“Life’s a marathon, not a sprint.”  –  Dr. Phil

My friend, amazing cello-master Paul Katz, has a wonderful blog, CelloBello, which I highly recommend reading — even if you don’t happen to be a cellist!   It’s always seemed obvious to me that there is a great parallel in focused, committed, musical- and sports-training (in my case, singing and sailing), and that each approach can alternately enhance and inform the other.  On CelloBello’s website, I’ve been following with great interest the brilliant guest-blog posts by Jonathan Thomson, professional cellist, teacher, and avid marathon runner.  The latest one, Setting Goalsdelves into the intricacies of marathon training, and, specifically, how this way of training can be a template of sorts for a cellist’s practice and goal setting.

Here’s my take as to how this can relate to improving your sailing and racing:

  • Forming an actual training plan is a necessary first step
    • identify your weak maneuvers
    • create a plan of action for addressing them
    • commit to practicing faithfully, over time
  • Training over the long-run gives you flexibility to reassess goals (both long- and short-term)
    • remember that nothing is set in stone – things are always changing
    • make time each week to reflect upon your progress (or lack thereof)
    • adjust your practice based upon your weekly skills assessment
    • create new goals as necessary
  • Plan for the next race by building your practice around strengths and weaknesses
    • what worked and what didn’t in the last race?
    • where is your most glaring shortcoming?  Focus on improving it!
    • how can you be better prepared for the next race?

So, take my advice and get yourself a journal, write your goals down, and hold yourself accountable for making progress from week to week.  And practice with your sailing partner, as this will greatly improve the effectiveness of your team.  I suggest a journal, because I find that writing down my goals somehow makes them “official,” which solidifies my commitment to the process.  It’s a subtle thing, but I think it can make a real difference.

Once I’ve developed my list, then I’ll figure out how I can reach each goal, identifying a specific kind of practice, or review, for each one.  Most often, I find that this is a combination of physical practice and reading things that can support your learning.  For example, I’m likely to read a lot about a topic such as sail trim, and then go out and try some stuff out, based on what I’ve read.  The study of the Racing Rules is another example of how a combination of book- and experiential-learning can accelerate the improvement process.  Reading about the Rules at home is a lot different than experiencing them on the race course, as I’m sure everyone would agree, and both are an important part of the learning process.  In fact, I’ve done some of my best Rules “learning” by messing up on the course, and to this day, I’m eternally grateful to all of you who patiently helped me understand the errors of my ways.

Obviously, everyone will have a different list of goals.  What will your list look like?  Here are some of mine for this summer:

  • Improve my gybing technique
  • Get more practice sailing in light airs
  • Better boat handling in heavy winds
  • Work on developing better sail trim skills
  • More practice starts – everyone needs this one!
  • Develop better focus during practice and racing
  • Really understand Rule 18 – all of it!

One thing is absolutely certain.  If you don’t develop your list and start working on it, you run the risk of finding yourself wondering how you wound up at the back of the fleet.  Just because you’re not working on your goals doesn’t mean that everyone else isn’t!  Read my post Lots of Little Things Can Add Up to Big Gains for a more in-depth look at how that can happen.

So, what’s the moral of this story?  If you want to see your sailing and racing improve, you need to take the time to set goals based upon an honest assessment of your current skill set  — and then commit to a plan to reach them.  After all, wouldn’t you rather approach the start line with a winning mindset, supported by the confidence of steady and mindful preparation and practice?

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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