Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Acquiring Building Blocks: Coaching after Palma and the French Olympic Week

After my event in Palma turned out poorly, I finished up a little frustrated. However, one of the keys to getting quickly past frustration is analysis, checking over all the aspects of the regatta to figure out where the weaknesses are.

As I mentioned in the previous post, the major factor that affected my Palma event was recovery. After a really tough training camp in Cadiz, I didn’t get any physical therapy and remained pretty stressed for a few days afterwards with driving, ferries, and getting adjusted to routine in Palma. I didn’t want to go into the event tired, but I was distracted enough to affect my rest, and thus my focus was a little impaired. With this in mind, I set out to create a better training plan for myself, with speedy skill acquisition in mind.

As a science person, I find analysis to be an entertaining challenge. The trick is applying physical skills to meaningful data. My coach and I identified the skills that are most critical to having a good race, and assigned a numerical value to them representing my comparison to the skills of the fleet’s top sailors. We graphed the data simply to visually identify the skills I need to improve upon the most, in a few different conditions. I then created a table depicting every day I worked on each skill in each condition, starting upon my arrival in Hyeres, France, for the French Olympic Week. At the end of the season, I’ll know relatively how long it’s taking to develop a skill, or the number of days I was able to work on a particular item. All in all, a relatively simple way to keep track of learning.

Having a consistent checklist improved the quality of my training before the French Olympic Week. I made significant headway on a number of items in about a week of training before the event. Any new skill is a building block for each race, and the proper assembly of these blocks is what creates a good race and overall event. I can’t say that I put together a great result, but I certainly performed well for a definite number of skills, and sailed much better in this event than Palma.

The French Olympic Week saw mostly light and marginal conditions. We had only one fully-planing race on the first day. The committee did a good job of getting all the races in, and made some good calls on scheduling. Every day had a different start according to how the committee felt the wind would develop that day. In the qualifying series, we had three races on the day with better breeze, and one race on the lightest day. I found that I’m able to put together marginal-planing races together a bit better than light wind races, thanks to a lot of time training in Miami this winter.

In addition to the challenging conditions, the women’s fleet here was very big – 75 boards total, making two fleets. Many teams use this event as an Olympic qualifier, and it’s also a good venue for developmental sailors to compete. In short, this event had the best fleet quality of almost the entire 2012 quadrennium thus far (maybe with the exception of the 2010 Worlds in Denmark). The growing difficulty of the sport makes rapid learning a necessity, and my attempts to organize different systems for training will hopefully create a method that works well for me, and facilitates rapid assembly of skills critical for racing.

I’m now in Brest, France, beginning a training camp with local French sailors and youth men, and two sailor friends from Canada and Hungary. I’m confident that this will be a good week for learning. Afterwards, I go to Weymouth to begin training for the Sail for Gold Regatta, our first Olympic qualifier.

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