The Unofficial FX Campaign Manual
How To Jump Start Your 49erFX Olympic Campaign
The red notes are the most important!!
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Part 1: Build Your Campaign
The Olympic Transition
Since you were a kid, the Olympic music has had the power to send goosebumps down your arms; you’ve daydreamed of one day standing on the podium representing your country on the biggest stage in our sport. You’re out of high school - done with junior sailing - and the next logical thing for a great talent like you is to start thinking about the Olympic pathway. But where do you start? In junior sailing, there are a set of annual championships that you’ve probably attended. A small group of elite coaches whom you may have worked with to help design your training program. Possibly even a local fleet of boats that competed on a regular basis. In 2018, if you’re taking the plunge into Olympic sailing, the landscape will feel like a foreign terrain compared to your familiar world of junior sailing, but the goal of this document is to help you wrap your head around the new challenges that you’ll face, and help you come up with a strategy to get you where you want to go. Let’s start from the top.
What Is An “Olympic Campaign”?
While most junior sailors and college sailors get their toes wet in the Olympic classes with a preconceived idea of what it means to do an Olympic campaign, my personal observation is that few if any really understand the ins and outs of a campaign. In fact, in my experience, it generally takes even the most prepared individuals multiple years to really understand the mechanics of a campaign. As such, let’s start by looking at what it means to “campaign”.
A successful campaign, whether full time or otherwise, is at its core a small business venture. Your business (or your “campaign”) will need to incorporate many departments ranging from sailing, to logistical organization and optimization, to R&D with equipment, to marketing and fundraising. As the founders of your campaign, you and your teammate will need to recruit a team of support staff, manage your currently available resources, complete long term strategic plans, and generally keep your business on track and running smoothly. The goal of your business is to deliver a product on a very specific time line - namely, the Olympic Quadrennium cycle, or the four years in between each Olympics. In this game, you’ll find that time is your most valuable resource, and at the end of the day, your job is to optimize every bit of time available to you to ensure that your campaign stays on schedule.
In general, teams who win medals campaign for multiple quads - eight years or more - before cracking the podium at the games. While it is possible to get there faster, it’s even more likely that you never make it… Which brings us to a very important question for you to think about in the next section, “Should I Be Campaigning?”
Should I Be Campaigning?
Every athlete in our program has unique life situations and backgrounds with a range of sailing experiences, socioeconomic backgrounds, geographic locations, life obligations, and more. Despite this, I think that one common thread links all of the athletes that I’ve seen succeed; they value the learning and personal development afforded by an Olympic campaign. Few occupations, or experiences can compare to the challenge, the immersion in process and the intensity that the Olympic pursuit facilitates. As a result, personal growth is inevitable.
Your job is to improve your self - your body, your mind, your attitude, and your process for improvement - every single day. Better people make better sailors, and for those who value this process of learning and improvement, hopefully the daily process of campaigning will be worthwhile in itself, regardless of the outcome. In a sport where results can be so dependent on random variables, I think that the best advice to consider when trying to decide whether or not to campaign, is that you should only continue if the journey itself is worth the effort and opportunity cost.
The Squad Approach
For junior sailors, college sailors, and pro sailors alike, knowing where to start can be the biggest challenge. There are so many projects that need to get done, so many skills that need to be developed, so much money that needs to be procured, and it can all be overwhelming. The coaching staff for the US Sailing Team and the US Sailing Olympic Development Program can help point you in the right direction, but the first thing to embrace is the openness of the challenge - the fact that there really is no “correct” answer, and therefore each team starts with a blank slate on which to begin building their campaign.
Having watched many teams take their first steps in various skiff classes with varying degrees of success, I believe that one of the most effective approaches to learning the big skiffs in particular, is through a squad approach - a community of teams that support each other, push each other, and together, contribute to the bigger picture. As a part of the squad today, you have access to many resources to help get you off the ground that teams before you did not. As part of the squad, one of your responsibilities will be to grow this body of knowledge to leave a legacy for future generations.
As a young team member, understand that you’ll be benefiting from the experience of sailing against the veterans, and listening in on the higher level debriefs. In return, you’ll be expected to contribute in other ways. Showing up early to avoid holding up the group is a given, but you should also plan on going above and beyond to earn your spot in the group. Help with container loads, document your learning process, offer to help transport gear around the country if you have a tow vehicle - all of these things go a long way towards earning your spot on the squad. When you get better and more experienced and can contribute in other ways (sharing tuning numbers, sharing video, etc.) you’ll work your way up the totem pole, and you’ll have a great squad of young teams doing the same for you.
Factors of Success
To help you take your first steps, here are a few things to consider:
As we said earlier, your most valuable resource in your campaign will be time. It is the one thing that you cannot get more of, so you’ll need to use it as efficiently as possible. Consider a few facts:
If you have a good plan, consistent coaching, and a regular training schedule, it will likely take you between 500-1000 hours in the 49er to achieve a world class level of boat handling.
In an average year sailing full time, you’ll put in around 500 hours on the water.
Given the physical demands of the 49er, 3 hour days will generally max out your energy, and may not be sustainable for long training camps if you’re trying to maintain good technique (though depending on your training venue, you might be able to lengthen this to 4 hours by doing double sessions).
This means that if you have other obligations such as school or work, you’ll get even fewer than 500 hours per year, and it may take years to achieve boat handling mastery. At some point along the way, a successful campaign will require you to prioritize sailing over everything else. You’ll need to schedule holidays around sailing - not the other way around - and if you’re working as a pro sailor, you’ll need to prioritize your Olympic training first. All of this means that you’ll want to plan out your hours in advance to figure out how to realistically hit your targets.
Pro Tip: As a coach, one of the biggest things you can do to impress me, is to spend the time to figure out exactly how many hours you have available in the next year before you ask me to help you with your planning.
Just like so many other endeavors in life, your campaign will succeed or fail based on the team you’re able to assemble, and how effectively you can coordinate that team to work together. Consider the expertise required to perform at the highest level of elite sailing. Of course you’ll need a teammate who you can learn and grow with, who you can get along with and who can help to make you better in a high pressure environment. You’ll need a coaching team - sailing coaching, fitness coaching, mental coaching. This probably includes sail trim experts, rules experts, class specific experts, and tactical experts. You’ll likely need help fundraising, whether just someone to help you understand how to do it, or someone to actually do it for you. You’ll need to work with a 501c3 organization and the team there to provide tax incentives for donors, and then you’ll probably need help from a tax expert to figure out how to optimize your own finances. You’ll need to send thank you cards to donors, do basic accounting, organize logistics of travel, deal with boat builders and sail suppliers, and more. Will you do this all yourself? I can tell you that it is a full time job just to cook enough food to keep weight on, workout, sail, and rest for recovery. You’ll need to build a team around you to take the distractions off of your plate, so start thinking about what that looks like, and how you can start optimizing your life accordingly.
At the end of the day, one of the biggest shifts from junior sailing and college sailing to Olympic sailing is that nobody is going to do the work for you. Your coaches at the Olympic level don’t want to hear from your parents, we want to hear from you. We can help point you in the right direction, but we’re constantly trying to evaluate where to invest our own limited time, so unless you’re demonstrating responsibility, and the self reliance necessary to make it at the top level, we’re not going to be able to do much to help (check out the section later on “Coaching” for more thoughts on this).
Ultimately you can look at the challenge in front of you as an insurmountable feat to be attempted with an infinite amount of work, or you can face it as a blank slate, waiting for you to build your masterpiece one step at a time. One way or another, you control your destiny, so act like it! The details are everything in this game, and there’s no substitute for time, so there’s never been a better time to get to work than right now.
Around this time, I’ve probably either lost you forever, or you’re pumped to get started. But there is a very big elephant in the room: you’re going to need some gear to get going, and that potentially means that you’re going to need money. Different teams will go about this part of the process in different ways depending on the resources available to you, so I’ll try to offer a few ideas on where to start and then it will be up to you to figure out the rest. Generally to start you’ll have three options on how to get equipment.
1. Buy A Boat
This one is probably obvious, and also obviously the most expensive, but likely worth the investment if you can make it happen. Having your own equipment will allow you go where you want, when you want, and will make your training hours far more productive because you’ll get to know your gear. It can also become a source of income down the line when you upgrade to a newer boat. My recommendation would be to look for a used boat to start, as chances are high that your first boat will see some abuse. Avoid “sliding wing” boats (hulls older than 1300 I believe…) where the wings slide on tracks - these boats will not hold tension with the new rigs. The best place to find a boat is on the 49er North American Facebook Group or the 49er Int Facebook Group, so join both of these, and make a “boat wanted” post.
2. Charter a boat
This option can be good for individual events, but can get expensive in a hurry, as charters generally go for between $100-$300/day. Again, the place to go for these boats are the Facebook groups. In general, charter boats are an Olympic team’s “B” boat or “C” boat, so don’t expect to get a shiny new McKay for your charter fee. Occasionally Oakcliff charters there boats for events including, but not limited to the Tripple Crown Series, and Miami winter sailing. Your best bet here is to put a plan together to show that you’re serious about improving, and work directly with Oakcliff to figure out pricing, transportation, etc.
3. Find A Loaner Boat
Depending on where you are, your resume, etc. you may be able to apply for a loaner boat from a local foundation or other organization. The Skiff Sailing Foundation in San Francisco sometimes has boats available for new teams to get their feet wet, and every once in a while I see other boats pop up at clubs around the country. My first boat was a loaner from a local guy in Santa Barbara, who bought it for fun, but couldn’t sail it, so we traded coaching for (basically) ownership of the boat. On occasion the US Sailing ODP can help find loaner boats for top junior sailors who are serious about getting into the FX, so if you’ve worked with the ODP in the past, and you’re getting started, it can be worth a call to Leandro to see if there are any possibilities.
This is a huge topic - probably one that deserves its own document, and also one that has been better explained by professional fundraisers, but I wanted to touch on a few basics. First a few facts:
A full time Olympic campaign, done right will likely cost around $200,000 per year, give or take $100,000.
You’ll need to become one of the top 20 teams in the world before you start earning consistent funding through the US Sailing Team, and you’ll need to be top 10 in the world to start making a real dent in your campaign budget.
The average cost of a race at the Olympics for Caleb Paine, when he won the bronze medal was around $50,000 during the 2016 Quad.
While some of you will be able to fund a good portion of your campaign, almost everyone ends up launching a fundraising campaign, so it’s important to get the foundations in place early on. This will mean creating information packets and presentations, connecting with a 501c3 to work with for donations, building your fundraising network, and more. Just getting to the place where you can accept money from donors is a major undertaking, so start working early, and don’t expect your fundraising effort to support your campaign for a while.
Once you have your fundraising materials and pathway created, you’ll need to focus on your network. In general, private donations make up the vast majority of fundraised money, while sponsorship dollars are rare, often come with strings attached, and usually start with someone in your network anyways! As such, it’s advisable to focus most of your efforts on private fundraising. Furthermore, most of your fundraised dollars will likely come from a few key donors as opposed to big crowdsourced campaigns, especially early in your campaign.
One of the most successful approaches for young teams getting off the ground is to identify 10-20 key people who know you, like you, and might be able to give several thousand dollars. Set up meetings to talk to these people in person, or an event to get them all in the same room, and then… ASK FOR WHAT YOU NEED! The biggest mistake that I see frequently, happens when teams make a vague ask: “I’m trying to do this expensive thing - and any support you can offer would be greatly appreciated.” Plain and simple, this will not result in dollars flowing into your campaign.
You MUST ask for what you need. Write a 1 minute elevator pitch - why should someone give you money to fly around the world and go yachting in exptic locations - and then… Remember when we said campaigning was about perfecting your process for improvement…?? PRACTICE! Fundraising is a skill. Asking for money is one of the hardest parts. Give your pitch to a friend, to family, to your teammate. A lot. Then some more. Then go pitch your potential donors. Expect to hear, “No,” as much as you hear, “Yes,” but use these experiences to refine your pitch.
If you feel uncomfortable making the ask yourself, get someone involved who can be your advocate. A great strategy is to find a charismatic potential donor who loves you, and who is willing to go to bat for you, and ask them to help you raise X amount of dollars. If they agree, find a way to get the rest of your potential donors in a room (lunch?), with your ring leader donor acting as MC, and let them make the ask for you. This will allow you to focus on expressing your gratitude, while someone else focuses on asking for more money!
There is a lot more to be learned about fundraising, so find an advisor, recruit a helper, or do your research online to keep polishing your strategy. While you do this, keep in mind this list of common fundraising pitfalls.
Common Fundraising Pitfalls
Not specifically asking for what you need. Instead of being vague, be an advocate for yourself: “I need $2000 for a set of sails by next week.”
Focusing on “sponsorship” instead of private donors. If you’re part of the sailing community, you undoubtedly have a strong network that will expand as you start telling people about your project.
Relying on grassroots fundraising/trying to raise $20 from 100 people rather than $2000 from 1 person. Seriously, you definitely know someone who can write you a check for $2000. Save the crowd funding for when you need that last 10% out of your fundraising network.
Trying to “trade” pro sailing for “big donations”. If you’re going to do this, be sure to specify up front exactly how much you’re going to need as a “big donation,” and make sure it’s big enough. Your donor will probably be writing off their donation, so ask for a multiple of your daily rate… 3-5x? 10x if they can swing it.
Relying on advisors and volunteers who aren’t willing to roll up their sleeves and get dirty. Optimize your team, and be sure that the right people are involved who will take responsibilities off of your plate rather than adding to them. 99% of the time, when people say they’d like to help, what they really mean is that they’d love to feel like part of the team. Ask that 99% for money, and only accept help from the 1% who are actually going to come out of the gates getting stuff done.
I’m not going to go into a ton of depth on how to use social media in your campaign, but I do want to note that too many campaigns launch their official campaign by announcing it on Facebook or creating an Instagram account; this can be detrimental in the long run. At this point in this document, hopefully you’re starting to get the picture that an Olympic campaign is hard. That talent alone is not enough to succeed. And certainly that it could be many years before you start seeing results, especially if you’re not full time right away. Unfortunately, most people at your yacht club, at your school, or elsewhere probably don’t have that same understanding. The first time I tried to fundraise to go to a 49er Worlds, the typical response that I got from many people was, “Wow that’s cool that you’re trying to go to the Olympics. Let me know when you make it and we’ll pitch in some money.” Needless to say, fundraising from the masses can be quite difficult until you’ve got some results under your belt, so rather than campaigning on Facebook or Instagram, see how far you can get by fundraising from a few key people who will support you no matter what. Put in the long hours to build the boat handling, go get a few results under your belt, and THEN expand your circle. If you can get that first impressive result before you really start expanding your network, you’ll be much better off in the long run.
How To Get Support
If you’re still with me here, you’ll notice we’re a few pages deep, and we have not yet touched on US Sailing Team resources or support. While we are building a squad and a team approach that we believe will create champions, Olympic sailing is unapologetically ruthless in weeding out those who aren’t willing to roll up their sleeves and make things happen for themselves. In the time that I have been coaching, I would estimate that I have been more driven, and more motivated to succeed than 90% or more of the athletes that I have worked with. Those athletes can still achieve a very high level in the junior sailing world by following instructions and doing the work that they are assigned… But it is the 10% who grab the project by the horns, those who push me to push them harder, those who are given and inch, but take a foot that have the potential to really shine in the Olympic realm. These are the sailors who will persevere through the challenges that make up the Olympic pathway. These are the sailors who coaches will be excited to support.
As an Olympic coach, I am forced to manage my very limited time in the best way that I can, with the aim of raising the bar for Olympic sailing in the United States. I focus on things that move the needle as much as possible, and I work to execute a long term plan that we believe will build momentum as it goes. As a new campaigner, there are a few things that you should keep in mind that can help you leverage our US Sailing coaching expertise to the greatest extent, and prove that you are part of the aforementioned 10%.
1. Be Early!
On any given race day and generally even on training days, the US Sailing Team coaches’ attention is primarily on the top US boats, so as you begin climbing the ladder in the fleet, it will be important for you to strategize on how to make the most of your time around the US Sailing coaches. One good strategy is to get down to the boat park before anyone else, and see if the coach can meet you there. Land drills in the boat park are incredibly productive, as you can probably get 100 reps of tacks or gybes in about 15 minutes (double that, and you could have 200 reps in before the daily briefing!). Do this every day for a week, occasionally ask a coach to come give feedback before anyone else gets to the boat park, and you’ll be well on your way to racking up your 10,000 boat handling reps.
Similarly, get your boat ready to go ahead of time, so that you can get on the water 30 minutes before anyone else. As a coach, I can guarantee that your coach would much rather be on the water with you for 30 minutes, helping to get you tuned up and offering one-on-one feedback, than waiting for the top teams to finish rigging!
2. Turn An Inch Into A Foot
Brainstorm how you can take a small piece of feedback and use it to learn even more. One great strategy might be to recruit a friend or local high school or college sailing coach to come to briefings so that you can get an outside set of eyes, whom you work with regularly, to learn with you. If you can hire a local coach to come focus on you, and have them attend briefings, they’ll learn what to look for, and be able to help you evaluate your progress on the water. If you don’t have the resources to make that happen, or don’t know who to bring along, bring your own action camera out, and film all of your maneuvers, so that you can evaluate whether you’re executing your techniques the way you discussed with the coach.
I love to see sailors recording settings, or building out spreadsheets to plan and record their training, because both of those tools pay dividends down the road. Start accumulating data about how effective your hours on the water are, and you’ll learn more and more as time goes on.
3. Be Persistent
Finally, and probably most importantly, be assertive about asking for what you need, and scheduling times to talk with the coaches. We want to be available, but often times we’re going a thousand directions at once, and we need a little reminder about what you need. Schedule a breakfast or dinner with us, or send an e mail. Phone calls are tough unless they’ve been scheduled in advance, and text messages are tough because they can’t be “marked as unread” like e mails, so schedule a face to face meeting, or send an e mail that we can deal with when we get off the water.
Leverage Your Resources
Get to know the US Sailing Team staff and figure out what each person is good at.
US Sailing Team Support Staff - Meredith Brody, Martha Fortin, and Kate Drummey are our support team in the office and they do everything from shipping and transport of boats, to regatta organization for World Cup Miami, to Olympic logistics, to fundraising and much more. Get to know them, because you’ll definitely be working with all of them if you’re serious about campaigning.
US Sailing ODP - The goal of the ODP is to help bridge the gap between junior sailing and making the US Sailing Team, so when you’re starting out, the ODP is your primary resource for support from US Sailing. Get to know Leandro and Meredith Carroll from the ODP. We’re learning as we go, on how to help make this transition easier, and if you have a good business plan, the ODP will work hard to support you.
Sign Up For Facebook Groups - 49er North American and 49er Int groups on Facebook are the primary form of communication between sailors in the fleet, so get tuned into both of those channels.
Other resources to learn about:
Tej “Trevor” Parekh, the North American 49er distributor
We understand that a lot of new campaigners are in college when they get started. These can be valuable years to jumpstart your boat handling, and to get a foothold in setting up your campaign. With that in mind, it’s important to focus your resources on things that will add up in the long run. For example, accumulating 10,000 tacks will pay dividends down the road, whereas a few random racing experiences with sub par boat handling skills likely will not amount to much later on when you finally have time to start campaigning full time. Here are a few suggestions that you should absolutely be doing to help you stay productive in your campaign through college.
1. Focus On Boat Handling
Start with the basics and build from there. The technical section of this document will delve into the best approach for new teams to master boat handling, but this is definitely an area where diligent work over the holidays for a few years in school can really add up in the long run.
2. Build Relationships
Even if racing isn’t going to be a big benefit without a foundation of boat handling, use your opportunities when the fleet is racing in Miami to start building relationships with domestic and international teams, with coaches, and with the US Sailing support team.
Pro Tip: Rather than asking what the team can do for you, think about asking what you can do to help the team. Older campaigning teams might be excited to have a young team involved who is willing to tow boats to regattas, put man hours into measuring equipment, help with boat work projects, and other odd projects where you can add value. This can be a good way to start to develop a training relationship, and to start to absorb some of the wisdom from the veterans.
3. Craft Your Campaign
While I encourage you to hold off on launching your social media campaign presence, and keep a low profile until you’re ready to get serious, there is a lot of work that can be done while you’re in school that will jumpstart your campaign when you’re able to start focusing on it full time. Start getting mentors in place. This can (an probably should) be informal at first, but find reliable experts who are excited to help you learn and improve. Start building fundraising material such as a budget, a basic information packet, and developing a relationship with a 501c3 that can help you collect donations. Build out tuning spreadsheets, training spreadsheets, and whatever you can to start building systems and documenting the process that you believe will give you an advantage in the long run.
4. Get Freaking Ripped
I originally titled this section, “Get Fit,” but then I realized that I was grossly under representing the kind of work required to get to the top level. Olympic sailing will be more physically demanding than any sailing you have ever done in your life. By a landslide. So leverage your college sailing team physical trainer, or just your school gym to go get ripped. You will never have a better time than college to get into the best shape of your life, especially when you start campaigning, and the sailing demands compete with your fitness recovery demands. As such, if you could develop elite level fitness in college, you would enter the game with a weapon that most teams take years to achieve, and many never do.
5. Get In The Loop
Sign up for class membership here to ensure that you receive communications about the regatta schedule. Start to get a feel for what regattas are out there, how team selections work, and so forth.