How to Survive Your First Year of College Sailing
How to Survive Your First Year of College Sailing
As a part of our May issue's 2011 Guide to College Sailing, presented by Sperry Top Sider, we asked current and former college sailors for their best advice on navigating freshman year. We received two dozen entries, the best of which, by Tufts sailor Amelia Quinn, is featured in the magazine. But we couldn't let all this great advice remain hidden, so we've published the five other finalists online.
By Joseph Morris, Yale ’12
When I think of what makes a successful freshmen year, I am reminded of the story of New Zealand sailor Jane Macky. Jane entered Yale with only singlehanded, long-course experience and struggled in her first few years. While she was doubted and written off by many, some saying that “she just doesn’t get it,” Jane focused on improvement. Just one short year later, Jane won A Division at the ICSA Women’s Nationals. Two years later she was the Quantum Women’s Sailor of the year, again won the A Division with standout crew and long-time friend Marla Menninger, and claimed the National title. So what did Jane seem to “get” all along? Jane understood that success would come from perseverance, starting with her freshman year. To borrow a phrase, ‘the juice was worth the squeeze’ for Jane Macky.
The collegiate racing circuit provides sailors with four years of fantastic competition throughout the United States. Fleets of one-design boats at each venue allow for teams to compete against one another on an even playing field, testing the sailor’s skills rather than the quality of their equipment. Short courses are used to maximize the number of races sailed at each event, putting a premium on consistency. This format produces an intense atmosphere of high-level racing that is balanced by the camaraderie of racing against teammates and competitors day in and day out. Frequently, freshmen enter college sailing full of enthusiasm towards the obstacles that lie ahead in their four-year journey. The single most important key to having a successful freshmen year is recognizing that college sailing is a process of learning. Every minute from the time you hit the water in your first practice until the moment you sail off the course in the last regatta, you will be learning. If you aim to become a college champion, it is essentially a four-year race to see who can improve faster, and it all begins with your freshman year.
The Pyramid of Improvement
Racing against upperclassmen with several years of college sailing experience under their belt can seem daunting to a first year sailor, but the measure of success is not purely based on results, but rather the improvements made that lead to the results. To understand how to make the most of your freshman year, the four years that you have as a college sailor are best viewed as a pyramid of development. The first year is base layer, the largest area of the pyramid, created by the steep learning curve experienced during your freshman year. As you progress to sophomore, junior, and senior years, the pyramid narrows and improvements become more incremental, yet each gain is supported by the essential base skills. This foundation can be broken down into the three categories: technical skills such as boat handling and speed, tactical and strategic decision-making skills, and mental strength. Compartmentalizing this base of fundamentals allows you to identify your strengths and weaknesses. A realistic assessment of your abilities will enable you to develop a sailing style that plays to your strengths while working on the areas that need improvement. Every college sailor has strengths and weaknesses, but the most successful ones face their flaws and view them as just another challenge, working to transform them into strengths.
Set the Right Goals
Recognizing what areas you are strong in and what areas need improvement is only useful when followed by a plan to improve the fundamentals essential to success in college sailing. Setting goals is an extremely effective way to build a solid foundation of sailing skills, but it is necessary to set the right goals. As a freshman, it’s easy to set results-based goals and, more frequently than not, become frustrated or disappointed when you don’t achieve them. As a rookie, I found it difficult to strike the perfect goal setting balance. At one of my first intersectional (multiple district) regattas, I failed to achieve the result that I was aiming for (to say the least), and was infuriated with myself. I focused solely on the result that I thought I should achieve rather than the process that would allow me to achieve it. In your first year it is important to set goals that are both challenging but realistic, focus on specific areas, and provide continual motivation. For example, if you want to eventually win the ICSA Team Race Nationals, first set your goal to become the best pin starter on your team. When that is achieved, become the best in the district, the nation, and so on. Focusing too much on results limits improvement and creates frustration, while focusing on improvement creates satisfaction and produces results.
Develop a Routine
Accepting the learning process and setting goals to achieve is only as good as the work that is put into the sport each day. Developing a sailing routine for each weekday or weekend allows for maximum efficiency at practice and an ease of mind during racing. Keeping a notebook of debriefs and of thoughts on each race of every regatta is an invaluable tool for improvement. Off the water, finishing schoolwork is the most important component to ensuring time on the water. Many high school students pass the time of their second semester senior year daydreaming of the endless hours on the water to come (myself included), but the fact is that college is a big, and important, part of college sailing. Whether you have hopes of becoming a doctor and are just enjoying the opportunity to sail while in college, or you have sailing aspirations that reach far beyond collegiate racing, the fact of the matter is that the two are intertwined. Social events and other extra curricular activities, when combined with the demands of sailing, can create a serious time crunch, but a standard weekly routine will prioritize your tasks and eliminate distractions. If you truly want to be on the water and improving, there is always a way to make it happen.
Be a Team Player
College sailing is a team sport and you are only as strong as the people you sail with. Working as a unit is one of the most important aspects of being a part of a college sailing team. This means respect, patience, and above all, sportsmanship. In the end it is your team name that goes on the trophy, not one sailor’s name. Being a member of a team has its challenges along with its rewards, but embracing the team atmosphere will be a fun and informative learning experience.