Using a Coach and How to get the Most out of Them

Now that most of us in the Southern Hemisphere have completed our National championships, our attention must turn to analysing our results so that we can improve for next years competition.  

Some competitors will be more than satisfied with the end result but for most, now that they have competed on the same track with the best in their class, their minds will be turning to what they need to do to show up higher on the leader-board next year.

Of course most of us lament the fact that we did not have enough time on the water but a surefire way to shorten the process is to engage a coach.  Coaching doesn’t have to be an expensive venture for it to add immense value.

Step 1: Find the Right Coach

Consider avoiding a coach who has a personality similar to yours. Sailors often assume that understanding the sport will come easier when explained by a like mind, but benefits will come from those who notice your weaknesses. Seek coaches who are experts in your weak areas. For example, if you struggle with starts, look for a coach skilled in that area.

Step 2: Show Up with the Right Attitude

You’re not there to show the coach how much you know, you’re there to grow. Show up with an open mind, ready to improve or learn something new. Keep your emotions in check. they cloud the experience and distract from getting every bit of information from a coach.

Step 3: Come with Questions
If you have a question, chances are that someone else does too. Either as an individual or as a team, spend time writing down a few questions to ask the coach. Having questions ready will help the coach make sure you get the experience you’re looking for.

Step 4: Debrief
Take time to debrief with the coach and then debrief with your crew immediately afterwards to share thoughts and the biggest take-aways. Discuss ideas for improvement and make a game plan for implementing and practicing new techniques.

Step 5: Document & Implement 
Turn your game plan into a playbook for the boat. In addition to being a great resource , a playbook gives new crew ideas on how manoeuvres are made. The key to an effective playbook is to keep it simple with not much confusing detail.

ALTERNATIVE COACHING IDEAS

  •  Video: Coaching doesn’t have to be expensive, take Go-Pro videos and have a coach review them plus trade and evaluate each other’s tapes.
  • Peer Review: Sailors can find coaches in their peers.  Take turns making manoeuvres and then discuss what went well and what didn’t –  exchange ideas. 
  • Split Costs: Set up a few-days training session or a clinic for the fleet, and split the coaching costs. 
  • Seminars: Take advantage of seminars, if there aren’t any in your area, call your sailmaker and arrange one for your local yacht club.

How to Cope with the Pressure of Being in the Lead

Holding on to a lead can be as much about your mindset as it is your speed or tactics. Being at the front of the fleet is daunting, but to stay there its important to focus on the little things.

The anticipation of losing the lead you’ve achieved can create a multitude of thoughts that are unrelated to sailing smart and fast.

The anticipation of success can come with fears that are unrelated to getting to that finish line such as “Will I maintain this success in later events? What will people say? Do I really deserve this?”

Outcomes are largely based on uncontrollable variables, like how fast other people are sailing.

When you find yourself in the lead, you did something right, you focused on variables such as wind-shifts, current, and fleet positioning or such controllable variables as your boat-speed, boat-handling, and keeping calm.

Once you’re in the lead, you don’t want to start doing something different such as wasting  mental space on what place you will or won’t finish.

You can influence your thoughts, but not control them and over time, you need to form new habits in thinking, if you’re going to play mind games with yourself, play games that work for you, not against you.

Picture what you want to happen, rather than what you want to avoid and your mind programs your body for action.

Practice mental skills, these are like any other skills, could you imagine having good roll tacks without practicing them?

 

Downwind Secrets

 

Sail away from shifts and toward better pressure.

When you are racing upwind, the principal rule of thumb is to sail toward the next shift, on a run, however, you should sail away from the next shift because you are trying to make progress downwind, not upwind.

By getting farther away from the direction of the next shift you will end up on a lower ladder rung when that shift comes, and this means you will be closer to the leeward mark, one clear exception to this rule is when the next wind shift also brings an increase in wind velocity.

Your main priority should be finding the best pressure, once you take care of that you can play the shifts.

Gaining  ground  to leeward

 One common thing that happens on a reach or run is when the boat behind sails higher than you want to sail. This forces you to sail above the VMG course in order to keep your air clear in front of them. The problem is falling into their bad air and  then losing ground to the rest of the fleet.

To avoid this happening try two things, first, as soon as the other boat starts heading high, luff up sharply in their path to let them know there is no way you will allow them to sail over you. The windward boat believes that they may be able to roll over you, so squash that early.

The second thing to try is talking to the other boat, suggest they sail lower so that both of you can gain on the rest of the   fleet.

If neither technique works and the other boat keeps sailing high, gybing is one way to keep your air clear and regain the ability to sail your VMG angle, but often this is not a strategic option. 

The basic idea is to keep your wind (just) safely in front of the other boat, and at the same time try to work farther to leeward and away from them. In other words, pick a safe bearing to that boat and then try to hold this bearing constant while increasing your range (or distance) from them.

Sail your own race.

As they say, the best defense is usually a good offense. If you find the puffs, hit the shifts and sail your boat as fast as possible, there is little chance that boats will catch you from behind.

Sometimes the worst thing you can do is get overly defensive and reactionary, if you let the boats behind dictate how you sail down the run, you could easily miss the puffs and shifts and slowly lose your lead.

Instead, stay aggressive and proactive.

You want to minimize the amount of time that you sail in bad air and you should generally stay between your opponent(s) and the leeward mark.

Avoid Laylines and Corners.

When you get to the sides of the course you risk being cornered with no option to play wind-shifts, cover the boats behind, or avoid wind shadows.

The only time when the layline is a good place for the leader is when the boat behind gets there first – then it’s easy to stay between that boat and the mark. 

Improve your Exit Angles

One of the most important steering techniques for downwind boat speed is exiting gybes. Your exit angle affects your heel angle and acceleration.

During gybes, you should come out just a bit higher than your normal course and accelerate before steering to your downwind angle.

 Constantly Ease the Kite

A good spinnaker trimmer is always easing the kite until they see a slight curl in the luff, and then trimming in slightly to eliminate the curl.

Once that process is complete, they do it over and over again to ensure that the spinnaker is not over trimmed, which we all know is slow.

Experienced trimmers can even sense lifts and headers by constantly easing for a curl and watching the bow to see if the boat has turned.

If you ease more than normal before getting the curl, and the skipper sailed straight, you got lifted. If you get a big curl without easing, and without the skipper heading up, it’s a header.

Stating this aloud helps the helmsman immensely because he’s looking to gybe on lifts and sail straight on headers.

Sail Fast on the longer Gybe.

If you come around the windward mark and you are almost fetching the leeward mark, the last thing you want to do is sail below your VMG angle or speed.

If the wind shifted left or increased in velocity, there was a fair chance you would fetch the mark on starboard gybe. If the wind went right, you could gybe across the boats that sailed lower.

In either case you would gain the most by sailing fast down the run without worrying about fetching the mark until you were very close to it.