Monday, May 23, 2016

Is FUN a Four Letter Word?

On the plane on the way over to Europe a couple of weeks ago I was reading a book about neurology and cognitive science (as one does) called What Makes Your Brain Happy And Why Should You Do The Opposite by David Di Salvo.

It's an easy to read popular science book that is all about how our brains lead us into all sorts of errors and biases and distortions, and how those stupid brains generally get in the way of allowing us to make good decisions and do what we ought to do.

As I read the book I couldn't help thinking how the ideas in it applied to various aspects of sailing.

For example, as I have been putting some effort over the past few weeks trying to persuade people to come and sail RS Aeros at our club's regatta in June (15 boats registered now!) one chapter in particular made me question if I have been going about regatta promotion - and even the promotion of the RS Aero as a class - in the right way.

For me sailing is fun.

So I assume other people sail for fun.

So I have been telling everyone that our event will be a fun and friendly regatta,  in the hope that this will motivate them to come.

But this book made me question whether this is the right way to go about it.

Sailors having fun
Not in an RS Aero

There was one section of the book which discusses some differences between "high achievers" and "low achievers" a concept which surely has some relevance to sailing. I think we all know a few in the former category - the club  champions, the sailors who go off to national championships and do well. And we all know lots of people in the latter category -  the vast unwashed masses of the rest of us who enjoy sailing around in the middle or bottom half of the fleet at our local clubs.

Apparently some researchers at the University of Florida performed some experiments which showed that what makes "high achievers" and "low achievers" tick are very different, and that the two groups need very different motivations to perform up to their potential. One experiment they did really caught my attention. When high and low achievers were told that a test of verbal proficiency was meant to be "fun" the high achievers actually did significantly worse on the task than the low achievers.

Huh? How could that be?

It reminded me of a conversation that my wife and I had a few weeks ago about one of my sailing friends who is definitely a "high achiever" in sailing. Big time high achiever.

"Does S. ever go out sailing just for fun?" Tillerwoman asked me.

I thought about it and realized that I had never seen him just going out for a blast around on the water for fun. It seems like every time we have sailed together he is either racing - or training for racing.

Another high achieving sailing friend told me this week that it had been "ages" since he went sailing just for fun.

Sailors having fun
Not at Massapoag YC

It made me think.

If somebody tells me a regatta is going to be "fun" it will make me more interested to go to it.

But maybe that word FUN actually turns some people off and makes them less likely to want to go to such an event?

More people having fun
Not at Massapoag YC

What do you think?

Is FUN a four letter word?


Annie said...

After necessities are handled, I believe fun should be next on the list. A friend and I have a standing joint New Year's resolution: Fun is our highest priority!

SoxSail said...

I'm a low achiever with high-achiever motivations, but I was definitely interested in your regatta. Fun didn't turn me off, but I didn't really notice the "selling point" either. To bad I can't come because of a wedding. Hoping to be able to stop by beforehand anyway.

Tillerman said...

That's great feedback SoxSail. I guess I am somewhat naive about how to promote a regatta and perhaps lazy enough to assume that "if you build it they will come."

What kind of "selling point" would have convinced you to come (assuming you weren't prevented by a wedding anyway?)

More about the refreshments/ drinks etc.?

The chance to have some RS Aero coaching?

The chance to be part of history at what may well b the biggest RS Aero regatta on the east coast so far?

Emphasis on how low the entry fee is?

There will be several RS Aero lady sailors there?

Seriously - I would like to know what would have tipped the balance for you.

Keep Reaching said...

I don't really care how many letters there are in "fun" but I am sure that the moment fun is absent from sailing, I will be also. But I can't imagine that ever happening.

Tillerman said...

Now here are two more words for you that may have positive or negative connotations in sailing.

There are 3 RS Aeros and 3 Devoti D-Zeros here at Minorca Sailing - two similar 21st century dinghies that are often compared to each other. Many sailors are trying out both boats.

One sailor, who obviously liked the D-Zero, proudly described it as SOPHISTICATED. But that was a turn-off to me. I don't want a sophisticated boat. I want a simple boat. When I hear "sophisticated" I think "that means lots of bits of string that have to be adjusted."

Another sailor described the D-Zero as STABLE. He obviously thought that was a major selling point but when I heard it I thought "stable=boring."

Which is not to start a discussion about the merits of the D-Zero. It looks to be a perfectly fine boat although I haven't sailed it yet. But to illustrate how certain words have different vibes for different people.

Anonymous said...

For me it's not one (practice) or the other (fun). When I go sailing I try to sail the boat as best as I can. In other words, I am practicing. Once I am back on shore, I look back and nine times out of ten, it has been fun. But a few times I have gotten hurt and broken stuff; usually not fun.

(who wants to play with all the toys at Minorca Sailing)

Anonymous said...

But Tillerman you miss the is FUN. Being in Mexico right now with 90 other masters, winning some, loosing some but competing is fun. Its exciting, frustrating, challenging, rewarding....its FUN. To my mind much more fun than just sailing around on your own. It is after all what makes the Laser such a unique toy, 200,000 other have the same toy so its all the more fun because we get to compete against lots of others from all round the world. After all why do you want more Aeros to your regatta....because it will be more fun with more of you there racing.

Tillerman said...

Great point Anonymous. I hope all of the over-achieving sailors feel that way too. I had assume they did. That was why I was surprised by the study result that if you tell overachievers that a task will be FUN they will actually perform less well at that task than even low-achievers.

But I must admit that, speaking purely personally, I reached the point where Masters Worlds were not as much fun for me as they used to be, and were not as much fun for me as various other ways of sailing the Laser (or the RS Aero.)

And I am one of those strange birds who can have the most fun in a Laser or an RS Aero when sailing around on my own.

I guess it takes all sorts!

Joe said...

Great question. When I row or paddle it's for fitness and exploration. When I sail it's to challenge myself. But I'm sure I wouldn't do them if I wasn't satisfied....content. Maybe it is fun.

Alden Smith said...

There are two classes here in New Zealand that are growing and mix fun and serious yacht racing - but they don't emphasis either - they take a long term strategy where the focus is on camaraderie and socialization - these aspects are implicit in the deal rather than an explicit goal. Sailors of one design yachts (being human) like to be a part of something bigger than themselves, part of a community that meets to express its passion. That passion is very individual and runs the whole gamut from simply participating... to winning at all costs.

Tom Edom said...

I wonder what the two NZ classes are?

There are lots of reasons for sailing a Laser (cheap fun, one design racing, highly competitive, cheap racing, its an olympic class......) but no-one goes to a regatta because they want to go sailing alone. It is the competition and/or the opportunity of learning from the top of the fleet.

In the case of the Aero, why do people sail it? Because it is nicer to sail than a Laser but is still strict one design. It is cheaper than...well something else I guess. Some will sail it because it is NOT an Olympic class.
And they go to a regatta because they want to compete!

Its an interesting Q as to why we sail singlehanded classes and if singlehanded sailors (as opposed to double hander sailors) are likely to be sociable / extroverted or tend to be quiet and slightly awkward introverts but highly competent on the water!

Post a Comment