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Thought for the Day - What do you think about when racing.

I wrote a post a while ago looking at racing thought processes. See Here. One of the questions I ask myself is why don't I practice what I preach.

If you followed the blog you will have read about what happened at Manor Park and how I got distracted by focusing on not finishing in the last four places in many A Fleet races rather than what mattered, i.e. where is the next wind shift and gust, where am I in relation to the fleet and where am I in relation to the course. The result every time was that I finished in the last four. I got what I wished for.

For me this is the last link in the chain. I have the right boat, sails and rig setup. I am immaculately prepared, have all the necessary sailing skills but often I do not have the right thought processes to get round the race course and introduce negative thinking. It could be classed as over thinking but in my book it is simply the wrong thinking.

This behaviour started in the first Nationals at Fleetwood two years ago and has continued ever since. I can sail the boat well at the front of the fleet and have demonstrated that I can recover from a bad start but time and time again my brain wandered off into the world of negative thinking, especially when tired so I will try to explain what goes through my head in a race and how I will work my way out of any negative thinking. To be honest this is the most interesting topic to study once the boat setup and advanced sailing skills are mastered. In fact it is the only thing left to resolve in my journey for top performance in an IOM.

From my NLP days I know it is possible to make a decision to change behaviour in a second so there is opportunity for a rapid turnaround.

So what do I do to turn this round.

The first point to note is that the top sailors, in particular Peter Stollery and BG are very calm and relaxed when racing which you would expect after so many years of campaigning at the top level. However they seem to race at a higher level than everyone else and see things that we lesser mortals don't. Now another NLP quote goes along the lines of "If one person can do a thing, then anyone can do it".

So what is it they do that we don't and how do we start doing it. I need to be in a relaxed state before a race by only thinking about the things that matter towards the race. Eliminate anticipation of what could happen. It is unnecessary thinking and definitely not constructive. eg there is no point going through the motion of what happens if I finish in the bottom top four, or I get on the wrong side of a wind shift on the first beat. These are things that can go through my head and only lead to raising the stress levels and therefore poor performance. I am sure the top people do not think about this.

Whilst I cannot answer what the top guys think about definitively because I cannot see inside their head, I think a lot of the answer lies in their ability to constantly see both the big and the small picture. They have constant awareness of the wind across the water and are generally the first to get to the next shift. They are also adept at taking small risks to make significant gains over the boats around them, and once they have made that gain they keep looking forwards. They also sail fast all the time. You rarely see them with their boats pinching and slowing. They are always fast and free and generally going slightly quicker than the boats around them. This is not a boat speed issue, it is a technique which we can all develop. There is a difference between Peter and Brad on the start line. Peter is adept at starting at the pin end and is definitely master of the starboard end start. Often you see him waiting till the very last minute for a gap which nearly always appears. Brad seems to be more conservative in his approach on the line but is brilliant at moving through the fleet.

As an exercise I thought it would be interesting to write about what I focus on and where the gaps might be in my approach and how I can develop my A heat skills.

On shore

I start with careful attention to the boat and rig setup and always check, check and check again for any areas of potential failure, sheet fraying, dry radio pot, battery voltage OK etc. This way I rarely experience malfunctions on the race course. (In two years racing, I have suffered a broken shroud, radio issues when salt water got into the pot, and a broken tack line. The first two failures, there was not a lot I could do but the last one, I should have spotted the fraying). Check the rig setup before each race and make sure all the lines are set to their marks and the rig looks perfect for the conditions. Once the boat is launched, I check the balance and if all OK just focus on racing. Once away from the pontoon, if something is not quite right, it is too late to do anything about it so forget it. So far so good and I have all this under control.

Before the start

I cover this in the section on racing an IOM. The key focus is to track down the favoured side of the course and any wind patterns and start line bias. I think I am reasonably adept at spotting the favourable side and seeing the wind patterns coming down the course.

The start

I think I am getting positioning on the the start right and have the ability to hold the boat stationary on the line or before it and can create a gap to leeward to accelerate into. My slight weakness is to be too conservative or get too close to the line before pulling the trigger and accelerating away but once clear of other boats, I can sail very fast and free.

1st beat

Here is the conundrum. When I can see the wind patterns on the water, I am very good at optimising the route to the windward mark however I have often got trapped when I see wind on one side of the course and calm areas on the other not realising that the wind is there, it is just not hitting the water.

My challenge comes when there are constant shifts with no signals on the water and one is reliant on instant observations of other boats to understand the wind and position the boat to take advantage of what is coming. This was the story in Manor Park all weekend. Instead of absolute focus on what was going on, I worried about getting it wrong and falling into the demotion zone. It could be that fatigue played a part but the underlying weakness was my demotion (last 4) thinking.

I saw myself as the victim - the expression "Be careful what you wish for" comes to mind. Self fulfilling prophesy also comes to mind. Whatever I have to change.

The run

Sometimes on the run it paid to be one side or the other. I remember one run where boats were going faster on the left and right whilst I stubbornly maintained a solitary track down the middle believing the wind would get to me. I went from 5th to 13th in the blink of an eye. Thankfully I did not see myself as unlucky, just stupid and I could not understand why I did not take action sooner although being tired did not help.

2nd beat

To me the second beat is about opportunity. On the plus side in race one race at Manor Park, when I rounded the leeward mark last, I headed to the right side of the beat because I saw a favourable wind pattern so whilst the fleet went left or up the middle and got lifted and lifted on port which initially I thought was really bad as the fleet were getting some of the lift too but in much less wind. Instead of thinking I had gone the wrong way, I thought there must be a huge header coming my way and I am in more wind so I held until I got the header and tacked across into second place. Yes it was a flyer but it was calculated and needed a bit of luck which came my way. Had I followed the fleet I would have only picked up a few boats at the most.

2nd run

This is a similar story to the first run

Final beat

The challenge on the final beat is to balance covering the nearest boats whilst taking the wind shifts. Sometimes it is more important to follow the wind than cover and of course one must watch for the boats taking flyers on the last beat. They can rapidly become a danger if the wind shift goes their way.

So on the final beat my dominant thought at Manor Park was, "do not be in the last four". The brain takes negative commands and turns them positive and I achieved the last four more times than I would care.

I am also prone to letting one or two boats through on the last beat because I start behaving defensively and tack too quickly slowing the boat rather than focusing on the wind shifts as well as controlling the boats behind.

I have probably emphasised the negative more than the positive. Over the weekend at Manor Park with a very competitive fleet I won 3 races with several top 5 results, and finished 7th and 13th overall. Yes it could have been better but it puts me in the top 10 Nationally on the ranking list so I have plenty of room for improvement.

So what is the answer to the conundrum.

Focus on the sailing by constantly answering the following questions:

Where is the boat on the race course?

Where is the boat in relation to the wind?

Where is the boat in relation to the course?

Nothing else matters regarding the empty space between my ears. Any other thinking just raises stress levels.

So how do i put this into practice. Obviously on the race course and also on the golf course where it is so easy to go off the rails.

In conclusion, I believe that there is only a small gap between my smart and not so smart sailing but I have to apply discipline in my thinking. I started applying this in golf where it is easy to get engulfed with negative thoughts. eg

I always get this hole wrong

The ball always finds that bunker

I cannot putt to save my life

The fairway is too narrow.

Having read a physchology book on the game it is very easy to reduce thinking about to golf shot which I have applied with some success.

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