What Coaches Want to See this Summer

This was going to be a big summer.

Your summer. You planned on events like BEG, Youth Champs, Nationals, Worlds. Now with the cancellation of so many key events that typically serve as litmus tests for college coaches, what can prospective applicants do to stay on track?

We asked this question to some of the country’s most prominent coaches and here’s what we learned.

Shift Your Mindset

The reason we train for events is because it focuses our action towards a goal. This is helpful for accountability and daily prioritization.  If you spend your weekdays crushing homework and getting physically fit, so you can train for 8-12 hours of sailing on the weekends; the success of that endeavor is not in the season’s cumulative points, but in every step along the way that made you smarter, stronger, and faster.

Ken Legler, Head Coach at Tufts University says, “You don’t get good at sailing by going to major regattas. You get good by doing a lot of sailing. If every prospective college sailor would take all the time they would otherwise be training and traveling for [fill in the blank regatta] this summer, and instead pull that old laser out of the garage and go out by themselves and just thrash then college sailing would be a lot more competitive in the fall.”

But we’re so programmed to be results oriented. Report cards, final exams, qualifiers. This summer has turned the whole system on it’s head. Leandro Spina, Director of the Olympic Development Program at US Sailing reiterates, “this is an opportunity to develop new skills and do something totally different.”

Start Planning and Plotting

Luther Carpenter, US Sailing Olympic Team Coach,  wants to know, “do you have your next day’s sailing practice plan scripted out in your notebook?” Have you thought about what skills you want to work on and put them in order of priority?

Few of us go sailing alone, but those who do, typically cruise around until some spark of imagination or challenge is thrust upon us. Or if sailing with others, we follow the whistles from the coach boat. How about taking a step towards ownership and thoughtfully mapping your training efforts to attack your weaknesses?

Now is the time to shift away from business as usual.

Zachary Leonard, Head Coach at Yale University, didn’t give us a direct quote, but my interpretation of his perspective is this: Due to overexposure of racing during a typical summer series, sailors don’t complete the season with a linear progression of developing good skills.

In reality we log a significant number of hours on bad habits and mistakes while racing. The ideal training to competition ratio is 10/1. Ten practice days for every one race day. That rarely happens in youth sailing. Now is the time to shift the paradigm and take the opportunity to improve without the promise of a tin cup.

You’ve got to want it.

Bernhard Noack, Assistant Sailing Coach at Harvard University, shared his insight on the timeline of recruitment: “Obviously we are judging [sailor’s] ability level based on results to date, what we hear of their reputation/character and our impressions from talking to them via Zoom.

Some [sailors] that are on our radar have great results already.  Those recruits are easy to assess. [Those] who don’t have impressive results yet are going to have to practice a lot during their hiatus from racing, then be ready to excel next winter and spring if events start happening again.”

You heard it here first. Winter/Spring 2020-2021 is going to be prime time for events. If we’re even allowed to organize by that time, look to make your mark at clinics and events November-March.

“Bluntly, regatta results are what are looked at the most. Those are what I use to assess ability. Without regattas, it is difficult to make an impression that isn’t already there,” says Noack.

Want to take ownership of your sailing but need help getting started? Here’s a sample Google Form you can attach as an app to your phone screen to serve as a daily log.

Try Something New

Sail a laser, Learn to kiteboard, Foil, or sail with your dad.

Sailing other boats and crafts improves your skills, feel, and sailing IQ in ways you unconsciously tune in on. “Trimming the main sheet on a laser and the main sheet on a 505 is a whole different animal,” says US Sailing Olympic Team Coach Luther Carpenter. “The common thread of champions like Paul Foerster, Steve Benjamin, and the McKees is that they sailed a lot of boats. Not only that, but they love learning.”

We get stuck in our ways.

“Sailing is sailing. Learning unique boats and being psyched about it shows that you are the type of person you are and if you can solve the rubik’s cube of each boat,” reinforces Carpenter.

Passion is important.

Brian Swingly, Head Coach at Stanford University says, “we want kids who love the sport in all capacities, who sail whatever makes them happy, engaged and have fun.” 

“Anyone trying to pursue sailing in any form, be it a moth, a windsurfer you bought off craigslist, or your parent’s Lightning, any way to be connected, to learn and grow, is the best thing to do right now,”

As a coach, Swingly reiterates the importance of intention and exploration, “I care way more about what a sailor gets out of a clinic than their finish position on the Sunday race series.” And sailors who love the sport will prioritize going to practice during the busiest times of the year when papers, presentations, and finals are due. “They’re also the ones who will make practice and get the best grades because they’re motivated to be successful,” says Swingly.

Get Engaged

John Mollicone, Head Coach at Brown University, says, “this is going to be a unique year and finding ways to stay engaged in the sport and somewhat sharp and progressing is important. Make sure to reach out to any coaches of college teams that you are interested in and set up a Zoom meeting to learn as much as you can about their programs.”

Now is the time to reach out.

Engagement lays the pathway for future Olympians. Times like these are proving grounds. The US Sailing Team has held daily webinars with guest speakers like Tim Wadlow (2 x Olympian), James Lyne (NYC American Magic coach), Anna Tunnicliffe Tobias (Gold medalist), and Dave Perry (does he even need a title); among others. “It’s really obvious who can continue to learn, who wants to learn and who does not,” says Luther Carpenter. 

In his book, the Obstacle is the Way, author Ryan Holiday explains: “Sports psychologist recently did a study of elite athletes who were struck with some adversity or serious injury. Initially, each reported feeling isolation, emotional disruption, and doubts about their athletic ability. Yet afterward, each reported gaining a desire to help others, additional perspective, and realization of their own strengths. In other words, every fear and doubt they felt during the injury turned into greater abilities in those exact areas. Psychologists call it adversarial or post traumatic growth.”

“If you can’t go sailing on your double handed boat, go on craigslist and buy a $300 windsurf board and learn about physics in sailing,” says Leandro Spina.

So there you have it. Take advantage of this open summer. Hopefully you’ll find some open water to build your skills, no matter what craft you’re sailing. Or you’ll use this time to introduce yourself to the coach at the college of your dreams. At the very least take one step forward every day and let the momentum build.

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