Pulling the Strings, But Touching No Lines
Pulling the Strings, But Touching No Lines
SW: Are you focused on the overall group dynamic in your approach to coaching?
PP: Not totally. I think everybody can learn at any stage. Mostly I’m a sailor, not a coach and while I’m not on the boat, I can speak the same language because I’ve got the same feeling. I’m coaching Ben Ainslie—I’m a Finn sailor and have been world champion twice—when I’m talking with him, we’re talking the same language. When he’s on the water I have the same feeling just as if I was driving. So when I communicate a message I can be technical, but my goal is instead of telling them what to do, I try to do it by using media—video or audio or tracks—that can help the person realize what he has to do. Then it’s job done. You show a clip of good footage of what you feel needs to be changed and if you’re doing your job well, the sailor will look at that and say, “I need to do that,” and you don’t have to tell him. That’s the only way to get there in my mind. These guys are extremely high-level, and they have to be convinced that they have to do it. Audio is really useful too. I’ve been recording communications on the boat; sometimes you take a misunderstanding or decisions the wrong way on the boat, and by listening to what was said you can hear the feel the emotion which you can’t see in the video but listening to it, it goes deep, plus it’s clear, there’s no discussion. Then people can improve based on real fact. Even though I know what I want to change, I’d rather show them how.
SW: What is going to make a winning Cup team this year?
PP: Got to be quick, as usual! You’re not going to win if you’re not quick. That’s been the case for 150+ years. The quickest boat wins. The boat is the same as the team. If you’ve got a good boat, you’ve got a strong team because all the sailors are not only the users, they’re also the designers, they put their input into the boat. That’s why we’ve got this strong team, because we have sailors who know what is going to be the next step, what they need to do to save weight, or to improve the systems or make a better maneuver, or how to manipulate the boards, whatever. The team makes the development of the boat so the two go together.
SW: What do you really think you’re good at doing?
PP: Ask the crew!
SW: Do you miss sailing?
PP: I’m still sailing, just not on this program. I am not on the boat everyday, but I drive the 45 a lot during the campaign. I have an A Cat waiting in the shed for me to race next weekend and when I finish this, I’ll be running a big boat program—I’ve been tactician and driver for years. Being a coach you need to continue to improve, you need to challenge yourself, I’d rather be a sailor. But I used to be in their position, so I think I can help them a lot not being on the boat. I used to deal with their problems, so I know how to deal with their needs, I can feel them. When you’re under pressure, you have a narrow vision of things; you have your goal while all around you there are plenty of other things happening. Sometimes someone who knows how it feels can offer up a different perspective and you can move forward again another step. That’s my position and I try to play that game.
SW: Do you like the multihulls?
PP: Yeah, I do. I think it is a lot of fun. It’s a new challenge, it’s different, it’s quick and the way with the boundary system and the way we are starting is different. Technically it’s challenging.
SW: Thoughts on fleet racing versus match racing?
PP: The fleet racing starts are different, but as soon as you’re around the top mark and you do the first jibe, then it’s more or less the same type of racing. Match racing with these boats you see distance between the boats pretty quickly. It’s hard to cover so in that sense, fleet and match are pretty similar. Normally in match racing in the old days as soon as you’re in front that was the game [to cover the opponent] but with these boats if you just cover, it’s going to be hard for you. When we did training for the last regatta, I decided to train for just the start—we did a lot of starts. Then when the other teams arrived, we decided just to sail fleet because on the course side you learn more and every time you have a situation with another boat it’s the same as in match racing - you have to deal with that situation. At the end of the day you cannot really control one boat so you need to learn all the course plays. For me you can use the fleet racing to improve your match skills especially on the race track.
SW: What’s the best part of your job?
PP: I like it when we go racing. We prepare well our plays, we know exactly what we want to do against the other opponent, we know we’ve prepared ourselves for the course, we have the strategy down…we’re polished. Then you go into the race, there’s the 5-minute gun and then you’re a spectator again. That’s perfect, I like that part of it because I can see what where we’ve improved and what needs to be our next step.