In the past few months, Dane and I have run a few regional clinics, coaches several events, and worked with many teams on improving boat handling skills around the course. There has been some good improvement from many teams, but the rate of improvement varies a lot from team to team. While everyone needs old lessons to be reinforced every once in a while, the teams who make the most progress are the ones who really drill down into the details and master each individual skill before moving on to the next one. Here are a few important things that you can do to ensure that you master new skills and arrive at your next event ready for the next piece of the puzzle.
Practice The Fundamentals
When Quinn finished the crew swap round-robin drill at the Long Beach ODP camp, his first comment was, "Everyone needs a lot of work on their fundamentals." Fundamentals are the building blocks that go into every other maneuver including balance, feel, smoothness, quick reaction time and more.
While it's easy to gloss over the fundamentals in our quest to get racing quickly, they are often times the factors that cause teams to plateau in ability. Here are some drills that you can incorporate into every practice to keep pushing your fundamentals forward and to prevent plateauing.
- Work on feel:
- Rudderless sailing
- Blindfolded sailing
- Work on balance:
- Boat yoga
- Tacking in front of the forestay
- Work on having smooth, quick reactions:
- Heeled to windward progressions
- Freestyle trapeezing
One. Step. At. A. Time.
One of the biggest functions of a coach is to simplify everything happening on the water to come up with one or two changes that will improve a team's outcome. Frequently I have parents ride along in the coach boat, who want their sailor to master twenty different lessons in each visit to the coach boat, but it's very important to pick one thing to work on, and master that single thing before moving to the next thing. For example, during our April clinic in Santa Barbara, the main focus was on light air gybes, and specifically the timing of the kite relative to the steering. At this most recent ODP Camp in May, it was very obvious which teams fixed that issue, and which have not yet. Those who have fixed the issue can now move on to the next item on the checklist, while those who practiced "boat handling" in general, might be a tiny bit better at everything, but still don't have satisfactory gybes or (likely) any other maneuver. To help organize what you are focusing on in each condition, try putting together a SWOT Chart like this one, and tracking your improvement over time.
Focus On The Details
We have discussed this before, but we can't emphasize enough how important it is to focus on finer and finer details the better you get. Almost all of the teams that we work with at this point have the a solid foundation of skills; most teams can get on a starting line, find a clean lane, and pick their heads up out of the boat to think about tactics during racing, but at the top of the fleet, that is not enough. The top teams consistently push themselves to focus on finer and finer details: obviously they nailed their hand and foot positioning, but did they pull on the boat as hard as they could in the exit? Was the rate of pull consistent? Could they have varied the rate of pull to eek out a tiny bit more acceleration in the middle of the flatten?
Whenever you receive criticism from a coach, make a note of what it was, and dig into it when you get to train by yourself. If the kite switch in a gybe was your weakness, try to determine why it didn't go well. Was your foundation of footwork and handwork good? Was your timing correct? Did you do any extra or unnecessary movements? Were you limited by your fitness?