Feb 16, 2022
Vaughn Harrison with Sarah Douglas at the Olympic Games in Tokyo
Originally from Stony Lake Yacht Club Vaughn Harrison had early results racing radial (then, Laser). The summer job requirement at junior club was sailing different classes of boats and attending Sail Canada coaching clinics.
Vaughn was hired as the race coach at 17 years of age and quickly showed success. The Stony Lake team won most of the provincial youth events. Vaughn also coached at Kingston Yacht Club and the Royal Canadian Yacht Club.
Though Harrison was a top sailor that qualified for the National Team, the decision was made to focus on coaching. A positive letter of support from Olympic Team member Tam Matthews inspired Vaughn to focus his training to become a top ranked career coach. He founded the International Sailing Academy and has been a centre coach there for 13 years.
His coaching highlights include athletes at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, a 5th and a 6th at the World Championships and most recently Sarah Douglas’s inspiring 6th place result in Tokyo.
Coach Harrison’s thoughts on a variety of issues.
What is your coaching philosophy?
Vaughn: Originally it was all about superior boat speed. I have studied the fundamentals of sailing and have crafted some unique ways of framing boat speed for upwind and downwind. I have lots of experience in how to set up the boat to go fast.
I am also focused on mental strength the mindset advantage, having strong core values and work ethic combined with top skills makes the difference. Strong core values during hard days reminds you that the challenge is bigger than a sailing race. You are practising becoming resilient and building strong character traits.
What do you do or say before a day of racing?
Vaughn: We set up daily objectives and expectations for the weather. Usually a 5-10 minute conversation about expectations, wave angles, wind shifts or wind bends. We can arrive on course to see wind tendencies and bias for the race plan. Having confidence in your plan is reassuring and the positivity flows into body language and boat speed.
What are you looking at during a race?
Vaughn: I try my hardest to find my sailors; I track them like a night owl. I like to watch the first three minutes below the line to get a sense of the side and bias. During the beat I have a good eye for when boats are lifted or in more or less wind pressure for suggestions after the race. I also look for leverage to the side of the course, how far the sailor went to the side of the beat and what were the winning lanes.
Downwind I look at body and rig movement, sailing angles, which techniques were fast and was the distance traveled influenced by tactical decisions.
I will never have as good of a grasp on “what happened” as the sailor but I try to see enough to raise good questions to help lead the debrief. I also try to reinforce things I think may be important for the next race that the sailor may not realize they were doing such as sheeting often upwind or moving their body a certain way downwind.
What is your biggest influence?
Vaughn: My sailors! They have motivated me to become the best version of myself and to continue my personal growth.
What is missing in Sailing?
Vaughn: Good media coverage. The Sail GP really helps add a layer of professional sailing showing a potential career path but good media coverage could expose heroes for the youth sailors just starting out.
What are you focused on now?
Vaughn: I recently developed new online learning platform:
I will also continue to work with ILCA 6 sailor Sarah Douglas towards this year’s Worlds and ultimately a medal in Paris 2024.
Comments from Athlete Sarah Douglas
I have been working with Vaughn for 6 years. What sets him apart is his holistic approach and adaptability. We hold each other to a high standard which pushes us to the next level and this results in a great partnership. Vaughn stays very calm in high-pressure situations, which gives me the ability to focus and the reassurance that he is supportive no matter what.
He is able to explain concepts in multiple ways for the athlete. We are developing skills in tracking and data analytics to ensure we are making progress. Vaughn works with various experts in the Performance Enhancement Team including strength and conditioning, mental performance, nutrition etc to ensure we have a well-rounded program. He has lots of knowledge that has been implemented into our program. Vaughn sees skills that sailors are performing at training or racing and we look if we can incorporate it into our technical skills and get faster. He has a great growth mindset.
I am so proud of what we have accomplished so far. Vaughn is the best coach I have worked with. It is a privilege to work with him. I am motivated of what’s still to come from our team as we set our eyes on Gold in Paris 2024.
For the past 35 years, Mark has been involved in many aspects of the sport as an athlete in the Finn and Soling, as Canadian Team Coach at big games, but also on home waters, and of course as a volunteer and administrator.