Top 2 Reasons That You've Plateaued In Your Training

With the regular coaching playbook it is easy to get sucked into the black hole of the same monotonous drills day after day, practice after practice. In reality, creativity - not monotonous repetition - is the key to building strengths and overcoming weaknesses.  Consider the two main pitfalls that lead to plateau:

1. You practice a drill that you are comfortable with.  
Got flashy looking roll tacks? Then you're probably not getting a lot out of tacking on the whistle.  Dusting your training partner in every acceleration-on-the-whistle drill?  It's going to be hard to notice small improvements if you're consistently the first one out of the gates.  When looking to build on your strengths, instead of repeating an easy drill that you have already mastered, try something completely different.  Sail with your eyes closed and try to make it around your coach using only whistle signals to find the mark (best with an inflatable coach boat!).  Try to keep the boat stable while sailing heeled to windward as far as possible without taking water over the rail.  If you're working on tacking, try your tacking on the whistle without the crew wearing a harness.  If that's too easy, see if you can tack with the crew crossing the boat in front of the headstay.  To work on down speed maneuvers (like accelerations), try sailing around a buoy without ever being on port tack.

If you mix in drills that force you outside of your comfort zone, your foundation skills will improve a lot.

2. You practice a drill that pulls your focus in too many directions at once.

So on the surface, tacking might seem like a pretty simple skill, but consider the ingredients of a good tack: feet in the correct spot, smooth movement into the boat from the wire, consistent unhook, good timing between skipper and crew, fast hand switch, precise sail trim, precise weight placement, and much, much more.  If you're having trouble executing the perfect tack (and trust me: you are...) single out one skill to perfect before you move on.  One of my favorite ways to do this is to create simple drills that emphasize one aspect of a technique.  For example, if you are having trouble breaking the habit of clipping in before you are at full extension on the wire, practice hanging, and counting to ten after each tack before you clip in.  If you are struggling with your hand switch, practice completing the tack with your arms still crossed (i.e. don't do any hand switch at all).  Sail the boat perfectly for twenty seconds steering with the tiller behind your back and  allowing the skipper to trim main, until the boat is back to full speed, and then switch hands.

There are tons of creative drills like these that can help isolate your issues, or bring a new aspect into focus, so don't get stuck doing the same thing every day!

The Process: One Step At A Time

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:
  • Work on having smooth, quick reactions:
    • Heeled to windward progressions
    • Freestyle trapeezing

"Intensity without good foundations is flawed"

- Kenny Kane, Crossfit Games coach

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?