Legends of Woollahra Sailing Club – Brett Beyer
By Yves Stening
In November this year, Brett Beyer was honoured by the NSW/ACT Laser Association with Lifetime Membership. Usually this kind of award comes to an athlete at the end of a distinguished career, a mark of respect for a once great contributor. However, while Brett’s contribution has indeed been great, he receives this award while still at the top of his game, both as an athlete and coach.
In the last 18 months alone, he has achieved the following:
Laser Masters World Championships, Dublin – 1st
Laser Masters World Championships, Netherlands – 2nd
Australian Laser Masters Championships- 1st
NSW Laser Masters Championships – 1st
South Pacific Laser Masters Championships – 1st
Currently coaching WSC’s Sylvie Stannage – Laser Radial, for path to Paris, 2024
Regularly coaching DBSC fleet programs
His past achievements are extraordinary, by any standards.
- Won 13 Laser Master’s World Championships, and Podium places in 4 others
- Olympic Laser Coach in the previous 4 Olympic Games, coaching South Africa, Korea, Norway, Ireland and Singapore.
- Competed or Coached in 39 Countries
- Degree in Sports Science, Major in Sports Coaching
I asked Brett about the award, his career and his achievements.
It’s a real honour receiving the award. I actually didn’t know I had received it until a bloke walked up to me in the yard and said, “Congratulations”. It was a real surprise and I felt very honoured.
Why did you receive this honour at this stage of your career?
There are many others in the Laser association who contribute enormously to the class and there have been two others who been honoured with Lifetime Membership. I think it’s in recognition of my long contribution to the sport and to the Laser class, in particular.
You must be one of the most successful sailors in the country. How many Masters championships have you now won?
I have 13 World Championships and that is equal to the highest record. The next Masters championship is in Geelong next year, so perhaps I might break it.
At the previous Masters Worlds, I understand you won 9 races in a row, is that right?
Not at last World’s, probably the previous one to that. Normally I have pretty comfortable wins and don’t need to sail the last one or two races. Normally I have a pretty generous buffer, let’s say.
To what do you attribute your success?
My sailing over the years and my coaching currently, complement each other. The two are separate but work very well together. The sailing up until now helps my coaching and my coaching really helps my sailing.
How do you maintain that consistency?
The consistency of my sailing essentially stems from knowledge, based on what I know works and doesn’t work in sailing, and that’s a result of watching a lot of regattas and coaching a lot of people. So my sailing is a formula of what I know works consistently … and the formula doesn’t work every time, but it’s consistent. Apart from that I’m fit for my age, I’ve got the skills plus the knowledge to implement those things.
So, fitness plus skills plus knowledge?
Yes, I think that’s an unbeatable combination. Some Masters have some of those attributes or are very strong in one or two, but to produce all three every day, across various conditions in a regatta, day in day out, it’s a super hard combination to beat.
At which club did you start your sailing?
Bayview Yacht Racing Association – BYRA, on Pittwater.
I grew up down the road. My parents were non-active sailors but supportive parents. I have two older brothers and they were sailing mad. They are both boat builders. We’re all in the boating world, we’re all addicted. Just the whole playing around with boats, building them, sailing them, sinking them (he laughs) … it was all pretty simple … and we were all not particularly good at sailing, but we were three boys mucking around in boats.
Bayview was a very junior focussed club, had a lot of junior classes, Manly Juniors and Flying Ants were very big in the club.
What was your favourite class?
Not sure, I think Cherubs perhaps, because back in the day it was a very high performance boat and for kids, to be sailing fast boats is a lot of fun. It was a development class so you had to stay on top of things. That was a boat we built. My brother, father, and myself built that boat, underneath our house and we went on to do very well in that boat, so I think that was the first glimpse of success. We won the States, Nationals and Junior World Championships from that boat. That was a lot of fun. It was fast and the social aspect of sailing with others in a lot of events was great.
What do your brothers do now?
They both are contract Shipwrights, one in Airlie Beach. They both did their apprenticeships with renowned timber boat builders, Beashel was one of them, so they’re both real artists actually. They both hate fibreglass, but that’s the way of the world now.
Was your winning Cherub a wooden boat?
Yes, foam sandwich plywood.
Over the last 4 Olympic Games you’ve coached teams from South Africa, Korea, Norway and Singapore. What defines success at Olympic level sailing?
Everyone has their own goals, but the initial mission is to not get ahead of yourself. You have to qualify for the Games first, which is very difficult in its own right. You must be the best in your country and be selected from all your colleagues.
So, step 1. Qualify – What are the selection regattas and criteria for the Games?
The sailors I coach come with me, so they’re an independent competitor, independent from their National Team. So we’re doing our program our way, and that’s a choice they’ve made to work outside of their national team. It’s also the most expensive and riskiest way to do it, because the federation of their country doesn’t really want to select these sailors who have worked outside of their federation system.
So if you’re going to do it this way, we have a performance focus. National teams have split focus, on performance, finances, logistics, resources, personnel.
We strip it back and say I want you to do well, you want to do well, and focus on performance. It puts a lot of pressure on me too because I do all the logistics, management, bookings resourcing etc… and that’s a lot of work. But I’m proud to say that all those sailors I’ve worked with have been selected. Every sailor that’s joined my group has qualified.
So you have a 100% strike rate getting sailors qualified for the Olympics?
Yes, 100% have qualified.
So what is it about the sailors that you’re selecting? They’re not just selecting you right? Are you selecting them too?
Yes. It’s really interesting, because some sailors come and go to the group. They must contribute something to the group, i.e. they’re great light wind sailors or very good down wind. But the dynamics are interesting, whether they’re going to fit in with the group, the personality and attitude to stick it out actually, because it’s no holiday.
Some think, “I’m doing an Olympic campaign, travelling around the world, this is great fun” but it’s not really that at all. It’s hard work and they must be intrinsically motivated to sustain that work load. They have to be fit, motivated, healthy, they can’t be a trouble-maker, or have agendas, or it’s not going to work for the group or me. We have had people come and go, but the people who sustain the training work very well. For instance, Colin Cheng, the Singaporian guy I worked with, I coached from 4.7s all the way to Olympic selection. That was a 10 year relationship. I respected him for what he was doing and he respected me. So his attitude was perfect for the group.
I’d rather take someone who has the right attitude that isn’t as talented, than someone who’s talented, because talent I can help. The attitude of an athlete is really hard to fix. So, it seems to be a mutually beneficial path that works. We’re all going down the same path, pulling in the same direction to achieve the same end.
Your Sports Science degree, Major in Sports Coaching.
I’ve noticed in coaching you always ask open ended questions about what the athlete is doing or trying to do, and what they thought it would achieve. This begins a conversation. Is this your natural style?
- I think it is. I think early on it was maybe a deliberate thing. I’ve always noticed coaching is absolutely a two way street and I don’t believe, to get the best from the sailor, it’s just me telling them what to do. So a large area of improvement from the sailor has to do with their own self-analysis, and I believe I’m there to contribute to that. I’m not there to feed information, because I’ve noticed that lasts for about one minute and you turn back and it’s gone, because there hasn’t been real learning. There’s been a fix but it hasn’t fixed any issues long term.
I encourage the athlete to be very reflective about their technique. If I do provide a fix, because time doesn’t permit, I always ask them to reflect on why the fix was needed.
To me, sailing is a complex sport, it’s a bit of jigsaw puzzle, so giving them one piece of information doesn’t get that piece into the jigsaw properly. If you’re going to put it into the jigsaw, it needs to be learnt completely before moving onto the next piece.
Sometimes this method takes longer from beginning to end, but I see it as a more complete way of learning and the outcomes prove that.
Did you study Coaching at University?
I did, but it was all pretty theoretical and what works for one person, doesn’t work for another. So, there was a theory of best method for coaching, i.e. feeding instructions to people … or not feeding instructions to people (laughter).
Are you aware that in the business world and academia, coaching is a huge area of focus?
A little bit, but my focus has been on the Sports world and I see a lot of Sports people brought into speak to people in the business world.
You don’t only coach Olympic level, but teach middle-aged hacks like myself at places like DBSC and entry level sailors, preparing for the Mirror Dinghy World Champs for example. Why do you continue to coach people at that level?
One is, I think it actually makes you a better coach, because you have to adjust your thinking and language from, for example, the ‘100 steps to the perfect tack’. So from a coaching perspective you have to break it down to something pretty simple and readjust your language and mindset for that person whom you’re coaching. Even though you’d love to jump ahead and fix everything, you know shouldn’t and you can’t.
I really enjoy the appreciation of them being coached. You know, for instance, I was never coached myself. I wish I had been coached and I think not a lot of people have the opportunity these days to be coached at clubs that provide coaching at reasonable prices, so I think firstly, I really appreciate the appreciation I get from those people.
Secondly, very small things improve a sailor’s performance enormously at club level. At Olympic level, you don’t get that because you’re making incremental improvements over a long period of time, but at club level, you can really improve someone’s sailing and their pleasure of sailing, with small changes. It’s not necessarily something too technical, and I love watching people improve that way.
Who are you coaching now?
I’m not coaching anyone for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. At the time, there wasn’t anyone who had the right fit, as I described. I’m now coaching Sylvie Stannage at WSC. She’s in Year 11, is smart, has a lot of exams and classes she needs to attend, has aspirations to go to university. It’s all a hard ask but she’s highly motivated, has a great attitude, her parents are very supportive and, if she decides to go down the Olympic path, we will both need to decide, because I have to keep my 100% record intact.
Anyone who’s with me must qualify … so we will see how she’s going at the end of school, whether she wants to keep going. We will see.
Brett Beyer is an independent coach and member of WSC. He has raced Lasers at the club since the early 1990’s. He’s one of the many Legends of WSC that we will be interviewing over the next 12 months.