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…
- Decide where you would like to get in the pecking order. Be realistic, but ambitious. Ambitiously realistic.
- Look at who you’ll have to beat to get there.
- Figure out what your reasons are for not being there already.
- 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...
Do more than those guys do.