How many times have you had a coach tell you, “You need to focus on getting a good start here,” after a rough race? Thanks for the advice coach, but what does, “Focusing on getting a good start,” actually mean? If your mind is occupied with visions of coming off the line cleanly and racing away to get the bull-dog, chances are good that you’re not focused on what really matters: the details. Just as you need to focus on the finer points of the starting process (keeping your bow ahead of the boat to leeward, communicating about incoming threats, choosing the appropriate time to accelerate based on the conditions, etc.), improving a racing technique requires intense focus on the details.
Let’s explore this idea by using the example of straight line speed, upwind in driving force conditions. Ripping around the race course in any given condition can be broken into a number of different factors that become more and more subtle as we dig deeper into them. Within upwind speed, “technique” is one obvious, major factor, but within “technique” we can go a step farther and discuss things like weight placement, sail trim, or steering. Within each of these topics, we could go a level deeper to address, for example, puff response in our steering – that is, how do we adjust our steering technique to compensate for a blast of pressure? The more time you spend practicing, watching, and thinking about these factors, the more refined your understanding of the nuances will become, and therein lies the opportunity.
As in our earlier starting example, focusing on the end result usually causes you to lose focus on the details which combine to produce success, so the more we can isolate individual, granular skills, and focus on just those skills, the more quickly you’ll see results. For example, to isolate “Puff/Lull Response” within the subject of “Precise Steering,” upwind in driving force conditions, we could practice a drill where the mainsheet and jib sheet have to stay static – no movement allowed – and the skipper is forced to steer to keep the boat flat. This drill exaggerates the movements required from the steering, but in doing so, it also exaggerates the instantaneous feedback that the skipper feels, so it allows them to hone their steering technique accordingly.
Next time you head out to practice to correct a weakness in your technique, dig down into the true underlying issues, and try to isolate each one by inventing a drill that forces you to focus on a single aspect of the issue. Design the right drill, and your practice productivity will sky rocket!