists of what is expected, and what is not expected of them as a member of our team. It is important to have expectations stated in writing, to prevent any miscommunication or confusion when the season gets busy. Instructors are assigned a daily clean-up area which they are responsible for tidying at the end of each day.

Instructors are also assigned coach boats, coach boxes containing first aid kits, VHF radios, boat registrations, and copies of our Emergency Action Plan, which we run through as a staff.

If time allows, we try to do a fun staff bonding event prior to the start of the season – whether it’s a baseball game, movie in the park, or barbecue. It’s a great opportunity to get to know each other outside the work atmosphere.

US Sailing: What is the primary focus for the first week of programming?

Kevin Broome: The first week for our sailors is orientation, icebreaking, making new friends and feeling safe at camp. We also learn how to have a safe and successful summer. Rules of the road, wind awareness, safety position, swim check, towing, and capsize games where all sailors learn or re-learn about the air bubble under their boats.

Katie Tinder: Program-wide, our focus is on safety and fun. We like to ensure that students feel safe and welcome at our facility, have a great time getting to know their super-awesome instructors, meet lots of new friends, and hopefully learn a few new skills. Starting with safety and fun allows for students to embrace learning new skills.

US Sailing: What are some pitfalls to avoid?

Kevin Broome: Assuming that last summer/session is exactly like this summer/session is a mistake. Each year is a little different, with new sailors, staff, weather and social dynamics. Rushing to get on the water and having a negative experience can take the rest of the summer to undo.

Katie Tinder: There are so many things going on this time of year – some things need to be put off in order to accomplish others. If you don’t exercise good time management, eventually those things that you put off pile up, and it is very difficult to catch-up once the program is in motion. Ask for (or offer!) help if you or someone you work with is struggling to get things accomplished.

Be realistic with your capabilities and limitations and don’t agree to everything that people ask of you. Over committing yourself adds stress to your life, and not fulfilling promises can put a strain on personal and professional relationships.

Summer is a marathon, not a sprint. Our program is 10 weeks with a supplemental 11th week for a more relaxed version of the program. Not allowing yourself personal time to ‘recharge your batteries’ could have negative effects on both you and the program. Make a point to have ‘me-time.’

US Sailing: Why is the beginning of the season programming so important?

Kevin Broome: The beginning is important because it sets the foundation and precedent for the rest of the summer. We put nearly 40% of the entire summer planning into just the first week. We want week one to be as flawless as we can. Drills, games and activities are meant to help the sailors, instructors and parents become more confident. Taking it slow and having a plan will set everyone up for a great, safe summer.

Katie Tinder: The beginning of the season sets the tone for the entire summer. If everyone follows the same rules and has the same expectations – good habits are formed, which allow for a positive and productive atmosphere.

Here are the Columbia Sailing School Instructor Guidelines as a resourceful example of how to prepare your staff!