Since I started preparing for the nationals, I found it easy to focus on the basics, getting the boat in tip top condition and practicing manoeuvres and sailing which are all easy and straight forward. However thinking about how I will be mentally prepared is not so easy, when standing before the start, hardly able to see my boat surrounded by the 19 of the best in the country with the heart rate going, is not so easy. Will I hit the panic button and go crazy or will I let the boat do the work and sail smooth and fast. Last year was my first time so I had no idea what to expect but this time aI have some experience on which to build a plan.
So how should I prepare? There are the obvious things like reviewing the notes on racing on this web site, preparing the boat and rigs but there are other factors which are more in the mind that need to be addressed. The biggest challenge is how do I cover off the many years of experience most of my competitors have
I became a practitioner in Neuro Linguistic Programming which is all about learning how to tune the software of a human being. I won't go into details but one thing I learnt was the power of playing a video in your minds eye of a situation which you wanted to handle well. Repeating the video over and over again whether it be presenting a proposal in a meeting, addressing a conference or starting a race embeds it into the subconscious. I used this technique a lot in business and was amazed how effective it can be. Often situations would play out exactly how I imagined them.
What are the things to think about regarding the racing?
At the Nationals last year I was new to the game and rather poor at starting. In 3 races I lost sight of the boat and when the fleet had gone, there it was sailing serenely in the wrong direction. I have worked on starts since then and can say I am a little better.
The challenge for all of us is we do not know what conditions we are going to get in Glasgow. If the wind blows from the NE to E or from the west, we are going to get open conditions with big waves. If it blows from the NW to N we will get fluky winds on flat water as the winds blow over the town. Whatever the wind direction, this will have an impact on the setup of the boat so it is worth thinking about different setups for given conditions. More depth for choppy conditions, less for flat water.
It may pour with rain which makes logistics interesting, like where do you put the rig box in the dry so you can get access to it easily if you need a rig change.
There are three fleets racing, 1 after the other, so there is plenty of downtime and racing over 3 days It is important to get plenty of rest so one can maintain focus during the racing.
Tactically it is worth taking a print out of the venue, draw in the topography and see where the wind bends might be so you can test things out in practice.
How do we put an improved performance package together?
Lets assume you arrive at least the day before and have a rough plan for the run up to racing of what you want to do. How much sailing, bearing in mind the practice races can be quite aggresive sometimes and there is a risk of boat damage. You have done all your practice beforehand so there is little point in thinking that you will improve in the last few hours. It is quite possible that you may get completely different conditions on practice day to that of the first races making the practice meaningless. This is where visualisation comes into play so you can rehearse every eventuality so by the time you arrive, you have already experienced the venue and everything that might get thrown at you.
Visualisation is like playing a movie in your mind. The brighter, bigger, more colourful, louder it is, the more impact it will have on entering your subconscious. Building a video requires no memory, just a little imagination. Think of a sailing situation, eg at a start, imagine starting successfully at the windward end, leeward end and in the middle and see yourself positioning your boat with a gap to leeward and pulling the trigger at just the right moment to have a nose ahead of the fleet. Also imagine what happens if you are forced over the line, how fast can you get back and catch the fleet. Repeat these videos over and over. Imagine how you feel at the time standing next to 19 of the best sailors in the country. Are you afraid, intimidated or in control. The latter is what you need to focus on during your video. Feel you finger coordination on the sheet and tiller sticks and note how smooth and gentle the movements are. The aim of the video is to imagine perfection over and over again and feel amazing as you achieve a perfect result every time. The more realistic the movie, the more impact it will have on your performance.
The joy of making your won movie is that you are the star. Focus on who you want to be when the race starts. Ideally calm, breathing deeply, focussed and concentrating 100% with very smooth gentle control of your boat. The more you put into your movie the more you get out.
Of course reality does not always work out like a video. Occasionally a boat will get in the way or you just get it wrong but by imagining as many eventualities as you can, prepares you better when things do go wrong and you will react faster and correctly.
If you want proof of the power of visualisation, there was a very good golfer who was called up to the Vietnam war. He was captured and imprisoned for a few hundred days. When he returned he entered a golf competition with little practice and proceeded to shoot par. When asked how he was able to play so well after a long lay off, he responded by telling the press, he had played golf in his head every single day so he had never been away from the game.
Give the idea a try and see what happens.