RS Feva Clinic with US Sailing Siebel Program coach, MacKenzie McGuckin

On July 28th I made my way to Cedar Point Yacht Club for the RS Feva clinic to prepare sailors for the North American Regatta. The US Sailing Siebel Program coach from Florida, MacKenzie McGuckin, led the clinic because she trains youth sailors using the RS Feva within the Siebel Sailors Program. MacKenzie named so many benefits to participating in clinics at the regatta venue before an event including: preparing your equipment, getting accustomed to local wind and weather patterns, getting the lay of the land to eliminate the first-day jitters, and even knowing how many bathrooms are on site.  

The Siebel Sailors Program is a US Sailing community outreach program funded by Tom and Stacy Siebel (The Tom and Stacey Siebel Foundation). The Siebel Program is organized into “Regions”, each composed of one “Primary Center” and up to three “Supporting Centers.” First opened in three regions: the Mid-Atlantic, Chicago and San Francisco. The program has since expanded to the Pacific Northwest and down to Florida. Each of the centers gets six new RS Fevas and a US Sailing Siebel Coach for three years. MacKenzie emphasized that the Siebel Sailors Program is a push for diversity and inclusion in the sport of sailing, something the sport needs to improve upon as well. She stated, “Unfortunately there isn’t a lot of diversity in sailing unlike other sports and that’s unacceptable!” Blair Overman is the Siebel Sailors Program Manager, and while she was discussing the program with MacKenzie during the interview process, she kept repeating; “We are building an airplane and flying it too.” As a testament to how much this program is needed in the sport of sailing the Siebel Program is one of the few of its kind to focus on under-resourced areas to provide sailing for free to deserving youth.  

Along with the natural challenges that come with building a new program has come great victories and success stories. MacKenzie has witnessed kids blooming into confident sailors one day at a time. “For some sailors, you can’t even get them to put one toe in the water on the first day because they see a piece of seagrass floating by…but by the end of the second day, they don’t want to leave the sand bar and are begging to come back the following weekend. It’s truly humbling to see all the sailors come full circle!” I asked Mackenzie what she thought her biggest coaching challenge is. Much to my surprise, MacKenzie said that her biggest coaching challenge is understanding what “being a beginner” in the Siebel Program really means. “I thought I knew what I was walking into when our team would discuss novice and beginner, but  after a few months into my new position with US Sailing and the Siebel Program, I quickly learned that I did not know at all. The sailors that we are working with in the Siebel Program aren’t talking about sailing at home, surrounded by the water outside of practice, or even being prompted by their parents about sailing on the way home from practice.” MacKenzie described her realization of how different a novice or beginner at a yacht club program would compare to the  Siebel Sailors Program.  “The definition of a novice or beginner at Siebel is that there is no prior knowledge, experience; we are talking about never being to the beach, on a boat, or never  crossing on a ferry before.” So, taking a novice in the program and only seeing them maybe every other week or having to schedule around weather or COVID regulations is almost like starting fresh every single time that you see each of them. MacKenzie explained that she has to remind herself that the program is still developing and that being both flexible and adaptable to the ever changing environment is the key to success. “We are building an airplane and flying it too. We are building an airplane and flying it too. We are building an airplane and flying it too.”

MacKenzie and I spent time talking about  some ways that the Siebel Program approaches their students and specific teaching techniques.  One in particular that stood out is a program practice called “Student Voice” where coaches ask sailors every day about what they want to keep doing, start doing, and stop.  MacKenzie explained that in a racing environment  in most cases sailors are taught that whatever the coach says goes. The concept behind “Student Voice or the Keep, Stop, Start Method” is to give the sailors a voice in everyday practice. MacKenzie stated “The idea is to allow the buy-in from the child so that they want to be involved in the community or culture. Think, How can I get him or her to come to me and say I want to continue to do this?  Can you teach me more?  By allowing the sailors to buy-in through having a voice, they are more likely to stay with us and continue in the sport because they have been given choices.” During the debrief every day at the end of the practice on a whiteboard, the kids and coaches go through “Keep, Stop, Start” exercises allowing sailors to share their perspective on their practice schedule and activities. The method of allowing the sailors to have a voice illustrates what areas both the coaches and kids can improve upon for the next practice.  

MacKenzie walked me through other opportunities that sailors have to speak up and have a voice during the Siebel Sailors Program such as when they build their Crew Code. When a Siebel Program kicks off at a given venue, each Siebel coach kicks off with a Name/Nickname game and venue guidelines.  Sailors are then prompted with a poster board or white board where they draw a large circle on it, within the circle they list all the “YES” items such as what they want to do, outside of the “YES” circle, sailors have the opportunity to list the opposite in the “NO” section. The sailors are given time to talk with each other, addressing prompts such as: “How do you want to be treated? How do you want to treat each other or the equipment?” Coaches then introduce the five Siebel Sailors Program habits of excellence or values; Fun, Effort, Respect, Student Voice, and Inclusivity.  With guidance from the Siebel Coach and support staff, sailors take the notes from the YES / NO circle and plug their ideas under the five Siebel Values.  When all of the habits of excellence have been populated and agreed upon by the sailors and staff, everyone involved with Siebel signs the Crew Code. 

By executing Student Voice exercises whether it be through a Keep, Stop, Start activity or building the Crew Code with the sailors, it allows the sailors to work with the coach, versus against while also getting long-term sport buy-in and providing an inclusive culture.  The student voice is a great way to get the kids to work with you versus against you. As I closed out the interview, I wanted to allow MacKenzie to promote the Siebel Sailor program on the JSA platforms. She wanted to bring awareness to the Siebel mission of increasing opportunity and promoting diversity in the sport of sailing. MacKenzie stated that we are all capable of supporting the movement, but it won’t happen unless we all put some effort into it. 

To continue to learn more about US Sailing, the Siebel Sailors Program, and all the Siebel Coaches be sure to follow them on Instagram as well as visit the US Siebel Sailing Program website. Thank you to Makenzie McGuckin for contributing and revising this article. 

Siebel Coaches: