A long time ago I read an article in Yachts and Yachting magazine in which a couple of young sailors described how they prepare for sailing in different conditions. In it they described how they would find a quiet spot away from everyone and, if it was strong winds, they would imagine themselves as big, strong, powerful sailors. If it was light they would imagine themselves as agile, nimble and light-footed.
It occurred to me at the time that this was an excellent idea – a good way of getting yourself in the right frame of mind for the relevant conditions. A lot of people use music to psyche themselves up, but this is something I’ve rarely been able to do. I think it is because I like music too much – by this I mean I am too emotionally invested in music. I don’t mean I burst into tears at the sound of Kristin Hersh’s voice, more that any particular song may arouse a range of feelings making it difficult to match the songs with the required mood.
Whatever the reason for my musical confusion, the idea of getting into a particular mindset seems sensible, and not too difficult to do. On the drive to the sailing club it is quite easy to do a little imagining in order to get set up for that day’s sailing. I really should remember to do it more often.
All of this popped into my head as I was reading a particular passage in the timelessly brilliant book ‘The Inner Game of Tennis’. In it the author, W. Timothy Gallwey, describes a technique he calls ‘Programming by Identity’. This is how he describes teaching the technique:
When introducing this idea, I usually say something like this: ‘Imagine I am the director of a television series. Knowing that you are an actor that plays tennis, I ask if you would like to do a bit part as a top flight tennis player. I assure you that you needn’t worry about hitting the ball out or into the net because the camera will only be focused on you and will not follow the ball. What I’m mainly interested in is that you adopt professional mannerisms, and that you swing your racket with supreme self-confidence. Above all, your face must express no self-doubt. You should look as if you are hitting every ball exactly where you want to. Really get into the role, hit the ball as hard as you like and ignore where the ball is actually going.’
It is a brilliant idea. Putting it together with some of the other things he writes, it becomes a very good way of improving your sailing.
Here’s a suggestion. If you are a Laser sailor then watch a few videos of Tom Slingsby, Robert Scheidt or Paul Goodison. Watch them as if you were preparing for an acting role, as described above. Really prepare for the role, not by trying to remember exactly where Tom Slingsby’s back foot is halfway through a tack, but by trying to imagine what he is thinking and feeling at any given moment. Create a visual picture of what it all looks like. Think about the relaxed concentration they tend to exude. Create for yourself a mental impression of how they look – their hiking style, where their head looks, what their general movements are like.
Then, next time you go sailing, play the role. Don’t worry about where you are coming in the race, the director can edit that out. Don’t worry about making a mistake – he can edit those out too. Just concentrate on playing the role of a brilliant Laser sailor. As Gallwey himself says: the results can be dramatic.