Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Practice What You Don't Like

If you want to become a better sailor, you need to practice.

You know that.

But how do you practice? How do you even decide what to practice? 

I am pretty bad at practice. 

Typically what happens, especially in the spring, is that I take my Laser out for some "practice" - at least that's what I call it in my head. I sail around for 10 or 15 minutes to get warmed up and then I sail upwind for 20 minutes, say, and then back downwind to my starting point again. I'm really getting in the groove and enjoying the experience of being on the water in the spring sunshine, so I do another 20 minutes of upwind, and then back down again, maybe doing a bit of reaching and a few gybes if the winds are strong enough to make that interesting. I am thinking of how I am going to write up this sail on my blog and how much fun I am having and how lucky I am to still be able to do this at my age. Then I spot a buoy so I do a few practice leeward mark roundings and a couple of them really aren't too bad so I feel good about that. So then I go upwind again, maybe do a few extra tacks than I normally would and a couple of them really aren't too bad either so I feel good about that too. Then maybe I blast off on a reach to the other side of the bay or river just for fun, and then blast back again, and by now I'm feeling a bit hungry or thirsty so I go home and have a beer and it's time for dinner.

This of course is totally the wrong thing to do. Not the beer. The way I practice.

Deep down I have always known this, but I was reminded recently about why it's all wrong by another excellent post on Damian's Final Beat blog - Leeward Mark Roundings - Satisfaction Guaranteed. Damian admits to being very good at leeward mark roundings. He practices them more than anything else. He gets a lot of satisfaction from his excellent leeward mark roundings. That's one reason he practices them a lot.

Of course this is all backwards and wrong.

We shouldn't practice what we are good at and what we enjoy.

We should practice what we are bad at it so we can get better and eliminate the weak parts of our game.

And often we like least the things we are no good at, so a good guide is to practice things that we don't like.

Damian points out that this advice is in the quote below from Eric Twiname. I think it's in his classic book on self-coaching, Sail, Race and Win.

I have that book. I have read that book. I should know this. Deep down I do know this.

“…you tend to like and enjoy what you are best at, and as you give more thought and practice to these things you are most likely to improve them. By working instead at what you like least and are worst at, you get a … balanced approach (to your training)”

So that's resolution #1 for my training sessions this year. Practice the things I am worst at. Practice the things I don't like.

What would they be?

Windward mark roundings would make my list, for sure. For some reason I always lose places at windward marks. Or I end up on the wrong side of a bunch of boats when I know the other side is where I want to be strategically. Or I tack low of the layline and hit the mark. Or I overshoot the layline and lose a lot of distance. Or I overshoot the layline and let port-tackers tack underneath me. Or I have my sheet in a tangle and end up being unable to bear way until I have untangled the mess. There are so many ways I mess up in the approach to and the rounding of the windward mark, that this is one of the things I should really practice.

And leeward mark roundings where you have to do a gybe or two gybes just before the mark.

And capsize recoveries. I am really really slow at capsize recoveries.

And holding position before the start.

And accelerating fast at the start.

I could go on.

And on.

I was dreaming last night about being at a big Laser regatta.

And I had forgotten to bring my sail.

And my credit card.

I think I'll take a nap now.


Michael O'Brien said...

I've struggled with private practice for a while, but have the same desire to improve.

So I started using a GoPro in races and for practice. I then review with a critical eye to spot each and every mistake. Here are two examples:



The video never lies. You can see exactly how hard you are NOT hiking. How bad your tacks are and starts .... well it can be painful to watch the video.

Recently, I've been sending the videos to Brett Davis, a great coach down in Florida who provides a remote-coaching service. He reviews the videos and comes up with the "tough love". Often basic input, but it quickly resets your priorities.

Michael O'Brien

Tillerman said...

Great idea Michael. Brett was the coach in Cabarete one year I was there. Hadn't heard about his remote coaching service. I think Rulo from Cabarete offers something similar.

But there's so much already known about how to sail a Laser well and so many coaches who can help us. What would be really cool would be if someone offered a similar service for a new boat like the RS Aero.

Michael O'Brien said...

I can't offer such a service as I am just a humble sailor and not an esteemed coach.

However, I will be posting videos with what we learn about how to sail the Aero (fast). From the little I've sailed so far, it is quite different to the Laser and requires a different technique -- especially downwind.

Tillerman said...

Good idea Michael. We can all learn from each other. Look forward to seeing your videos. Where will they be posted?

Will there be a clinic before the Aero US Nationals, do you know?

Michael O'Brien said...

Not sure yet where to host. Maybe just a youtube account with comments.

The normal gorge clinic is just before the PCC masters, so I don't think there is a clinic before the Aero Nationals. But since it is the Gorge, there will always be a few folks there before the event tuning up for a few days. ;-)

Tillerman said...

OK. I am wondering whether to come out for the Laser PCC Masters to get used to the conditions and then again for the Aero Nationals. I hear George is doing Aero demos at the Laser PCC Masters.

Anonymous said...

Is wearing yoga pants out sailing in a Laser a bad thing? I've noticed it around my club lately.

Tillerman said...


Anonymous said...

Yes, the very same.

Tillerman said...

What you see is what you get.

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