From Attain to Sustain
From Attain to Sustain
You've made it to the front of the fleet, or maybe at least the top of the class, but do you have what it takes to stay there? From the Experts, June 2011.
Keen racing sailors spend countless hours and effort in the elusive quest for top results, but once they reach the top, or become very close, many struggle with the most difficult part—transitioning from getting there to staying there. A recent conversation between SW’s resident racing doctor and a top-level coach reinforces the challenges of staying at the top of one’s game.
Doc: Hey there, coach. How are those 420 kids of yours doing?
Coach: They’re really jumping ahead. Each week, you can see they’re really starting to understand this racing thing, and as they’re stepping up, they’re getting more enthusiastic and committed.
Doc: I’ve been hearing good things about your program.
Doc: I was having a chat with one of the parents. They were saying how the whole attitude of the squad is getting more positive, and the kids are having a ball.
Coach: Actually, the success is a bit of a two-edged sword.
Doc: How do you mean?
Coach: One of the parents races on a J/24 and wants me to coach her team leading up to the nationals next year.
Doc: That’s a good thing, I guess?
Coach: Well, I guess. I mean, they’re a pretty hot team. They came third a couple of years back.
Doc: … Yes? You’re not sounding very excited.
Coach: Cards on the table? I’m worried. They probably know more about sailing than I do—particularly the J/24. What can I teach them? I don’t want to come across as half-baked.
Doc: You seem to think you need to teach them stuff?
Coach: How can a coach be credible if the team has already outgrown the coach’s knowledge base? … What are you looking at me like that for?
Doc: What was the last class you sailed seriously?
Coach: 470 Olympic trials. But that was a few years ago now.
Doc: But you were pretty good then, weren’t you?
Coach: Yeah, we were up there.
Doc: What was it you were wanting from your coach building up to the trials?
Coach: Murray was a great coach. Never got in a flap—always kept our eyes firmly on the ball. When things felt like they were starting to crumble or felt pointless or directionless, he was able to help pull us around.
Doc: But what were you working on? Roll tacks, mast rake, pin-end starts …
Coach: Honestly, I don’t remember. We did do a lot on starts, and hours of speed testing. But most of the time, I guess, we were nutting through the issues of the moment. Working out how to do things—everything—that much better.
Doc: You’d made the switch from trying to attain a level of competence that would get you into the game, to refining and sustaining that performance. It’s an important shift. You were no longer working on the things that the 420 kids are working on—like trying to do even occasionally a world-class tack. You could do those already. You were working on delivery—exquisite, reliable delivery of what you already knew you could do. You had moved from “attain” to “sustain” training mode.
Coach: You’re talking about the difference between the 420 kids and the J/24 crew, aren’t you?
Doc: A coach’s job with an elite-level team boils down to only a few things, and teaching them things is the least of them. The first is what you said Murray did for you: provide a way to re-orient yourself when things go wrong. It’s a combination of providing an independent ear, a solid problem-solving approach, and that credible and rock-solid support and belief teams can rely on when the chips are down.