jamie-coach-sailingSome of you may know that I (Jamie Black) am a big advocate for Guiding children, youth and families through life-altering adventures, providing experiential learning using a more Guided Discovery approach. Recently, I defended my thesis and am the proud author of “The Hummingbird Approach: A Case Study of Guided Discovery Learning with Children in Nature”

.  What is it, and where did it come from you ask?

This thesis distills my understanding of this concept, yet it is far from complete.  One way I like to share the concept is by telling my favorite story of a little 8 year old I like to call “Johnny,” who while in his sailboat he was guided through his own discovery of self-confidence.

In 2003 I had the pleasure of coaching along side Tine Moberg Parker:

Olympic Sailboat Racing Athlete

World Renowned Championship Sailing Coach


optimistOne day the head coach invited me to sit in her coach boat while a young, new boy (we’ll call Johnny) sat scared in his little Optimist (much like the image to the left).  Poor Johnny was scared, the sail was flapping over his head and he just wanted to go home.  Tine said to me “Watch this…  Hey ‘Johnny’, how is it going?”  He shrugged, wiped his tears off his cheek and said “I just want to go home!”  Tine pulled her coach boat closer and said “Johnny, I hear you, but either way you will need to sail that boat to get you back to the dock, or around that mark like the rest of the boats.  We do need to do something, what do you want to do?”  Johnny said, with fear in his eye “I dunno.”  [A typical response for any child].  Then the head coach said, “Well, if you were going to try something what could you try?”  And he suggested he pull the rope.  She said “GREAT, give it a shot.”  [The head coach knew that only pulling the line would make the boat go for a second, then turn on it’s own, and put him back in the same position as before, yet she wanted him to experience that, and make the mistake himself].  So he pulled the rope and without surprise, Johnny went forward for a few seconds, then the boat crashed through the waves, and steered straight into the wind, with the sail flapping over his head, him being even more scared than before and letting go of the rope.

“Hey Johnny, how did that go for you?” she said.  He cried harder and was frustrated and yelling.  She then said “Well that almost worked, what else could you do?”  After a few moments of tears, he then decided to pull the tiller (that controls the rudder) and pull the rope and lean back, and what do you know… Johnny was sailing.  Not only was he sailing, but from that point on he taught himself how to problem solve on his own by saying to himself “that didn’t work, now what.”

Looking back on that situation, The head coach could have said “Johnny, sit back, pull the rope, pull the tiller and point the boat upwind.”  Simple, and easy for an Olympic Athlete to say, but the head coach chooses to let those new athletes learn on their own, experience what any person would experience if they were experimenting on their own, and let them make mistakes.

I Googled Scholar Articles for Guided Discovery, and this is what I came up with (click the image to enlarge)



There isn’t a lot about the theory, the concept, the background and case-studies… Back in 2008, I wondered, maybe I should do a case study on myself!  So I did.

My theory behind Guided Discovery is yet to come, but one thing I will share is this graph that compares regular coaching tactics of telling Johnny what to do [IN RED] vs. guiding Johnny through a process that helps him help himself.



Wiki’s Definitions

The next is yet to come!  Stay tuned!

(Jim, I hope this helps!  Let’s keep this conversation going!)

By Jamie Black