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Dear Readers,

So, it's been a while since I had a chance of putting some decent thoughts on paper (digital A4). Not that my thought are always not decent, but a full on Olympic campaign does take a bit of ones attention…….. Well, the time away from the paper wasn't a complete waste, because it did give me some more ideas to finish what I started. This is part 2 of mental recovery. I've always intended to give some rock solid answers on issues, but this time I found it hard to achieve that. Maybe simply because this is not physics or math. Please read and judge me afterwards……

Anyway I hope you'll enjoy it while reading, and please don't hesitate to react in case you'll feel like it.


Mental recovery during racing. Part 2
(In part one, I introduced the familiar problem of blowing up mentally while sailing and the build up to it, plus some factors involved……)

Very often the level of the threshold beyond which the sailing will deteriorate, is influenced by various factors. If I talk to sailors I sometimes get the impression that these factors have a lot to do with the "surroundings" of the sailor and hardly the sport technical issues.


Let's have a look at these aspects that might influence the level of this threshold:

1- Personal aspects:
Arrogance or low self esteem, discipline, confidence, age and experience in the sport are just a few.
These are aspects that of course are the fundament for every mental issue.
A low self esteem will lead to a conception of the world rather as a burden than a challenge. Being too arrogant can often lead to high expectations and maybe low discipline and therefore early disappointments.
So as a coach an individual approach is necessary in order to take these personal fundaments and use the good sides of them in managing the stress level.

A so-called self-ironical arrogant type of perspective seems to work pretty good. But to get there is sometimes easier said than done.

2- Social economic aspects
These would be things like work, study, social or financial security.
Very often, problems back home, ill friends and family, or worries about work while one is away or, spending time sailing instead of working will lead to extra lowering of the threshold, especially when racing doesn't go the way one wishes it to be.

Sometimes these are so-called "buckets behind your boat, that drag along on the course…" not very fast you know…

3- "Sport related economic" aspects
Institutes like federations, sponsors, NOC's and others that possibly, or already, support the campaign. Federations or sponsor often depend their support on results. Therefore the "What if" logic is very likely to appear in a sailors head. Some of them having a hard time shutting this out while racing.

The problem with this "what if" logic is that, wind, waves, current etc. don't give a damn whether your federation said you have to be top 12 or not. So don't think for one minute that this thing in your mind worrying is helping you in anyway.

3- Physical aspects
These are obvious but therefore worth motioning because they need constant attendance:
a-All round health against easy cacheable colds, fevers und infections.
b-Physical fitness. More and more experience and research indicates that a high level of aerobic endurance and high level of flexibility of the body, relates with a higher mental frustration level.
So not only on the sport technical aspects while sailing plead for this high level of general fittness also from a mental point of view it has it's benefits!

The above would seem to indicate that this threshold level is a more or less given thing and can be risen and lowered over the career of a sailor, however it also changes in a shorter period of time like for instance during a regatta. Everybody can relate to the following story.

Figure 1 light stuff often makes you crazy….

Shortly before the pre-olympics a team fell apart due to internal problems. The crew quickly found a new helmsman and the new 470 team was sent to this race. Without any expectations and very aware of their unique opportunity and loads of work ahead they took their short time of preparation and started the first day of racing. Big was every bodies surprise when this team was ranked top 3 after the first two days of racing!

As usual during a pre-olympic regatta the press and politicians did their jobs with the usual headless speculations of the consequences the team would get, if they would continue sailing like this. Interviews were given and talks over diner were very promising. Next day conditions were shifty and difficult and after the first lap the team was again top 5 at the top mark then one little mistake lead to a bigger one. At the end of the reach the wind shifted right, but the team realized it too late to gybe immediately and take the shift into the downwind. After the first 150 meters on the wrong side, the fleet behind them made a big split. After their gybe they sailed straight into a bad air zone and parked while on both sides boats passing. At the bottom mark things got worse when the whole fleet was stacked up and several collisions and protests were shouted. Another couple of boats were lost in an effort to go around on the outside, which ended up at being at the wrong side of the second beat. Finally in a last try to make something up in the last down wind, again the wrong side was cornered and a third to last place was realized. The protest went invalid due to a mistake at informing the RC so at 23:00 hrs the day ended with a big pfffffffft.
Over the next two days this team didn't got any good racing in and lot of things went wrong.
At the night before the last race when we sat down and started talked again about what had happened at that specific race. The new helmsman admitted that he was very exited during this first lap and that a promise from the chairman of the board was still coming up in his head while racing the upwind. Which to me made sense since I was surprised how little he could remember about this leg when we first evaluated it that same evening. We rounded up that this was something to remember and take on in a later stage of the campaign with possibly a mental coach that could learn the helmsman some techniques to deal with these things differently instead of taking it on the boat while racing. Next day the team was swinging again. Two races with some small mistakes ended up with a 5th and 6th and a 8 overall. The journalists went home the politicians went to "their" winners in other classes and we left the place with a big first step in a very interesting campaign.

Is the glass half full, or can we already smash it…. (or better yet, order a new one)?

Figure 2 a familiar sight after a hard days work....??

Of course most sailors reading this, all heard these stories or better yet lived trough them. At some stage the really tough ones (or fools that don't want to quit) reach a level where they're out there in their 234.47562 th championship race, for the 234.256462 time at a specific top mark situation packed with boats and look at it a little bored but still arrogant enough to go in it and say: "well this looks remotely familiar. Let's see what happens if we do it this way…"

It's easy to say that young sailors sail with more heart, and are therefore likely to need days to recover from mental blow up. But in a way it's true and we've all been there and we've all managed to get a thicker skin (or skull!) against little fuck ups we've made long ago. Even though we still sometimes make the same mistakes, somehow we've chanced our perspective not to let it ruin the next situation. We've learned obviously that some mistakes are not important enough to lose the race…. Or something like that? Even tough long ago when I first made that same mistake the coach said don't worry about that he was not wrong? Well it'll definitely mean that It seems that perspective doesn't change by just telling someone. And it also tells us that the wrong way of looking at things doesn't really change this thing (the mistake has still been made) but the right way of thinking does help you to keep on going and improve from there instead of losing it completely or giving up.
So certain mistakes and recoveries are easier than other to change a perspective on. But does that help? Well yes. Because it give away a principle and the change of perspective principle goes on everything as long as you can get detached from it. And that mostly takes the time.

Time frames

At first blowing up during a race takes at least a day (or better, one interesting night with that liquid filled glass thing on my table together with that woman…..what's her name?). After a while you manage to get a grip again after two hours alone ashore running, crying alone in your room. Than a bit later you'll get to the stage where you're ok by the time you get ashore.
And maybe, sometime, somewhere in the bright future you'll get to…. after the mark rounding which looked familiar but you lost four boats and had to take a penalty (…. Nr 145.4576 of your career) you'll say: "Well, that didn't make my mother proud! Let's go deep and catch up!"

So getting detached is the trick?

Well it's a word that a lot of people know…..

We used it while describing -getting over mistakes you've made-. You need to have a perspective of yourself and your world, as a sailor that allows himself to make these mistakes, accepts them and keeps going while thriving for the best there is.

Not an easy thing to combine these two: accepting to make mistakes and thrive to absolute perfection. But this is what it comes at: learn that mistakes belong to the process of achieving perfection and and also realize that not one race ever sailed, and even though won was, the perfect race. It's just a matter of making less and/or less grave ones.


What helps?

How do you ever get over your first time? (apart from the hangover!) Of course it's an individual thing. And depending on that you need to realize that nothing is permanent.

Medals have been won by the most crazy people ever lived, but repeated winners must have (maybe very individual!!) techniques to deal with this. Either consciously learned, by themselves, or by sphrinks, or others. So if you realize it's a technique you can start looking for it an learn it what's best for you.

So acceptance is the key here. Most sailors will be their own problem: " I'm a grown man, I don't need a faggat sphrink to tell me what to do… I'm no nutcase… I can buy a set of new sails for the money he asks…."
And off we go with 0,5% more speed, off to the next fuck up which definitely will lead to another shouting blow up somewhere during the series.

Good winds

Rigo de Nijs

Do you think you have an interesting subject for the next article?, mail Rigo 


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