Having spent three high intense days at the BMW Sail Racing Academy, I can see why BMW and yacht sport are perfectly partnered. Below is a summary of my take on the psychology behind a winning boat. Below you can read more about BMW, the psychology of the sport and see what BMW will bring us in the next 100 years.
The organisation behind this event is smooth and really helps pack the most into your 3 day event allowing you to focus on training and – for the best participants – ultimately winning your spot in the prestigious Copa Del Rey. Below we are being welcomed to the next 3 days of pushing our bodies and minds to their ultimate and it was interesting to participate in this event with my sports performance coaching hat on.
We had some amazing teachers. Roberto Ferrarese had the charm expected from his Italian roots but combined with his intellect and experience he made the lectures and theory engaging, humorous yet extremely informative.
It was not all lectures and note taking. This academy is very interactive allowing you to ask questions at any level. Both Roberto and Markus Wieser pictured below were on hand to answer all your questions.
The beauty of a Pro-Am sport is that all levels of experience could mix together and everyone can grow and learn from their team mates. This is very much a team sport and bonding is a key element to success. Being on a boat is like a dance, you have to anticipate the needs of your crew mates and work together to run an efficient boat.
Is there a call for psychology in sailing
I was asked by a fellow sailor if there is call for a sports performance coach in sailing as he thought the sport was a combination of tactics and intuition but unlike boxing or football was not something that could or should be coached. It is always interesting to hear different viewpoints as every viewpoint has a place. My response was that I was aware that the GB Olympic Sailing team had quite a large team of psychologists and peak performance strategists not to mention a performance lifestyle coach in the mix. As soon as he heard this he couldn’t wait to bend my ear off about psychology, strategy and tactics.
I often say if you want to know how to win go to the greats and emulate. Last year I met Sir Steve Redgrave through a rowing function, my first water sport of choice and one I have competed in for many years and now coach, but sailing does come a very close second. Sir Steve is quite well known for saying that mental fitness and the emotional strength behind an individual is a key component between the winning and losing team especially in a sport like rowing. Markus Wieser was also on hand to give his top tips to the filming crew about his thoughts on the sport.
It is well known that anyone who wants to be at the top of their game requires a good coach for their physical training but it is only in the more recent years that we have realised one has to train the mind too. Although those of you who remember the Eighties will no doubt cast their mind back to The Karate Kid trilogy which was all about mental and emotional strength combined with the sport.
Sports psychology is becoming far more widely accepted and dare I say even expected with teams spending thousands of pounds on their sports science teams.
If we look at the psychology behind a winning boat it often has a lot in common with BMW cars themselves.
Balance The Adrenaline
One particularly poignant part of the lecture series was about timing at the start line. There is the technical aspect of reaching the start line bang on the start whistle but there is also the balance between adrenaline and stress of a whole crew. In sailing, at any level, the way in which one copes with pressure and stress is crucial and directly proportional to the overall performance of one’s crew. A sailor can be technically highly advanced but without the psychology to perform under pressure they will lack that special something that brings them to the finish line mark time and time again.
Well-coordinated teamwork can help utilise the mentally tough to take the fast paced mental roles including acting as tactician and commander of the boat, while the physically tough can be ready to tack, jibe and work their way through the complexities of sailing. This allows you to enjoy the sail as well as feed off the adrenaline at levels that are healthy for you. Much like with BMW, the car itself takes the pressure out of driving by making the stressful decisions from the simple aspects such as how close you are to an object when parking to the more complex EfficientDynamics features, allowing you to lower the stress levels and enjoy the drive to your maximum level of emotional and physical comfort.
Act don’t React
Roberto pointed out on more than one occasion how important it is to act rather than react. In sailing it is so important to plan your tactics but be flexible. Flexibility does not come from reacting but from putting in place carefully thought out strategies that you have already conceived and strategised about before the event itself happens. It is a case of planning for almost every eventuality and putting in place those tactics when the situations arise. Reacting on a boat kills the momentum that you would get if you stuck to your plan. Considered action beats any reaction.
BMW is a key player in the motor industry because it isn’t swayed by the other cars on the market. BMW like all good sailors act, they don’t react. By this I refer to the fact that they act in the way they know is best for their customers and for the ultimate drive rather than a need to keep up with the Joneses. They set their own standard and push themselves to their mark of excellence making the levels they achieve outstanding in their industry. Likewise a good sailor should not copy a fellow boat’s position nor their line. They need their own strategy, one every crew member understands and they need to work towards their goal of achieving their mark irrespective of the other boats. Apart from if they are going to crash, then react and protest but as Roberto says be nice to the umpire… yes if you were wondering Roberto was umpiring that day!
Pay attention to dirty air
Rowers often say don’t row in other’s puddles as it breaks your will to succeed. It’s tougher water and gets you half the distance. Dirty air refers to being in the wind shadow of another boat, i.e that boat has quite literally stolen the wind from your sails. The same principle as in rowing is true in sailing, being in dirty air is psychologically damaging and also takes metres off the run of the boat. Imagine tacking only to catch wind that takes you nowhere. Pretty soul destroying huh? This is a question of positioning and strategy and knowing the position of the other boats including having your tactician on board make sure to manoeuvre you to create dirty air or avoid it but not be on the receiving end of such. BMW clearly knows how important it is to avoid dirty air, as the fabulous BMW i3 and BMW i8 demonstrate such understanding that the right air is crucial not only for sailing a good race but for our environment too. These electric beauties are a clever way of lowering pollution in our lives.
Velocity Made Good
Boats cannot sail directly into the wind, the idea being that sailors can sail in a zig zag fashion which is referred to as tacking. On a tack, an efficient sailor will aim the sailboat as close to the wind as possible while still keeping the wind blowing through the sails to create an aerodynamic lift which propels the boat. At this point, the sailor turns fractionally away from the wind creating more forward wind pressure on the sails. This better balances the boat, creating greater speed even though it is not a straight line to the mark. It is here that Roberto was talking about VMG – velocity made good. With the right amount of speed you can get to your mark quicker even if you go a longer route. I likened this to choosing to avoid the North Circular in favour of the M25, because although you travel more miles you get to your destination quicker. To do this you however have to utilise the speed of the wind and/or in this analogy the car.
When looking at the BMW range, I can’t help but turn my eye to the X5 and X6, both of which are in line to be my next car when I add to my family. Both have a 4.4 litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine with eight-speed ZF automatic and powering all four wheels which deliver 0-60 MPH in 4.0 seconds. For an SUV it’s pretty incredible. Casting your mind back to sailing, utilising the wind like you would a V8 engine is how you win your race and get from point A to point B at the fastest and safest speed.
Training, training, training
As I mentioned above, in yacht sport you can mix professionals and amateurs. Not many sports allow for this although polo (another passion of mine) is one that does. Both yacht sport and polo say it is the hours on the field or water in this case that make for the optimal result. Roberto also says training is an important part of sailing but both sports allow for enthusiastic novices to enter the sport so long as they train, train, train with their counterparts.
It is interesting to mix two things that on the surface can appear like oil and water. Professionals with novices, an unlikely combo but a fresh approach can add to your skill set and be the make or break component to win the race. Likewise another unusual combination is a petrol engine with an electric one. 50 years ago we would have thought this an unnatural combination but not only have we changed our minds we can see that top end cars can be made running on an electric motor. The BMW i8 absolutely packs a punch, with such a lightweight frame it can go from 0-60 in 3.9 seconds.
Using your Reticular Activating System to get you across the finish line is one of the simplest yet in my mind best neuro tricks in coaching. In lay terms we are talking about visualisation and imagery. This can be applied to start preparation, mark rounding, sailing strategy, controlling stress response, relaxation, increased focus, distraction control and team bonding. Our imagination is a powerful tool and when put through its paces we can achieve that which we once thought was impossible. The often quoted Roger Bannister breaking the belief of the concept that a mile could not be run in under 6 minutes was a start to how we realised our perception of an event can hold us back but it can also drive us forward. I am often quoted as saying “perception is everything”. BMW also is a key player in breaking concepts of reality.
This summer, the BMW Group celebrates 100 years of the brand by bringing three innovative “Vision Vehicles” to the Roundhouse in London’s Camden as part of an immersive and interactive exhibition that explores the next 100 years of mobility. The way they have brought technology forward is a fantastic achievement.
I am intrigued as to what BMW has to offer from cars to sailing to inspiring a new generation of inventors to take us to the next level over the following 100 years, although I sadly won’t be here to see how far they have taken us.
It is obvious but must not be left out of any good guide to winning mentality. Communication, team building and focus is crucial to an effective and efficient team. We all know this but if you are not doing it, I would quickly point out it is not useful knowledge if you do not put it into practice. Work on the basics and foundations to build a team that can withstand the unpredictability of nature’s elements when sailing their way across the finish line.
One of the best parts of winning is the celebrating. Keep your eye on the prize and the rest will follow.