Olympics, elements of a complete Sailor

Published on May 3rd, 2021

by Mark Lammens
I was fortunate to attend the National Coaching Institute years ago. There were coaches in training for Olympic sports such as track, rowing, basketball, soccer, cycling, skiing, just to name a few.

A ski coach described his sport as an Olympic event with equipment. He described the 5 main themes – equipment, physical preparation, technique, mental skills, and racing skills. Really good skis and the correct wax kit are only part of being successful. I took the concept and inserted the issues that applied to sailing.

At the time, I was coaching the Women’s Europe class and was sailing and coaching Finns, so the equipment options and issues required 2 + boat testing and tuning within the measurement rules. Current Olympic classes are mostly manufacturer provided boats with tight controls but would still require specific tuning.

Today’s technical clothing has really advanced the sport in the protection, comfort and class specific design. Rope design is another amazing advancement evolution with control in stretch, wear, water absorption and function. Same for blocks.

Physical preparation, Technique and Racing skills are the athlete, sailor and competitor components of a complete Olympic racer. An example in the Finn would be pumping the big 120 square foot mainsail, (physical) down the wave (technique) against a fleet of boats on a race course (racing skills). Fitness for sailing requires many components, plus recovery to be able to make the boat go fast in the next race and the races tomorrow.

Mental skills are a critical and an expanding sport science. Sailing is a critical cue cognitive sport. Races could be an hour long and a regatta requires 10-12 of them. Ten, plus or minus, hours of actual competition requires an appropriately focused mind from wide and narrow. Process oriented, free of emotion and ego working on boat speed, fleet, course etc. Also, how do you sleep knowing you are winning or could win the World championships, Olympic trials or the Olympics tomorrow?

Back then the new focus was on athlete centered coaching, coaching athletes based on their needs. As part of my year end project I presented my assessment of athlete centered hierarchy.

The quick summary assessing where the athletes are in their development for coaching attention is –
1. Learning to Sail; tacking, gybing, etc.
2. Learning to Train: what progressions to do when on the water away from a race, addressing the reps of sailing.
3. Learning to Race: starts, mark roundings, racing near other boats on different points of sail, etc, the repetitions of racing. And finally…
4. Learning to Win: tying together all of the components during the race and regatta, performing and racing well.

Sailors that are focused on Olympic class success require a professional objective reflective approach and mature personal assessment, embracing the growth mantra. It is important to develop discipline in addressing weaknesses and in willingness to improve in all of the many components. This was designed as an assessment tool for athlete and coach.

The Olympic rings are a 5 part venn diagram, all interconnected and the same size, all equally important and required. Top Sailors do everything well.

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