From Norfolk to New Orleans: Charles Higgins named Tulane sailing head coach


Courtesy of Old Dominion

Charles Higgins, recently hired as the head coach for Tulane’s sailing team, works with student sailors at his previous institution. Higgins has been sailing since a young age, and worked at Old Dominion for 10 years before getting hired by Tulane Athletics this year.

In anticipation of the Tulane sailing team’s transition to varsity status next year, Charles Higgins has been appointed the club’s first-ever head coach. Higgins, originally from Texas, held an assistant coach position at Old Dominion for 10 years before packing up and moving to New Orleans to work with the Green Wave. 

The Tulane sailing team has doubled in size since last year. Before Higgin’s arrival this year, the club relied on fellow teammates to coach one another, creating a relatively casual practice and competition culture that will be intensified as the team transitions to varsity. This leaves veteran sailors like junior Sophie Ricker, president of the sailing team, intrigued about the transition, especially with a limited roster for next year.

“There are some people on the team who have never sailed, so we’re going to see what it’s going to be like for them,” Ricker said. “… That’ll be interesting, developing them when we already have people who are more experienced, so we’re going to find out how to incorporate them.”

Higgins began recruiting as soon as he found out he had the job.

“I’ve already been in contact with quite a few people and will continue that,” Higgins said. “Tulane is a great institution, it has a lot of history, it’s in a fun town — New Orleans … So now that sailing has gone varsity status, it’s simply going to attract more people who otherwise would have already liked it.”

Sophomore Mary Berg, secretary of the sailing team, has worked with Higgins before. When participating in sailing clinics the summers of her sophomore and junior years of high school, Berg got a taste of his approach to coaching.

“Charles is very firm but very fair,” Berg said. “If you show up and do well and do what’s asked of you, then you’re going to get along with Charles great. I haven’t worked with him in a collegiate setting. We were relatively small, so I’m sure it will be different and more competitive in this setting. But yeah, Charles is great.”

Higgins credits much of his coaching style to Mitch Brindley, longtime sailing head coach at Old Dominion. Brindley, who was the personal coach for Olympic gold medalist Anna Tunnicliffe, has coached 56 All-Americans, two female Sailors of the Year and an ICSA Sportsmen of the Year.

“It’s about finding your starting point, setting your goals and trusting that process for a long time,” Higgins said. “… And it’s really hard for college athletes to see that early on. They want the success now, they don’t understand why they’re not getting it, and they don’t understand that it’s a long process. Not only this year, but the coach is taking the long view, three or four years down the road looking at what your development is going to be.”

Higgins learned to sail at a fairly young age, encouraged indirectly by his father.

“I started sailing after my dad decided after some midlife crisis that he had to learn, and coming from Texas myself, I didn’t see that as much of a sport when I was 11, 12 years-old,” Higgins said. “We did a family vacation … [and] it was actually more fun than I thought it would be. And my father decided to take a boat out on his own, promptly flipped it over and couldn’t figure out how to get back in. They had to go rescue him and bring him back, and I thought that was hilarious … so I told my parents I would be signing up for lessons next summer, got into it, and it just kind of took off from there.”

Though the sailing team will not be transitioning to varsity until next year, Higgins has high hopes for success this year as well. The team’s most recent victories include first place for team one at the Owlapalooza regatta hosted by Rice University in Houston and third at the Intercollegiate Offshore Regatta in Larchmont, New York.

“It seems like the team is doing well so far,” Higgins said. “The women’s team, in particular, has had some success at the conference level. And going forward into next semester I think the women could actually surprise some people at the national level. And that’s not to say there’s not some good talent on the guys’ and coed side as well.”

Tulane sailing will travel next to the University of Texas at Austin to race in the Kathryn Hammond Memorial regatta and then return to New Orleans for Back to the Bayou.

“I don’t think there’s anything stopping Tulane in the future from being a highly competitive nationally-ranked program,” Higgins said. “It’s just going to take time. But, that’s what I’m here for.”

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