Learning and Coaching New Skills

Learning and Coaching New Skills

The Analysis

In any sport there are core skills and peripheral skills. As the athlete progresses the core skills usually multiply, and the peripheral skills will also grow in number.

We may then logically ask who decides what the core skills are, and who decides what the peripheral skills can be, with an additional question of how the process of deciding which skill sets deliver optimum performance. Often it is the sport that dictates evolution, with simple motor skills such as running being the core, with fitness, pace (when to pile on the pressure) condition and strength being essentially the breadth of the core. Different sports become more complex – sailing is among the most complex with many techniques, a broad spectrum of repetition, and always different conditions. For an Olympic sailor the list of core skills can be written on 4 excel pages, broadly encompassing technique (approx. 60 core skills), Fitness (approx. 12), Tactical (approx. 30 basic plays and evolution) and Psychology, which is treated in many different ways. By the time we have developed all these core skills to a huge range of conditions, we find that there are many routes to success, and few top sailors will employ the same skills with the same emphasis to achieve their optimum performances.

Many successful sailors appear to know intuitively which skills give the greatest return to performance on any particular day. This is where the process of prioritization for short term gain becomes uncertain and very personalized. The sailor with an apparent natural talent may already be competent in more skills than average, so may be able to concentrate better on a particular sub set and reap the due rewards. Others who copy this apparently talented sailor and focus on the same subset of skills may well fail to improve their results, simply because it will possibly mean that another more important skill is neglected whilst focusing on being a copycat. This then boils down to a need to be aware from early stages of our own strengths and weaknesses, which is why throughout our sailing careers we never have a magic bullet because the wide range of skills required to succeed are far more diverse than any non-sailor can imagine.

Defining talent is an entirely different topic, but certainly a topic that has a bearing on the prioritization of application of skills. We can state that there are many skills to be either learned, or existing skills to be applied when we begin to sail. Breaking the skills down into rudder control, sheet control, boat trim, balance, coordination of movement to wind, understanding luffing, rigging, and so many more leads to a realization that until excellence is approached in all fields, Sailing regattas are more often won by the sailors making the least mistakes rather than through any inspired moves of genius. This apparent negativity or defensive truth is mitigated by the fact that we can all make moves which pay off during the course of a racing series, but are drowned out by the cost of our mistakes.

Skills are therefore best learned by analysis and understanding of the goal. For example, does it really matter how we tack a boat, as long as our exit speed is better than our opposition? What is certain in sailing is that the more time you have geared to efficient practice, the fewer the mistakes you make and the greater success that you will gain. What is equally apparent is that coaching sailing means we have to understand that talent produces new techniques on a very individual basis, and we cannot place narrow limits on that talent.

The Art of Learning

It becomes apparent that skills are combined to create success. As an over simplified example, good use of main-sheet and body movement will be equal or better than a great tiller skill. How do we decide which path to take? Experience may show that we can execute certain tasks with different skills. A teacher will most often be very prescriptive in how you should start, tack, gybe, sail, pinch, mark round, etc.. A coach will discuss the end goal and make a democratic process of how the end goal is achieved, allowing for experimental approach within the learning process. We must never forget that “play is nature’s natural way of learning”. If we prescribe technique, we never allow for genius to show.

As a sailor, the process of learning is no different to any other field. If we say “teach me how to tack”, then an awful lot of people can do this. However if we say “I want to learn how to tack”, then the coach will set a playing field with boundaries which are far wider than the channel that teaching allows, with the sole aim of spending as little time as possible completing the tack, with the maximum upwind gain and the best possible exit speed. Now we can feel the difference!

Action Time

At Toplevel Sailing, we have achieved success by knowing what playing fields to mark out in the game of skill development. It is important to us to play constructively, and to make the rules for each individual to achieve their optimum performance rather than to produce squads of cloned sailors. To experience this evolution contact us and discuss your needs – we will always talk, and always be honest in our appraisal when delivering coaching that leaves you in control of your development within your own budget and time resources. This applies whether you are a federation, club, squad or an individual sailor, at any point in your development.

Maybe the most important talent to bring into a sailing career is: willingness to spend a huge amount of hours in the sport!

Due to the complexity of sailing, and the multitude of winning formulas available, time is the most limiting factor. The will and motivation of the sailor to allocate more time can be stimulated if the training and coaching responds to the individual prerequisites of the sailor. At Toplevel Sailing we experience that sailors have more fun in the hard game of skill development, and hence become more motivated, when the hard work is done within a playing field respecting their individuality on a sailing, physical and mental level.

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