Q&A With Sailing Head Coach Mitch Brindley
Oct. 14, 2003
Mitch Brindley is entering his ninth season as the ODU Head Sailing Coach. Brindley has been part of eight of the Monarchs' 13 national championships and was an ODU All-American sailor in the late 1980s. Brindley graduated in 1989 with a degree in economics.
You're the president of the Intercollegiete Sailing Association (ICSA). What does the president of the ICSA do? How did you get involved in it?
The president oversees the entire ICSA organization, which is the national governing body of collegiate sailing. My job is to ensure and promote intercollegiate competition, and I act as a mediator when conflicts of interest arise. I oversee the North American championships, I secure sponsors, I help maintain sponsors and keep a good relationship with them. I assist in development programs, help them get organized. I assist the districts (ICSA districts) in their organization's structures. I act as the liaison between the wide range of parties involved with the ICSA, from schools to districts to the general sailing community. I head a group of volunteers and the national board of directors.
I was elected to be the president after I was nominated and agreed to serve. I've been the president for two years-two one year terms-and I was recently re-elected. I'm on the board of the U.S. Sailing organization, which is the national governing body of American sailing. As the president of the ICSA, I help maintain the relationship between the ICSA and U.S. Sailing. I'm going to an annual meeting this week in St. Louis, which I'm really looking forward to.
How long have you been sailing?
I learned how to sail when I was a kid. My parents sailed some and that's how I got into it. They taught me how to sail and they encouraged me. I've been racing since I was in my early teens.
After you graduated, was it your intention to get into coaching?
Not at all. I had no intention of coaching when I was in school. After I graduated, I worked various jobs for a year before I thought about getting into coaching. I had a few different jobs, like being a marketing assistant at Waterside. I got my captain's license and I worked on charter boats and as a sailing instructor. I did that for about a year and a half when the assistant coaching position at ODU was created. It didn't exist before then. I got the position and I've been coaching since.
What is your typical day like both during the season and during the off-season?
During the season, it's a blur. Our sailing program is pretty big and we often have multiple teams competing and different events each weekend. I have to deal with the logistics, getting vans ready, taking care of reimbursements, and worry about the actual sailing. The team aspect of it is about 60%. I organize the practice, how to structure the practice, planning for the next several weekends and deciding who's going to sail where, who's going to start, whether we're entered in development events for the young sailors to get them some experience. Planning the season takes up a lot of my time. Then there's fundraising, which is about the other 40% of it. I take care of boat donations-most of the stuff on my desk is about fundraising. It takes up a huge chunk of time, whether it's writing letters, or sending or processing payments for storage or maintenance, it's ongoing. I need to find some funding for a new coach's boat, for example. I have a big recruiting pile which I also take care of. Outside of the season, it's really a lot of recruiting and fundraising, and taking care of fleet repair and maintenance.
What's your most memorable moment as the ODU Sailing Coach?
There are a lot of them. Winning national championships is very memorable. They're one of the many things that sticks out. I take a lot of pride when my sailors graduate and they come back and say they enjoyed sailing everyday at 3:00 p.m. Whether they were good or not, there are different levels of success. When unheard of sailors become major players in regattas and opposing coaches come up and ask "Who's that?," that's great.
During your tenure as coach, who do you think is the most impressive sailor you've coached?
I've had a few. John Torgorson was an excellent sailor. I was impressed with his ability to remain calm all the time. Mark Zagol was also very good. Right now, I'm impressed with Anna Tunnicliffe, with her work ethic more than anything. Other people have impressed me, not so much for their sailing, but for their dedication.
If you weren't coaching, what would you be doing?
When I was in college, I thought I wanted to be an economist. I'd probably be doing something in business management. In the late 80s when I graduated, we were going through a recession, so it was hard to find a job in the industry of choice. I was applying for various banking positions and management training programs, but they were cancelled. I would probably have gone into banking. Luckily, no jobs were really available, so I got into coaching.
Do you still compete in sailing events?
I do. I race with local sailors from time to time. I sometimes race in a donated boat in open events. My next event is the Newport Bermuda race. I last did it two yeas ago with some local sailors and we did well. We're going to do it again. I have to demonstrate my skills every couple of months, sometimes during practice. I get to choose the days I say, when it's not too windy, not too cold.
What's the best and worst parts about being a coach?
The best part is watching and helping students succeed, for them to learn how to work together and develop their individual and team skills. Whether it's earning an All-American award or just getting through the course without capsizing, the success of the sailors is the best part of it. As for the worst parts, the hours are long and I'm travelling 26 weeks a year. Any coach does it because of a love of the sport and to have a chance to teach and coach. We're all usually workaholics.
How did you become the head coach at ODU?
I was an assistant coach here for about four years under K.C. [Fullmer] and when he retired from coaching to get into another aspect of industry, I was here, I knew the program, and they thought I was qualified, so they hired me.
What was your most memorable moment as a collegiate sailor? What made you choose to come to ODU?
I don't remember much from those days. I guess it's the friendships that developed that I remember most. The opportunity to go sailing everyday was great. The chance to be a part of something that had an impact on my life, to be able to represent the university at events, to win the championships, it was great. I came to ODU because everyone else in my family and my friends were either going to the University of Texas or Texas A&M. Texas didn't have much of a sailing program and I wanted to get into serious sailing. ODU had a varsity program, it was a good-sized school, it was something different and I tried it.
Outside of sailing, what sports do you generally follow?
I'm not much of a spectator. Sailing is a great participant sport, but not much of a spectator sport. I tend to participate rather than just watch. I do catch football occasionally, college in particular. College basketball also. I go to a Norfolk Tides game occasionally. I like to fish, to be outside doing something. I go to as many ODU games as I can-soccer, basketball, others-but it's hard when you're out of town and our regattas are all day Saturday and Sunday, so I don't get a chance to watch much sports. After travelling back all night Sunday from the regattas, my wife doesn't want me watching Monday Night Football, and really I don't really want to watch it either. There are other things I can do with my time.
This weekend, ODU is sailing in the Navy Fall Intersectional at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD.