3 Aspects of A Solid Game Plan

Creating a solid game plan before every race is an important tool to help everyone on the boat understand what the big picture objectives are in the race, and if you make a good plan, it’s the key to long term improvement.  When you check in with your coach or your teammates, be sure to check these three boxes to ensure that your game plan is air-tight:

  1. Observations:  Each good game plan starts with a series of objective observations about how the course is setting up.  “Darker water left,” “Oscillating shift pattern,” “Flat bottomed clouds on the right,” “Skewed starting line,” “Less current on the beach,” and, “Windy conditions,” are a few examples of observations that might factor into a game plan.  Taking the time to list your observations at the beginning of a game plan will help everyone onboard begin to visualize how the race will look, and what types of tactics will come into play.  For example, noting that, “The wind is 100% driving force or stronger,” should put you in a mindset of minimizing costly boat handling.  In addition to setting the tone for the race, this part of the game plan will help you hone your strategic game down the road, as you learn to evaluate more variables at play.
  2. Plan A and Plan B Objectives: In this part of the game plan, the goal is to pick out the most important factors from your observations, and use them to clarify what the objective of the first beat will be.  If for example, you know that the wind will be light during a race, you might conclude that pressure should be weighted more than shift, so even with an oscillating shift pattern, you may choose to extend to a side of the course to capitalize on more pressure.  On the other hand, in side force conditions (slightly more breeze) you might prioritize shift over pressure, as a one knot pressure difference might be a small factor compared to sailing lifted.  In this step, it’s also important to consider what you will do if your start doesn’t go according to plan; is it best to stick to your original plan, or do the conditions give you the flexibility to change the plan slightly in order to find better lanes?  As a whole, this step sets the objective of the first beat.
  3. Inside Versus Outside Track: Once we have our objective in mind, the final key is to identify the strategic track that sets us up to accomplish our objective.  A simple decision making model to apply is an inside or outside track on either side of the race course.  Outside track courses should be employed when your objective requires you to win a side.  Going back to the example of light air, if we see pressure on one side of the course, and we are confident that the extra pressure will be more important than the oscillating wind direction, we probably want to start as close to that side as we can, and beat other boats to get to the pressure (outside track).  In contrast, in side force conditions, we might still favor the side with more pressure, but position ourselves on the inside track in order to control the fleet when the oscillations come through, and to keep options open later in the beat by staying off of lay line.

If you can lay out these three components of your game plan before the start, you’ll have a much better chance of pointing the boat in the correct direction in the heat of battle, when the pressure is on.

Learning From Coaches In The Month Of May


With Dane and my first experience sailing with the other members of the US 49er squad right around the corner, we're getting excited to test out many of the skills that we've been working on for the last 6 months.  During that time, we've logged over 200 hours in the boat, completed more than 2000 tacks, and sailed in a wide range of wind strengths and sea states.  We have created our own style of boat handling and boat speed by maximizing flow over our foils and emphasizing a few other key underlying principles, and in May we'll finally get to see how our ideas stack up against the teams with more time in the 49er and more international experience in the class.  We are very confident that we are on the fast track to competitive boat speed and boat handling techniques, but going into the month of May, our goal is to ensure that we can adapt our techniques based on coaches feedback, while reconciling our own ideas about how we should be sailing the boat.  

Coach feedback can be one of the best ways to make huge jumps in skills and techniques, but in order to maximize returns on coaching time, it's important to understand how to utilize the feedback in the most effective ways possible.  The key to getting the most out of your coaches is to realize what set of tools that they can bring to the table, as well as the things that they can't.  Some coaches bring class specific experience, and can try to describe feel and nuances of various techniques, but for the most part, the biggest tool that coaches provide is visual comparison and feedback.  Through video and realtime feedback, coaches can help adjust your techniques to be closer to those of another team.  They can help you to discover new ways to approach challenges in boat handling, and they can help you to come up with creative solutions to work on your weaknesses.  Ultimately however, the most important part of the learning process is to relate the feel of the boat (which only you can experience), and your understanding of how the boat works, to the feedback that you receive from the coach.

Our speed and boat handling philosophies have several underlying cornerstone ideas including simplifying, stabilizing, and smoothing out everything that we do, so next month, we will absorb as much coach feedback as possible and we will ask ourselves, "How can we reconcile these ideas with our underlying principles?"  If the suggested changes bring us closer to achieving these principles, then we will change our techniques, otherwise we'll drill down into those core assumptions to try to analyze and refine our understanding of what makes boats go fast.  We're looking forward to an intense month on the water, and we're very excited to put this process to work with all of the coaches down in Long Beach!

Before the next time that you get on the water to work with a coach, take some time to think about (and write down!) what your underlying philosophies on boat handling and boat speed are, so that you can go in with a foundation to critically analyze feedback and build on your understanding.

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