There is a common misconception that only high achieving pilots with 100s or 1000s of hours airtime are capable of coaching low airtime pilots. Not only does the practise of coaching require the coach to devote time to helping other less experienced pilots, but there are several interpersonal and flying skills required of a coach that are not obvious. These include the ability to assess a pilot’s skill level without even having met him/her before; to establish a successful rapport with the new pilot without coming on too strongly; to be able to ask open questions and encourage the pilot to talk about their past experience, current level, expectations, their assessment of the conditions of the day, and their possible flight plan; and very importantly to LISTEN. Without these communication skills how else is a coach to determine what is going on in the pilot’s mind, and possible behaviour in the air? This is key to helping a coach to understand what stage the pilot is at, and what the next step might be, even if it’s a top to bottom to confirm that he/she can do what is he claims to be able to do. It is then a matter of checking pilot preparedness, rigging, pre-take off checks, ensuring there is not traffic in the area, before critically observing the flight and landing, noting any issues to be followed up, and then importantly taking the time to debrief the pilot after the flight and resolving any observed points.
So the coach also needs to assess the conditions on behalf of the new pilot, identify whether this is a confirmation flight of previously claimed achievements or if the next task should be attempted, and ensuring that virtually all the flight plan comes from the pilot. More advanced coaching covers theory both on the hill and in the classroom (requiring effective presentation skills), and together with coaching ridge soaring in traffic and XC techniques, all benefit from the principles used for basic coaching. These assessment and communication skills are not readily found in daily life or everyday pilots on the hill, or necessarily in those who have consistently high competition records or 1000s of hours. Neither are they naturally acquired. But they are essential to ensuring the safety of our new pilots coming into our club or the sport, or indeed any sport.
This is why the BHPA run a coaching scheme, why we as BHPA coaches are able to help people in their introduction to club flying safely, and why we are insured to the tune of £2million in the event of any unfortunate incident that may be attributed to a coach in a court decision. It means that the unfortunate pilot and family will receive adequate compensation, and that the acting coach in the last resort is not going to lose his/her house, family, car, etc, or the club to lose its assets!
No coaching scheme is going to be successful without a level of trust between the new pilot and the coach, between coaches themselves, and between the club and the club coaching system. Our successful LMSC coaching scheme runs against the background of substantial achievements by our club coaches, both for theory and exams, but very importantly in the less publicised practical coaching on the hill.