Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Jayne Mansfield and The Two Ronnies

I'm not big on New Year Resolutions, but at this time of year I do find myself looking back at my typically mediocre sailing performance in the previous year and thinking about what I could do differently in the coming year to be a slightly less mediocre Laser sailor.

But how should I go about this process?  How do I decide what sailing skills to work on? Should I focus on fitness or boat-handling the most? Or is the answer in sports psychology? Or perhaps what I really need is a new boat? Should I do more practice or more racing? Will I improve more from solo practice or training in a small group? Should I focus on one or two key things, or aim to make all-round improvement? Is it just about lots and lots of time on the water or could I make big improvements from a few small changes?

Choices, choices, choices.

The experts all advise different approaches.

One of my favorite sailing authors, Eric Twiname, in his book Sail, Race and Win, advises selecting three areas of weakness and discusses a potential twelve ways to work on each weakness. And he says a good starting point to identifying your weaknesses is to ask yourself, "What don't I like?" Hmmm. Do I really have to do all the things in sailing that I don't like? Hard to get excited about that.

Dennis Conner in his heyday had a philosophy he called No Excuse to Lose. Basically Dennis's approach was for him and his crew to put in the time and effort to eliminate every possible reason that would prevent them from winning the races. Then, in their minds, they literally had no excuse to lose. So they won. (Well, until that little regatta in 1983.)

No excuse for losing - 1983

Hmmm. That sounds a bit extreme. I'm not trying to win the America's Cup. I would be quite happy just not being in the bottom half of the fleet at local Laser regattas.

So the approach to improving sailing skills that has been bouncing around in my head for the past few weeks was in a post by Damian of The Final Beat blog. The post has the snappy title Ever Tried. Ever Failed. No Matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better. I think that's a quote from the well-known Irish Laser sailor and avant-garde writer, Samuel Beckett.  Not the snappiest blog post title ever, but we will forgive Damian that because the ideas in the post are better than the title. And he's Irish too, I think.

Where was I? Where am I? Oh yes, Samuel Beckett's advice on how to improve Laser sailing skills.

Beckett's, I mean Damian's, post starts off as an idea on how to avoid the perils of the "pecking order" - that feeling that you just can't beat those guys who are always in front of you in every race because they are just better than you. And once you start believing that, of course, you are screwed. You never will beat them.

British pecking order - 1966

So this is what Damian says you need to do…
  1. Decide where you would like to get in the pecking order. Be realistic, but ambitious. Ambitiously realistic. 
  2. Look at who you’ll have to beat to get there. 
  3. Figure out what your reasons are for not being there already. 
  4. Do more than they do in these areas.

And then you will believe you can sail better than "those guys" who are usually in front of you. Your mental pecking order has you in front of them. So your mind won't keep on sabotaging you in every race and putting you behind them.

But wait. Those four simple steps of Damian's aren't just about fixing your mind. They are exactly what you need to do to fix your sailing performance in the real world.

For me, the instruction to "do more than they do in those areas" was, for some reason, very motivating. I guess it appealed to my competitive nature. My mind immediately started thinking about "those guys." How fit are they? What do they do get fit? How much do they practice? What kinds of practice do they do? How many regattas do they do? What do they do to prepare before racing? Of course the answer to beating them is to do more in the key areas than they do. It's pretty obvious when you think about it.

I was wondering whether it's a little pathetic that I need to focus on "those guys" to fire myself up to work harder at becoming a better Laser sailor. But then I came across this sports psychology article from the world of running, How Envy Can Make You a Better Runner.

We are brought up to think that envy is a sin.

Sophia envies Jayne - 1957

But the article discusses the two kinds of envious feelings that you can have towards the runners who are faster than you - benign envy and malicious envy. Benign envy means that you desire to match someone else's success; malicious envy means that you hope the other person's success ends. It is benign envy that motivates you to run faster. It's much the same thing as Damian was writing about.
In benign envy, enviers may try to level themselves up to become as successful as the other person… This notion is supported by findings showing that envy can increase personal effort, propel behavior aimed at obtaining a desired object, and shift attention toward means to attain it. In running terms, this translates into more specific goal-setting (e.g., "I want to run as fast as Jill did in her last marathon") and doing the training necessary to meet the goal.

So this year will be different.

I'm going to...

Envy more.

Do more than those guys do.

Fail again.

Fail better.

What about you? What are you going to do differently in 2015?


JP said...

Your approach reminded me of Neil Gaiman's suggestion for the new year: "Whatever it is you're scared of doing, Do it. Make your mistakes, next year and forever"

Tillerman said...

Do what you are scared of? That's good advice too.

R1 said...

There are so many areas that effect performance in sailing which is why it's so interesting. Focusing on one (or a few) areas might not pay off: Better heavy weather gybing won't help you if you get a season full of drifters.

I'm going to try to attend more laser regattas, encourage more lasers to come out in club sailing, strive for fewer mistakes and try to relax and enjoy racing - I always go slower if I try too hard. If I can do most of that, I'm sure I'll be going faster.

I'm also going to give my old laser a refit, top to bottom, before the season starts rather than change things as they wear or break. Literally, bailer to burgee. I might even buy a new sail. That'll give me confidence and reduce my list of excuses.

Finally, I am considering joining the class associaton. I haven't for years because I've found it too focused on elite sailors. But this year there may be a need for a vote about the future of the class, and I'd like to have my vote counted. Not sure what the latest from the lawyers is.

Good luck and enjoy 2015 Tillerman!

phil said...

A New sail will help, it made a difference to my season. I'm planning to curb my 'after you Claud' tendency and be more assertive, especially on starts, where the pecking order thing operates most strongly. Better starts = Better finishes

Tillerman said...

R1 - good ideas. I have a couple of upcoming posts in mind about whether sailing lots of regattas improves performance and that whole question of the right mental attitude when racing. Also thinking of doing a refit of my Laser - especially the rigging. What I have works but isn't optimal. And please do join the class. It's not just for the elite. The class does a lot at the grass roots level to promote local fleets and local regattas. And it's always good to have a vote when changes are afoot.

Tillerman said...

phil - great points too. Improving my starts is probably the one thing that would give me the biggest bang for the buck also.

/Pam said...

I had decided to do less and focus on having more fun. My office had a bowling party and one girl knocked down two pins then squealed and giggled and was so excited you'd think she won the lottery. I envy the contagious joy she has in such simple things. That's a worthy goal ... back to the basics ... have fun.

Tillerman said...

Well said /Pam. I often go through phases of telling myself that it's all about having fun, results don't really matter, it's just about being out on the water and being in the moment.

But the truth is that I do have a competitive streak. It may not be as strong as come people you may know, but sometimes it makes me want to sail better and get better results in the races.

Am I strange?

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