Want to avoid the pecking order? Practice a little more than the guys you want to beat. At first you'll fail. Then you'll fail better. Then you'll succeed.
One of the trickiest things about pecking orders is that not only do we have a tendency as human beings to fall into what we perceive to be a "natural order", but that we also attach reasons as to why that natural order exists.
For instance, occasionally I will be sailing in a fleet in strong winds and I will feel that I'm not big enough or strong enough (or young enough) to compete with some of the other sailors. I'm not a small chap - I reckon I'm 5'11" (everyone else reckons I'm 5'10", but they're going by actual measurement, and not taking into account my enigmatic presence) - and I'm neither small nor large in build, but I'm not particularly strong - my upper-body strength in particular could be a lot better. I'm also not in my early twenties (at least physically), so there are times when I miss that youthful vigour that other sailors seem to have. For me, this can be my "reason" for being down the pecking order in certain conditions.
Of course, many of you are already thinking that there is something I can do about all this. I can workout more, and work specifically on my upper-body strength so that it is no longer weakness.
And you're right. In fact, that is my point precisely.
You see, there are other fleets I race in where I don't have this problem. I'm fit enough to be competitive, and my results mean I'm towards the very top of the pecking order. And the people below me in the pecking order have their own reasons why they don't beat me. I don't know all the reasons that this may be, but one of them is that I learnt to sail when I was young, that I trained and practiced a lot as a kid, and that I have many hours of sailing under my belt. They don't have the same sailing miles that I have, the same range of experience, and so they won't beat me. That's their "reason".
So the solution to this pecking order problem presents itself quite simply:
- Decide where you would like to get in the pecking order. Be realistic, but ambitious. Ambitiously realistic.
- Look at who you'll have to beat to get there.
- Figure out what your reasons are for not being there already
- Do more than they do in these areas.
For example, in my case I decided to take part in a particular championship. I realised that I was going to be worried that I wasn't fit enough or strong enough to really compete, so I took an educated guess at how much exercise the guys I wanted to be up with would do. I put together a simple fitness program that would be just a little bit more than I thought they would be doing. And every time I felt like missing a session, or I felt like I was going easy on myself in a session, I thought about the regatta and the sailors I wanted to be competing with. It was enough motivation to get going and keep going.
And it worked. I was higher up the fleet than I thought I would have been, and I was satisfied with my results.
But what about the guys who think they're being beaten because they don't have the experience that another sailor has?
For me, experience is a funny thing. Some experience is cumulative - the more you have, the more useful it is. Other experience needs to be "topped up" regularly - the longer ago it is since you last had it, the less useful it is.
So if you really want to catch up with the guys that have more experience than you I would suggest this:
Watch how much sailing they currently do. Do they go out early before racing and do some drills? Do they stay out after a race to practice specific things? Do they have practice sessions completely away from racing? Do they read a a lot about sailing? Do they watch a lot of sailing videos that might help them improve?
Then resolve to do more than they do. If you want to win an Olympics then that means giving your life over to sailing. But if you just want to regularly fininsh in the top 3 in your local club races then it may just mean going out 30 minutes earlier and doing some good, focused practice, reading a little around subjects that are causing you problems, and watching a few useful videos with a critical eye.
Most club sailors don't do that, and if you do then your results will improve very quickly.
And the reason isn't just because you're practicing important skills more, it is also because, when you do get in front of the boats that you don't normally beat, you'll have a good "reason" as to why you're ahead, rather than a good "reason" as to why you should be behind.