Uncomfortable is OK

The Psychological Load of Olympic Sailing

Bruce Kendall – hero, role model, mentor, maestro “uncomfortable is OK


Any discussion about the pursuit of an Olympic campaign, the commitments involved and the costs, both emotional and financial, and benefits are vital to motivating and planning a special opportunity which can, and almost always does, benefit the individual undertaking the campaign. The benefits are huge. Even if the campaign fails in its goal of Olympic medals, the simple act of competing to be the best in the world at any sport, or in any business, gives a person the experience of planning, logistics, training, discipline, psychological strengths, an understanding of optimum stress and probably above all an ability to prioritize, manage change and crisis and therefore develops a person not just to compete on the water, but to compete at the highest level in whatever their subsequent career may be.

We are featuring the legend that is Bruce Kendall here because, as with everything he’s involved with, Bruce takes it to another level, to the extreme. He is an amazing character. He didn’t just “do” an Olympic campaign, but had a career spanning over a couple of decades, won innumerable World, Continental and Olympic medals, was THE yardstick to measure success (and most of all effort) by, and has an intelligence way above average, and an analytical ability which any of us can learn from. At the same time, you will rarely find a guy who listens more than he does. Unusually he also competed not just on an Olympic windsurfer, but on the World Tour in waves, slalom, racing, and subsequently did a very respectable Tornado catamaran campaign. The guy is full on. One of my favorite Bruce quotes is when pumping was first legalized. At the time I didn’t really know him too well having only really begun to coach on a consistent basis at that point. We were in Medemblik in Holland and I asked him how he was training for this new rule. He looked directly at me and said “For me its easy. I pump hard when I’m training, and stop when I can taste blood”. Whilst some may think that’s extreme, for Bruce its the norm.

So very importantly this piece isn’t about the psychology of an Olympic campaign – this is about the extreme loads and consequences of competing for so long at the very pinnacle of a sport for an unusually long period of time. Please read our introduction before going to the podcast.

Bruce Kendall: “My life has been an “adventure” which is a word I closely associate with the unexpected & discomfort. I think it is mostly through discomfort that people grow & achieve. Most people [including me] prefer comfort & to know that ‘everything will be fine’. So often this is not the reality. Adventure is exciting. Most of us like ‘exciting'”

The psychological profile of an athlete is usually abnormal. The continual drive to train harder, to compete harder, to evolve as your sport evolves and to withstand the pressures to deliver the results so that you can earn enough (or get a big enough grant) to continue is not to be underestimated. You compete at the top through a desire to achieve more. Retaining the hunger whilst enjoying the pain of training is difficult to understand once an athlete has done everything and been so successful. This podcast explains a lot, straight from the great man’s viewpoint.

Please do NOT begin to think this is what a sailor embarking on an Olympic campaign will feel, nor the pressures suffered. This is step five, a step few people reach or desire. This is a pursuit of excellence beyond most of our understanding. This is a rationalizing of extraordinary, and the most superb explanation of facing challenges, fears and overcoming odds.

Yes, Bruce Kendall, superstar and role model. Worth any young sailor’s time to listen to, and for us at Toplevel Sailing it is pure education.


This is an index for the podcast marking the important subjects Bruce has been talking about:

  • A little bit about himself and board sailing (3’10”)
  • His big fears at that time (6’30”)
  • Experiences from his first Olympic and the simple plan (12’20”)
  • How did he feel after the Olympics were over (21’00”)
  • Some sad stories in the Olympics (23’40”)
  • The interesting thing with failure (25’50”)
  • The very dangerous question (33’55”)
  • The optimal spot for Ego (36’45”)

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