“That’s the one!” I screamed, voice cracking for all the volume I could muster. Nailed it. For four weeks in November and December, we had been working on various details of the tacking technique, that we believed would come together to make the ideal maneuver. As soon as we hit the water on this particular day, I could sense that we were close. The details were coming together, energy levels were high, steering was tight and precise. Each maneuver for the first hour was just one small detail away from that elusive, excellent tack. And then after a month of focus on this single technique, they nailed it. Quite possibly the best tack that I had ever seen, and certainly the best that we had video of... The one thing that remained was to see if the GPS tracks agreed. Was this truly the best version of a tack? Was it actually faster than the hundreds of tacks we’d done this month, or was it just pretty?
So often in coaching, we formulate ideas that we think are good based on what we see the top teams doing, or based on the underlying physics of a situation. But actually proving that these techniques are superior is difficult. In this case, it took a month just to be able to perform the maneuver once! So how do we know that we’re moving the needle in the right direction? How do we ensure that we’re focused on the most important aspects of a technique, and that we’re not just wasting time on a technique that isn’t actually going to translate into better results?
In this case, we were able to use GPS tracks at each step along the way to verify the lessons we were learning. When we mastered a detail - even if it wasn’t the whole maneuver, we could test 10 tacks, and clearly see the needle moving. Sometimes we moved forwards, sometimes we moved back, but at the end of the day, each test taught us a bit more about the best technique, and when it all came together, the numbers proved it.