Windward Work: The H Class Championship, 2015 – photo by Caroline Bolick

A while back, I wrote a post called: “How to Be Your Own Coach,” in which I talked about how I had applied the “self-coaching” I had developed during my Conservatory training as a singer, into a similar approach for improving my sailboat racing. Surprisingly, it turns out I’ve not been the first person to employ these transformative skills, learned through years of intensive musical training, in order to be successful in other endeavors. After reading my blog post, a friend contacted me and suggested that I read Eric Twiname’s long out-of-print book: Sail, Race and Win —  as his approach to coaching, practice and goal setting for sailing were similar to what I had developed in my own work.

You see, in addition to being a sailor, Twiname also studied piano.  And in his book, he wrote about his fascination with a concert-pianist-friend’s methods, after having watched her practice her repertoire, and his revelation that her methodical approach was far more effective than the way he had been practicing.  He noticed that she was taking things apart and putting them back together again, working on little sections, playing them slowly, and then faster, and really thinking about where her shortcomings could be found.  She was doing what I’ve been calling “mindful” practice — something every serious musician learns through his or her intensive study with a master teacher.  In What Makes a Great Sailor, –Practice or Talent?, I shared my thoughts about mindful practice: “ it’s that try and try again piece, that thoughtful, problem-solving ‘How can I make this better?’ piece. It’s actually this kind of practice that ‘grows’ your skill through the myelinization of nerve fibers. The way you practice makes all the difference in its ability to transform you.”

So, yes, I believe you can teach yourself to win! I absolutely believe that you can coach yourself to become a much better sailor, and to reach the goals that you have set for yourself, whatever they might be.  I was at a pre-race lunch today with a sailor who said that she couldn’t possibly imagine that one day she could be competitive enough to win our Class Championship.  I was disappointed and sorry that she could limit herself in that way, because unfortunately, if you believe you can’t do something, then it’s a sure bet that you’ll be right.  If you set a goal for yourself, and approach it step-by-step, in a methodical, well-planned way, I believe that you can accomplish even those things that seem insurmountable at the start.  All it takes is a plan, some mindful practice, and a steady habit of reevaluation along the way.

You can do it!

Deborah Bennett Elfers
I was practically born on a boat, though on a working lobster boat rather than a sailboat. In my early days, I sailed quite a lot on a Sunfish, but not very elegantly, as in our little neighborhood “fleet,” the boat was primarily used as a weapon in a wildly popular game of “kill the other guy!” Who could have imagined way back then, that one day I’d become so passionate about all things sailing?
Deborah Bennett Elfers
Deborah Bennett Elfers

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