The Sports Psychiatrist

The right attitude and a little bit of psychiatry in the front of the boat will go a long ways toward success.

Sailing World

College Sailing Crewing

A good crew is part psychiatrist.Bill Records

You may have heard that being a crew also involves being a sports psychiatrist. If you dismissed this phrase as unimportant, then you dismissed a serious part of what being a great crew entails. Beyond the physical movements, tuning expertise, and positive attitude that a crew should bring to the boat, they should also help their skipper bring their A game to every regatta. While every skipper varies in precisely what they need, here are some tips that are just about universal.

Yes, you should try to be the best crew on the course, but never forget that your performance is not based solely on how well you roll tack or even how much accurate information you can feed to your skipper. If they’re not sailing well, then your results will suffer, and all of your hard work will be rendered useless. You need to keep them happy, focused, and both mentally and physically prepared for whatever the next race might hold.

Preparation starts long before you get to the racecourse. Making sure your skipper is going to be in a good place to sail is a fine line between nagging and nailing it, and, like everything in this article, depends on the person. Different skippers need different levels of support, and you never want to be overbearing or condescending as a crew--this will be immediately read as a know-it-all attitude that no one likes. That said, do what you can to make sure they’re well-rested and well-fed the two days prior to the regatta, and that they know what the conditions are going to be like so they can pack appropriately.

As you gather your own thoughts the morning of the regatta, keep an eye on your skipper’s needs. Do they need coffee in the morning to perform up to par? Make sure that they get it, and early enough so that the caffeine can start working its magic before the first race. As you go over boat prep, do it in the way that makes them comfortable--telltales exactly where they like them, a water bottle clipped in if they need to hydrate between races, and tension on just how they like it. If change makes your skipper nervous, then only experiment with new techniques during practice, even if it’s something as small as how you cross the halyards on the mast. Even if the difference to the boat is infinitesimal, anything that makes them uneasy during competition is not worth the risk.

On the way out to the racecourse, do what you can to make sure your skipper is relaxed and focused. Mental preparation varies from skipper to skipper, but chances are that this will include checking the conditions--breeze, current, windward mark, and the line--and doing a little bit of boathandling. If they’re happy with how everything feels, then talk about possible strategies--unless this stresses them out. Know when to talk and when to keep quiet and keep your observations to yourself.

If you have a bad race, then it’s vital that you help your skipper recoup and shake it off. This might mean discussing your strategy for the next race or doing some big roll tacks to take their mind off of the points you just accrued. If you can single out a cause for why things went wrong--like they were overheated and need to take off their spray top, or you started on the wrong side of the line, or you crossed the course too many times--and then fix it before or for the next race, this can help them feel like the problem was external and they may be able to attack the next race with a clear mind. Helping your skipper get over a bad race is one of the most difficult but most important aspects of crew psychiatry, and you’ll have to tailor your technique to the person and the situation. Do they want to talk about everything that went wrong? Do they want to put it behind them and simply focus on the next race?

The more you sail with the same person, the closer you should come to reading their mind and predicting their needs. Always be trying to do what they want before they even request it, and don’t be frustrated when they ask you to do something you’re already doing. Many skippers say things out loud for their own benefit, and as a crew you can’t be defensive or snap back when your skipper is just trying to make everything go more smoothly. Sassing your skipper over something as small as a quick correction will be detrimental in two ways: It will detract from your next move, and it will throw off your skipper as they will either apologize or snap back at you. Either way, both of you will lose focus and your race will suffer when you instead could have swallowed your pride and concentrated on your next move.

This is a problem that many good crews have--the worst thing you can do is to exude an “I’m better than you” attitude. Always keep yourself grounded: Your job is to make the boat go fast. Your skipper is the one driving the boat, and thus you need to do everything possible to make sure that they’re able to make the boat go as fast as possible. If they yell “Up, up, UP!” don’t take offense if they’re yelling to express urgency, not to harass you. If, however, your skipper yells at you in a derogatory way, then you should wait until after the regatta and then discuss it with them; if they continue to yell in a hurtful way, talk to a captain or a coach. You should never have to put up with abuse.

In dinghy sailing, you’re in a partnership with the person you sail with. It’s not about you, but about what the two of you--or three, or four, with heavy crews--can achieve. If your skipper never has to ask you the time, or for water between races, or to come up an extra half inch on the rail--because you’ve already told them, or opened the water bottle and handed it to them, or moved slightly to keep the boat perfectly flat--then you’re reducing the stressors and factors that they need to spend their brain power on. Your skipper’s needs should always be of paramount importance, and you should always try to be a pleasure to sail with. The right attitude and a little bit of psychiatry in the front of the boat will help your team succeed and make you a more desirable crew.