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: Kate Wilson, Hobart & William Smith ’08
The four years I spent as a member of a college sailing team were some of my most rewarding and exciting years of my life so far, but also some of the most tiring and frustrating and not to mention, cold. I would not trade my seasons on Lake Seneca in upstate New York sailing for Hobart and William Smith Colleges for anything. While I did have some upperclassmen that shared pearls of wisdom, I figured a lot out on my own. It would have been nice to know what to expect. So here are my rules to live by your first year:
Learn something new every day and take note of it. My captain gave me this wise advice when I sailed with him on the very first day, shaking with anxiety. I kept a notebook that first season and wrote down one sentence after practice each day about something I learned. Even if it was my footing on roll tack or about how the wind fans when it blows from the west, I wrote it down. At the end of a 12-week season, sailing five days a week, that was 60 new techniques and kernels of knowledge I didn’t have before that season.
Do not walk down on the dock your first day like you are already an All American. No one cares how well you did in high school, in the summer, or even in your Opti days. All that matters is how you get along with your teammates or coach and whether you are willing to work hard. No matter how much sailing time you have, you have zero years of college sailing experience.
Don’t yell. We have all gotten in heated arguments on the water, but controlling those emotions are key. Do not start your first year off by developing the reputation as a “screamer.” This goes for regattas and practice, both inside and outside the boat. Yelling at the crew is not motivating and is likely to cause them to lose focus, which helps neither party. Crews shouldn’t lash back at the skipper in response to a heated command. It’s not personal.
But don’t be a pushover. If you’re sailing at the college level, you have what it takes to compete. Do not let the upperclassman push you around on the water. If they foul you, call them out. If they are about to take your hole, close the door or if they give you the chance to take their hole, put your bow in there. Be aggressive. The same goes for in the boat. Freshmen or senior, skipper or crew, everyone deserves the same amount of respect in the boat because ultimately winning is what everyone is after.
Leave it on the water. Whether it was a fight or triumph, do not pout or boast when your booties hit the dock. Sailing is such a mental sport as it is, if you take all those emotions with you, then you are bound to burst at some point. You are more likely to have a good time the next time you go out if you just let bygones be bygones.
Go talk to your coach. Talk to your coach off the water. If he or she has an office then go see them during the day or hang out after practice for a quick word. Keeping a good dialogue goes a long way. If you’re wondering why he/she is not sending you to regattas, so go ask. Every coach should be willing to talk about the decisions and your sailing.
Ladies, hold your own. Guys, its ok to be beat by a girl. I went back and forth between skippering and crewing. Sometimes I found the younger guys tend to hit twice as hard on the girls and pull some questionable moves because they feel threatened. Sometimes I would let it go because the other women skippers in practice were my competition not the guys. This does not help anyone and defeats the point of practicing to be competitive.
Talk. I was a quiet crew my first year until my skipper at the time couldn’t take the silence any longer. He made me talk non-stop for an entire race. “Tell me about boats, tell me about wind, tell me about birds, or tell me a joke! I don’t care but just don’t stop talking.” Keeping the lines of communication open the entire time not only is key but it also calms the nerves of both skipper and crew.
1-minute rule. This has nothing to do with being over early. When a race is over and you are pissed about your performance, you have one minute to get over it and move on to the next race. Shaking off the frustrations and focusing on what is ahead is the only way to continue to improve. Learn from your mistakes but do not dwell on them.
You are part of a team now. Arriving freshmen year, you are arriving fresh off of summer sailing where you were heavily focused on your individual results. Now you are a member of team and therefore you have to realize that it is not about you, but the group. Coaches always have the greater good and bigger picture in mind. Team dynamics and matchups are all factors that go into deciding who is going to sail a regatta. So if you did beat Johnny in a race day and Johnny goes to regatta that weekend and you don’t, then realize it’s not about you and there is probably a reason.
Love your sport. Obviously all teams are different and learning those specific dynamics will also be important, but do not forget why you sail in the first place. Keeping that in mind will help you push through the rough patches and relax. Four years of college go by fast so appreciate the opportunity you have been given and have fun.