January 11, 2010
With my two main sports growing up, sailing and hockey, I would often look around and be intimidated by the talent around me, thinking, “These guys are faster and more skilled”. After contemplating quitting and taking up piano (I happen to think playing the piano is a very valuable skill, and I do wish I would have taken my lessons a bit more seriously), I did the only thing I knew how to do well…put my head down, work hard and not take “no” for an answer.
It is very easy to get intimidated, lost and confused with the all-encompassing world of tactics. It is very easy to look at the talent in Melges 24 and 32 regattas and think to yourself, “there is no way I can hang with these guys”. But remembering to keep it simple and do the little things right, achieving a good result, even a victory is attainable.
While listening to chalk talks on tactics in sailing school, if the cloud above my head would have been visible to others, they could have seen that is was filled with question marks…and maybe a few cheeseburgers, milkshakes and skittles…but mostly question marks. I had to make up for the confusion with something else and found that trying to sail faster than my competition worked well. While this did not work in every situation, I did find that sailing fast removed a lot of the question marks and made the tactics much easier.
One thing I always try to keep in my mind and say to myself is “Keep It Simple Stupid”. For me, it is easy to get creative with a very simple tactical scenario, overthink the situation and end up doing more damage than I had planned for. The more I sail, the more I have found that if I can put my concentration towards making the boat go, put the bow down and sail fast, I can remove a lot of the mystery of tactics by creating a simpler situation; just sail faster.
I still consider tactics to be my biggest hole, and to help ensure I am going in the right direction, one question I always ask myself is “am I sailing the closest tack/gybe to the mark?” Our coach at Hobart & William Smith Colleges always reminded us that the Tufts sailing team would do so well because all they focused on “was keeping the pointy end of the boat pointed towards the mark.” This was helpful for me because it not only gave me a visual, but it dumbed it down to where even a hockey player could figure out which tack was lifted.
Whenever I feel myself getting overwhelmed with a pre-race plan, or confused on where to go, I always try to go back to the basics of sailing fast, and try to stay headed in the closest direction towards the mark while reminding myself, to Keep It Simple Stupid.
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