College Essays Contest
The Secrets to Your Success
For incoming first-year students, college sailing may look quite familiar. But don’t be fooled, it’s a whole new ballgame. Here’s your crib notes for the first nine months.
By Amelia Quinn
College sailing. For some of us, those two words have become inextricably intertwined, to the extent where we cannot even fathom one existing without the other. On that first day of school, palms sweaty as you assess your competition at the general interest meeting, your coach-to-be will tell you this: academics come first, and sports second. For some of those other freshman, this will ultimately be the truth and they’ll disappear one by one, either phasing out slowly or dropping off the team suddenly as an internship opportunity comes up or when a class monopolizes their afternoons. For the rest of us, though, sleeping before a test will be impossible not because of the appropriate fear of failing chemistry, but because all you can think about is hitting that rail perfectly in a light-air roll jibe.
I wasn’t the typical college sailing recruit. I hadn’t spoken with Tufts coach Ken Legler until, acting on a tip from the program director of Sandy Bay YC in Rockport, Mass., he called me two days before school started and encouraged me to stop by the first meeting. I’ve sailed since I was 12, but I wasn’t a regular on the junior sailing circuit. As a crew, the learning curve is a bit more abbreviated, and I was able to essentially walk onto the team without any issue. The only thing holding me back in those first few weeks was the realization that if I sailed, I would end up doing little else. Embracing that reality was the best choice I’ve ever made.
My first battle was to understand why the powers that be in college sailing had taken away my trapeze and chute and essentially reduced the job of the crew to ballast in the front of the boat, my sole sailhandling task to switch from one jib sheet to the other in tacks and jibes. At first, it seemed as though my role as a crew had been decimated, until the light switched on and I realized how many tiny things in the boat made such a huge difference. Perfect body placement, knowing exactly when and how hard to roll, knowing how to ease controls in different breeze in not only 420s but also Larks and CJs were just a few of those crash-course lessons, as well as reading the nuances of the wind and current as never before. My skipper, a senior who was easy-going and somewhat already checked into the real world, told me to watch the top crews in action. I watched them, and I didn’t miss a day of practice that fall, watching and learning and eating, drinking, breathing—even dreaming of—sailing.
While I like to think of myself as a fairly social person, adjusting to the team dynamics are almost as challenging as relearning everything you’ve ever known about your sport. As a freshman, it pays to know your place on the team; it’s your job to pump the gas, to sleep on the floor at regattas, and to fetch drinks when you’re told. Freshman walk the knife’s edge in a way: everyone wants to get to know you and is excited by the breath of fresh air that you bring, but at the same time you represent their competition and remain an outsider, under constant scrutiny and judgment, until you’ve earned your place on the team.
For the core group of truly dedicated members of the team, the idea of maintaining close friendships with non-sailors is almost laughable. Other collegiate athletes will at least understand the massive time investment that you put in, but they will never really know or care about what a regatta is, that booties are shoes, or that the smell emanating from your bag is actually perfectly normal. Freshman year classes can and should be scheduled around your practice times, but remember that night classes are not your friend. Nodding off from post-practice exhaustion while still in full spandex and wet wool socks is neither enjoyable nor does it endear you to your new professors. It’s best to finish your academic day before heading down to the boathouse.
While you might pack your backpack full of books for every regatta, the chances that you’ll ever achieve more than a couple pages of light reading are slim to none. So it’s important to get as much homework as possible done during the week, cutting team dinners short for a few hours in the library before bed or taking advantage of any open blocks in your day. What college sailing will teach you, perhaps above all else, is that there is never time to waste. Free time becomes a thing of the past, to be experienced only over winter break and in the lazy summer days. Work hard, play hard, and, most importantly of all, sail hard.
Sounds a little overwhelming doesn’t it. But the reward is that you get back what you put in. Crew rankings are very subjective, your standing on the team is heavily based upon with whom you are paired. To get to the top, then, you have to try even harder than your skipper counterparts, prioritizing sailing over just about anything else that would cause you to miss practice or sit out a weekend regatta, until your coach takes note of your skill and dedication. Skippers, too, are only as good as the time they devote, both on the water and off of it, picking apart team racing plays and memorizing chunks of the rule book. At the end of the day—exhausted, bruised, and incredibly content—I’d have to say that I’ve sold my soul to college sailing, and that you should, too.
Sophomore, Tufts University, Medford, Mass.
Major: Biopsychology (pre-med)
Hometown: Amherst, Mass.
Yacht Club: Sandy Bay YC, Rockport, Mass.
Sailing history: Learned to sail at age 12 in 420s. First race at age 15.
Other school activities: assistant features editor for the school paper, weekly one-hour radio show on WMFO, work-study job at the school gym
By Melissa Pumphrey, St. Mary’s ’07
Sailing in college can be a wonderful opportunity to compete at a high level, travel, and make friends from across the country. I knew I wanted to crew in college, and I arrived at St. Mary’s College of Maryland with mediocre skills and a strong desire to improve. I started sailing relatively late in the high school program at Annapolis YC. At St. Mary’s, I was part of a freshman class of eighteen sailors and I needed to stand out right away. Your freshman year plays a major role in determining your level of success in college sailing. In order to make the most of your first year, I will share the lessons that took my teammates and me four years to learn.
On The Water
Practice is the primary venue where you can both improve and show those improvements to your coaches. It is easy to sit back and relax once you have made your college team. But if you are on a competitive team and want to succeed, you need to be working to improve all the time. Going through the motions on each drill is not enough. An efficient way to get better during each drill is by watching the best one or two boats at that drill. Try to identify what makes those boats best and ask them about it after practice or during a long van ride.
It’s common to sail with a lot of different teammates at the beginning of your freshman year as coaches are trying to determine which skipper and crew pairings work best. So it is important that you learn the most you can from each teammate. Hilary Wiech, a three-time All-American crew, says that this approach was a key to her success: “I was able to take a tip from every person I sailed with and combine them to make my own style. This gave me confidence in my boat handling no matter whom I was sailing with.”
Teammates are your most valuable resource. An average college team might have 25 sailors and two coaches. If you wait for your coaches’ comments, you are not doing the most you can to improve. Be receptive to constructive criticism; the person in the boat with you can tune you in to your weaknesses. Once you have identified your weaker areas, it is important to work to turn them into strengths for them. In the long run, these limitations generally catch up to you.
**At The Boathouse **
Success your freshman year also depends on your attitude at the boathouse: before practice, in team meetings, and with coaches. Many freshmen fall into the trap of simply hanging out at the boathouse. Instead, treat it like an office because you’re there to get things done. Push yourself to rig and get dressed quickly and get on the water. Getting on the water 10 minutes earlier each day is like gaining an extra week of practice over the course of your freshman year.
It’s important to be an active participant in team meetings. First, it is apparent to the coaches who is not paying attention and who is enthusiastic about getting better. Also, they are usually commenting on the team weaknesses they have noticed at recent practices. Ask clarifying questions if you don’t understand, or politely contribute your viewpoint if you disagree.
Don’t be afraid to meet with coaches occasionally to discuss progress and goals, usually once or twice a semester. If there is an event you particularly want to sail, let them know. If you’re struggling with academics, you should tell them. However, too many meetings can be counterproductive. Once you have identified your goals and weaknesses with your coaches, you improve through action.
Freshmen generally can make huge gains in their sailing by improving their fitness level. Some college teams have group workouts, which generally combine cardiovascular, weight lifting, and core exercises. If you work harder than the other freshmen in the gym, you can expect larger gains. While sailing in practice every day may feel like enough of a workout, any additional endurance you can build will pay huge dividends at the end of a long regatta. Increased endurance allows you to continue to think tactically while other sailors are just thinking about how much their muscles hurt.
Because practice, regattas, workouts, and team functions take up a lot of time, it is easy to prioritize sailing over schoolwork. That is a huge mistake. Your coach will not be excited if you perform well at fall regattas, but are academically ineligible (or close to it) for the spring. You can ask your upperclassmen teammates who the best professors in your major are, and how to succeed in those classes. Do not announce to your professor on the first day of class that you are an athlete. It seems as though you think you’re worthy of special attention, and professors generally don’t respond well to that. Remember you are a student-athlete.
Competition at college regattas is at a higher level than high school racing or youth racing. The main difference for skippers relative to high school is that the fleets are generally more balanced. Almost everyone at a college regatta was the fastest skipper at his or her high school. Success at any given regatta is a combination of speed, tactics, and luck. College crews are more explosive athletically than high school crews. Excellent college crews can discuss things like boat tuning, boat handling, and tactics as well.
It is rare in college sports that your competitors can also be your good friends. While away at regattas, there are opportunities to hang out with other teams. Enjoy it, but be careful to avoid situations where the result might be your coach angrily asking you to rate the Tufts Toga Party on a scale from one to 10.
Pause and Enjoy
College sailing is unique in that it is the one time in your life when you can devote so much of your time to sailing. If you find a college and a sailing program where you can thrive and stay motivated, competing in college sailing can improve your skills immensely. When Adam Werblow, my college coach, told us my freshman fall that we would be surprised how quickly the semesters pass, I had no idea how true it was. Remember to pause along the way and appreciate your college sailing experience.
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.
By Nick Stockton, Portland (Ore.) State ’10
I showed up to my first day of practice with nothing but a bad haircut. Since that day, I’ve been taught by the best, traveled to amazing venues, and been to some legendary parties, all for relatively little money. But chances are, you already know about the benefits of college sailing. There are no words I can give you that will ever compare to the memories you create in the next four years. However, I have learned some things that will prepare you to make the most of these your time.
College sailing is much more than going to class and then hopping in boats. Sailing makes college better, and college makes sailing possible. Finding the right balance will make you a better student, a better sailor, and bona fide social butterfly. However, if you don’t pay attention worlds will collide, and they could end up as a single, messy thing. It’s like having a pet monkey: sure, you’ll never be bored, but you’ll also never know peace.
I have three very simple tips to share that will make college and sailing a productive combo.
1. Get your homework done before regattas. Taking textbooks along for the weekend is a total rookie move. The least they will do is get damp from getting packed next to your sailing gear. At the worst, you’ll be distracted during races and feel too guilty to really enjoy the party.
Use each regatta as an extra deadline. This will get you into a great habit: not putting things off. If you are in the habit of using all your spare time during the week to finish your homework, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the free time you find has opened up.
If you do the opposite, and get in the habit of procrastination, you can count on missing regattas. You might have more time on your hands now, but the payback is always dear. As a wise upper class man on my team once said: “The best regatta is always the one you didn’t go to.”
2. Get to know your district. Take advantage of the opportunities to bond with the people you sail with every weekend. This might seem simple, but you’d be surprised how fragmented the relationships between schools can become. Sailing isn’t that big of a community, and you are racing against people you will know for years. Some of them will go on to be pros. Not only will you learn a lot when you trade tips and tricks with people outside your bubble, but these connections will come in handy when you and your non-sailing friends are on a summer road trip and you have connections in a faraway city who can put you up for the night and maybe even get you on a boat the next day!
Also, know the difference between a grudge and a rivalry. With few exceptions, these people are just as passionate about your favorite sport as you are. A grudge will only make you focus on how to make someone else do worse. It will make you bitter and isolated, and your negative attitude will affect your race stats and your teammates.
Conversely, a rivalry will make you focus on how you can be better. It will make you a better sailor, improve the stakes of the competition, and inspire some great pranks.
3. **Make some non-sailing friends. **College sailing can devour your life. Trust me. Eating, drinking, and thinking sailing 24/7 might seem like it is making you better, but you are likely on a path to burning out. Over-saturation will cause your abilities to plateau and eventually decline. Have some friends who know nothing about the sport. They will make sure you don’t turn into a social retard that doesn’t know how to talk about anything but sailing. They will help you with your schoolwork, and provide helpful distractions to make sure you don’t take this whole thing too seriously.
If you simply cannot keep your mind off the water, use your passion as an inspiration for school projects. I am a geography major, and I once did a project where I made a map of how the terrain around my local club affected wind velocity and shiftiness. If the project requires a presentation, this is a great chance to get people interested in your club. What’s more, that cutie in the third row might even get inspired to ask you for a personal lesson.
Everybody says these are the best years of your life, and that’s because it’s true. These memories will be awesome, and I don’t mean 30 years from now when you are reminiscing on your yacht in the Caribbean. Every Monday morning after every regatta is going you are going to feel like you are dreaming. Over the summer, you’ll feel like a rock star when you brag to your brother. And the following year, when you are getting ready for the same regattas, your whole body is going to buzz with excitement. I hope this advice helps to make those memories positively glow. I’m sorry I can’t help you with everything, but odds are that someday you’ll decide to do something like showing up to practice with a mullet. Some mistakes you just have make on your own.
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.
By John Renehan, Dartmouth ’13_
During freshman fall, all aspects of life collide. Minimizing the time between pulling on your spray pants and throwing in your first warm-up tacks is just like studying efficiently for an Economics exam. Fatigue-filled eyes at your Monday classes can be blamed on a long post-regatta car ride back to campus. The fall of your freshman year will test your ability to manage the three most important elements of college: classes, sailing, and a newly limitless social life. Reconciling the constantly overlapping demands will help you get the most out of the year. Here is some advice on how to start doing that.
Turning an overwhelming list of activities into a routine should be the goal of freshman year. Utilize your upperclassmen. Ask questions to help develop efficient processes for both practice and the library. Their framework will keep you progressing even on days when your effort falls short, as it inevitably will. Doing four sets of double-tacks between drills or putting on fleece pants and socks on before leaving campus will make practice more productive for you and encourage your teammates to do the same.
Routines are already built into college sailing teams’ practices, most of all a freshman fall replete with boat handling. But after what is likely to become a full year of boat handling practice you might wonder if roll jibes are really holding you back. As coach John Pearce explained to me: “Focusing on tactics for a year might put you in the top half, but at that point so many competitors are sailing close to perfect tactical races that flawless boat handling separates the top five.” So before second-guessing daily boat handling practice, know that it is insurance against how surprisingly difficult it is to stay ahead after mastering the tactics (or getting lucky enough) to get ahead.
That said, honing racing skills takes a different kind of effort, demanding deliberate observation as well as patience. Many freshmen miss out on a big opportunity to improve their racing minds: watching at regattas. Ask your coach to take you along to an intersectional or to be put in as a heavy crew on a weekend when you are not otherwise sailing. There is no better way to learn how some of college sailing’s best react to the lower Thames’s wild shifts than discussing the racing with a teammate from the upper deck of the Coast Guard Academy’s sailing center. Studying tactics in any concrete manner is difficult, but this is a sure first step.
No matter how determined you and your crew are to throw down the fastest tacks in your division, you cannot ignore the defining trait of college sailing: teammates! They help you work toward your goals and make practice the best part of the day, and it’s your job to help foster this atmosphere. Sophomores’ dirty little secret is that they love to be parents, so ask them questions about starting strategy and your love life and they’ll adore you all the more for it. Save the comments about all-night adventures for the dinner table because they will dishearten teammates who have come to work hard on the water that day. Don’t be afraid to ask your team captain when a lineup seems unfair, so you can learn the logic behind your team’s priorities. Teammates are likely to become your best friends, and the time you spend with them will probably top the time you spend in bed. However, freshman year is a great excuse to meet random people for no reason, and spending time with someone who doesn’t know the difference between a half hitch and a clove hitch can keep you sane in the off-season and provide a reminder that there is a fascinating world of people in college that do not sail.
In addition to friends on the team and on campus, some of the same faces will show up weekend after weekend at regattas. Meet them! To get started, pick out heavy crews sitting around with iPods on light air days who would like nothing better than a dockside conversation. People like each other in college sailing, and racing is way more fun when the guy you pinch off is a buddy. Keeping your ‘enemies’ close makes rotating boats, sharing dock space and often hotels, and occasionally banding together in the misery of an early spring storm in New England that much easier. These will be your competitors every summer until, I am told, you sail boats with keels.
This might give a little perspective on where to start if you jump into college sailing. As much as I have tried to avoid hard and fast rules, there is one that I cannot resist promoting. Make Thursday the new Monday: Get your studying done by the end of the week so you can practice and sleep stress-free on Thursday and travel on Friday. Plan ahead so you rarely have to do more than moderate reading on regatta weekends, which will help ensure they the best days of your week, and life.