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I gave Adam Werblow a call while he was on the road to the Hap Moore Team Race Regatta at The U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Whether it was legal for him to be driving while on the phone with me we will not get into, but we were able to discuss his beginnings and success with the St. Mary’s College of Maryland Sailing Team. Adam has been at St. Mary’s for twenty-three years as their head coach of the varsity sailing team and recently added Director of the Waterfront to his title. He has lead St. Mary’s to 15 national titles, and his sailors have earned over 100 individual All-American honors. I wanted to get the scoop on how he has kept the Seahawks in the top of the game for so long.
Adam came to St. Mary’s in 1988 after graduating from Connecticut College. He knew right away that he wanted to coach a college sailing team and produce the best team in the nation. Although he loved his time in college sailing, and had a wonderful experience as a sailor, he was unsatisfied with his career. He knew that the team could be great and be a much bigger presence on campus. He had some inspired ideas, but as an undergraduate his voice was not heard by the administration at the school. When an opportunity came to build an amazing boathouse at a very good cost, it seemed too good to be true, and the school turned the chance down. The boathouse would have made a huge impact in sailing at Connecticut College. Adam would not have seen it completed in his time at the school, but he understood how it would be great for the program. With this experience, Adam headed off for a lesser-known school in southern Maryland to create his team.
At St. Mary’s, Adam “found his perfect counter-point in the then Director of the Waterfront, Mike Ironmonger.” Adam explains, “Mike said show me and I will believe you, and he would carry the rally flag and get things done for the team.” With the help of hard working team members Adam started to build his team. He says “it has been the great partnerships I have had working at the waterfront that has made all the difference in my success at St. Mary’s.” He worked with Mike for 20 years and additionally his assistant coaches have all helped him and the team excel.
So, what has kept Adam in college sailing for so long? It’s truly his love of college sailing and all that it encompasses, “college sailing is not naturally a team sport, it’s an individual sport, and the pieces are excellent on their own, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts…it makes something special.” There are repetitions in the regattas you go to each year, but Adam clarifies “it is a different event with every group; it is in these events that everyone has a story and can share the experience with anybody who was on the team, no matter what year they were sailing.” He likes the age group, “there is nothing better than an eighteen year-old boy, who thinks he knows everything and then you show him he doesn’t.” Adam had such fond memories of his years of college sailing, and now he has been able to share in twenty-three more years of them. He gets to work with a great group of friends and is able to get to know people really well; he sees “all the ups and downs in an intense environment.” For the amount of time Adam spends with his sailors coaching on the water he gets a taste of some life coaching too, “I have life experiences to draw on, I have seen a lot of things before that I can try and offer to help advise college kids, it’s not a one way street though, the kids are teaching me too.”
Moving into some more specifics about college sailing I ask Adam what he wishes every college freshman knew, “how good St. Mary’s College is as a school, it’s a high-end liberal arts education at half the price!” On the sailing side he says, “don’t tack in at the weather mark, but on the other hand it is fun to see who learns this and how quickly and who doesn’t, what freshman don’t know makes it fun. It is different for every kid and every class—every year is fun.” This year Adam has a group of accomplished seniors, who have done college sailing well, and “it is great to have the wide-eyed freshman happy to be around them.” If you spend any time with Adam, it is apparent that he himself has quirks and it seems that it is the quirks that he enjoys the most in people.
Adam believes that when it comes to mistakes college sailors make that “the details can be worked out if everyone is a good teammate to one another. “ The support and advice of teammates is priceless when competing weekend after weekend in regattas. When it comes to college sailing teams, the sailors do spend a lot of time together and while many friendships form, other kinds of relationships (romantic) can develop too, I asked Adam how he responds to this and he chooses to stay out of it, he “hopes everyone can compartmentalize and honor the work that everyone has put in and be a teammate—know relationships are a fact of life.”
Adam admits that he does have regrets in his coaching career, “I would like to go back to the mid-90’s and know what I know today; do less. We had to overcome the fifty years of experience and success of the Academies (Naval Academy, Coast Guard Academy) in our district. Early on I wanted to cover every base all the time, but realized when I backed off we started to do better…we had to do less in terms of intensity, however not in terms of the preparations. We already knew everything that we needed at an event because we had done the work and it was time to just keep up with the basics and look for the fun moments.” Adam reflects “I needed to just push the boat off the dock and be a cheerleader.”
Finding jokes in the intense moments is one of Adam’s fortes. “You are sitting at Nationals in Hawaii, which other people think is so glamorous, but really you are sitting by a bunch of port-a-potties in a parking lot waiting for the results of a protest with two races left in the event, what is glamorous about that? Nothing, but it’s funny!” Now, he realizes that the real secret to success is “keeping things light”, he explains, “you have talked about the details you need to and know what needs to be done differently, so the next step is it’s time to be laughing.”
St. Mary’s keeps their practice philosophy basic too. They cover the elements everyone needs to know, and then Adam gets together with his assistant coach, Bill Ward, and they discuss what they do well and what they don’t do well. One of their main focuses is the sailors’ body form in the boats. They want everyone moving well in the boat and having proper hiking form, “hips to nips” as Adam loves to put in plain words. There is no set plan, but they work on building on the foundations and play fill in the blanks wi
th what is missing. In addition they analyze what the individuals are good at and encourage everyone to help each other improve. This is key in forming a cohesive team. When it comes to figuring out the pairings for regattas Adam says that he and Bill do a lot of listening from their sailors, “we cycle people through in practices and then figure out what works, whether it is chemistry in the boat, or skill sets of the sailors.” It seems that the sailors are able to fit themselves together accurately.
With the strong teams Adam has had, and his many successes you would think he is reaching out to new young sailors all the time, but the reality is he does not recruit: “I don’t call, I don’t write. It’s true that being a small college I miss out on opportunities getting the word out there, but students have to like the school first. I reply when I am contacted and help kids understand what this college is like.” Adam lets the program speak for itself, which it does very well. “It’s the only program you have eighteen FJs and eighteen 420s and you don’t have to salute,” meaning they have the same resources that the big government schools have. He “wants everyone to end up where they want to go”, he then goes on to tell me that recently he spoke with a student who was really interested in another school and would be a perfect fit there, so he called up the coach at that school and campaigned for him to get in there. Adam understands that when you end up at St. Mary’s because you want to be there you love it and have a great time, it is infectious. This translates to everyone around you and this is what makes being on the team so great because everyone loves it.
I asked Adam what is next for him after coaching college sailing and he frankly replied, “Death, is next. I am lucky in that if I won the lottery I would get up and go to work the next day. I have had great partners here and so much fun, the good time really is infectious.” Adam truly loves college sailing and knows there are always ways to improve it, but he still thinks it’s “pretty cool.”
~Jen Mitchell email@example.com
Check out St. Mary’s College Sailing Team website here: http://www.smcmathletics.com/sports/sailing/index
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