The complexities of sail coaching
The job of coaching sports is fun, invigorating, inspiring, and above all an opportunity for personal development of the coach due to the environment of ambition and talent in which they work.
Sailing is a sport of nearly infinite variables. Within each segment of our sport we rarely get the same combination of factors beyond our control that leads to a fixed answer. There are MANY “correct” answers, and many times more incorrect answers that have to be combined in such a way as to give the sailor the lowest regatta score possible. It is a unique sport insofar as if you get the majority of answers to problems “correct”, and minimize the damage through the messed up ones, you will probably win the sailing regatta. Few sports offer such scope for mistakes nor difficult challenges that must be faced.
So in sailing we see many occasional winners, sailors who have it all yet can’t put it together, but far fewer regular winners – those who win by intention.
Let’s look at sail coaching to see and understand what we at Toplevel Sailing do. The factors involved are not exclusively the ones mentioned, but these are the headline factors in sailing success.
- Technique sail coaching – learn how to make the boat fast (achieve race pace) in all conditions by your own actions, steering and sheeting
- Technical sail coaching – learn how to adjust the settings on the boat to maximize the potential of your technique
- Tactical sail coaching – learn how to get round the course in the quickest possible time whilst controlling and using the opposition. Learn the standard plays and be inspired to be innovative
- Management of change – anticipating the “what ifs” and how to prepare for them, both in rig settings and tactical plays
- Risk management – how to play the odds in your favor so that you can learn the probabilities of anticipation whilst covering the possibility of the unlikely
- Meteorological knowledge, learning about the big picture, small picture and micro picture whilst adding to your knowledge base of wind drivers, nature of different breezes and likelihood of change
- Sailing Fitness – different classes require different strengths and different physiques. At Toplevel Sailing we are not too concerned (within reason) about optimum weights, as has been discussed in a previous blog. However, without strength and endurance the regattas are not possible to win. Physical fitness enables clarity of thought when the less fit athletes are floundering. Fitness leads to good injury prevention. Fitness enables more concentrated training on the water. It is an integral part of our successes.
- Psychological Awareness – not as complex as people think. We are aware that the main part of sports psychology leading to success is that of stress. Without stress we do not perform. With too much stress we do not perform. Keeping the sailor “in the zone” involves understanding the individual, and understanding the stresses that are negative too them. We work a lot on this aspect and even use it through training.
As you may see from the above we as sailing coaches have far more complex processes to coach than most other sports. This does not mean we are any better or worse than other sports, simply more complex. Few leading sailors are of below average intellect, as the processes required are complex and require either complete guidance or understanding from the athlete.
How do we achieve efficiency in this tangled web of complexities?
- We operate through what is called the “sail coaching process”. It is applicable to any management process and involves: Observation: Analysis of the observations: Prioritization of the needs to strengthen weaknesses in view of the performance gains in both the long and short term we may make: Planning training – devise a program to remedy the weaknesses: Evaluation of the program and observe: Repeat the coaching process
- Item 1 applies to every aspect of sail coaching from the list of sailing skills above, and is applied rigorously to these
- The improvements are both systematically gained and measured. Strength and weakness evaluation takes place on a very regular basis – sometimes weekly.
So Toplevel sailing does things intentionally. There is little left to chance. We enable the development of talent, and hopefully genius, within a structured framework that has been evolved over decades of experience. We ask sailors to believe in the process and have faith. Once the initial belief is gained, success builds it to a solid foundation, and ALL our sailors gain the opportunity to gain success by intent, not just on the good weeks when everything accidentally falls into place!