Refocusing The Squad

Refocusing The Squad

We're refocusing our efforts on pushing the bar higher for the top California teams while continuing to provide a pathway for developing the up and coming talent. Part of this restructure means that we're going to be dropping a few clinics at the end of the Spring season to focus on providing a top tier summer program. In the long run, we believe that the changes that will be occurring will improve the communication and organization of the Skiff Squad, but while we make the transition, we ask that you bear with us, and don't hesitate to reach out by e mailing info@skiffsquad.com with any questions that you might have regarding the program or schedule.

We look forward to continuing to provide a top tier regional training program for dedicated California sailors!

29er Midwinters Roundup

29er Midwinters Roundup

DSC_0295.jpg

By Willie McBride
US Sailing Team Olympic Coach

 

 

Wow, what an awesome weekend of racing in Coronado! With 50 boats on the line, this was by far the most competitive 29er fleet that we've had in the US in over a decade, with some really impressive performances, and some very tight competition at the top of the fleet. Right now there are generally two different groups of teams on the race course - those who have the speed and handling to race, and those who need to focus 100% on developing those skills. Usually I focus on aspects of how to sail a 29er well, but because we had such great competition, this debrief will focus mainly on tactics and strategy.

Weather: Build Your Mental Model

Every day when I drove down to the Coronado venue from Point Loma, I drove over the Coronado Bridge, and my mind switched into race mode. Getting to see the race course from high up gives you a great vantage point to start thinking about what the wind is doing, and how the weather will effect the race course for the day.  Observing where the light patches are in the morning, where the breeze develops first, how the angle evolves over the course of the morning, what the clouds look like, where the blue sky appears first, etc. can give you a really good idea of what side will pay, later in the day. If you haven't read it yet, go read Wind Strategy right now! 

This weekend we saw perfect sea breeze conditions on the first day. Saturday, we saw a fog bank that sat offshore, probably with a warm top, causing the sea breeze to fight with the gradient, and delaying our nice racing conditions. Sunday was more of our normal sea breeze conditions, but with a colder temp on land, and a stronger gradient component from the north, causing a bit of a tricky transition on the water. Along with the Silver Strand geographic effects on the race course - a left bend in the wind as the wind passes over the land - all of these factors played into building a mental model for what the wind was doing. All of this is described in detail in Wind Strategy.

Once you have a mental model of what the wind is doing on the race course, the next step is to start building your strategy.

Strategy: Keep it simple

The first step here is asking yourself whether or not you can predict what the wind is doing. In a few of the races over the weekend, confidence was high, but in other races, the key realization was that you could not predict the wind's behavior, and that it was therefore better to stick to a more conservative, fleet management game plan.  In either case, simplicity is the name of the game, and sticking to a simple track based strategy is a good way to keep things simple.

 Image from McBride Racing Tactical Playbook

Image from McBride Racing Tactical Playbook

The 5 tracks that I generally ask teams to stick to are:

Tracks 1-4: Inside/outside + right/left - These tracks select the side of the course that you think will ultimately come out ahead, and then select whether you think gains will increase on the edges more quickly than risk.  The McBride Racing Tactical Playbook goes into a lot more depth on these, but the bottom line is to select the side you like, and then to choose your level of risk vs. reward on each side.

Track 5: Minimize decisions - I wrote a blog entry on this a while back, that outlines what to do when you're uncertain what the wind will do next.  This is more of a fleet management strategy, and was definitely appropriate for a lot of races at the Midwinters.

Once you know your track, the next step is to execute, and adapt to situations that arrise around the course using your tactical playbook.

Tactics: Build Your Playbook

There were so many tactical plays that occurred around the race course this weekend, and I don't have time to get into them all, so if you're interested in really drilling into this, please go buy the McBride Racing Tactical Playbook.  A few general observations to help guide your decision making in the future:

1. Use the top middle of the course to survive when your lanes aren't great.

 
 

2. Stay on the outside of the diamond at the beginning of the downwind, and the inside in the second half.

 
 

3. Center up in the commitment zone, then own your side coming into the leeward mark.

 
 

February FX Camp

February FX Camp

At World Cup Miami, one of the main takeaways for both teams was that we need to get better at finding the rhythm between main sheet, steering, and weight movement in both under powered and overpowered conditions, and this February camp was our first opportunity to work on that skill as a team.  We had a few practice days in challenging, light and lumpy conditions in the ocean, which did a lot to solidify some of those ideas, and then we got to test them out with the Kiwis on the water.  This debrief will focus on the main sheet technique, looking at it from various angles to hopefully provide some theoretical context to the technique that we're trying to master, and some thoughts on how each team can get there as quickly as possible. 

Feel

Feel is often lauded as an elusive, almost mystical aspect of the sport of sailing - a factor that some people just naturally have, while others do not (or don't have as much of).  This is not the case! Speaking as someone who used to have very little feel, but learned to develop a very sharp sense for it, this is a factor that can change your game, and is absolutely a learned skill.  

The first step to demystifying is to define what we mean by feel. At a general level, feel is the intuitive sense for what the boat and wind are about to do next.  This general understanding actually feeds the "mystical feel fallacy" because it seems like people who have feel can predict changes in an invisible force - wind - by either interpreting patterns in the water or feeling it on their skin. The truth is slightly more complex, but less mystical. When we break down feel into its mechanical components, it is part visual (seeing wind on the water, seeing tension in the sail cloth, etc.), part audible (sound of water tapping on the boat, sound of boats around you going through the water, etc.), and part tactile (feel of the rhythm of the waves, feel of stabilizing muscles in the body working to keep you stable, feel of the stability of the boat, etc.). It has been my experience that 90% of sailors tend to hone the visual aspects far more effectively, than any of the others, and thereby become reliant on those factors. You can test this by sailing with your eyes closed for a few minutes; are you able to sense a stable boat with your eyes closed? Are you able to predict what is coming next? If not, we need to tune into the other senses. Ultimately, feel is intuitive, meaning that the end result is not something that we can isolate, but something that it is a combination of these three senses. If we work on fine tuning each sense individually, our overall feel will improve and we will be able to predict changes more effectively, not just by seeing them on the water or in the sails, but by seeing SOMETHING on the water and associating it with a subtle change in stabilizing muscles, an ingrained theoretical understanding of apparent wind, and a slight change in sound.

A few great feel drills that you should be incorporating into training are:

Eyes closed sailing - One teammate close their eyes, then the other, then both. Work on feeling changes in your hiking muscles. Work on hearing changes in the water. Focus on one factor at a time to slowly improve "feel" in each area.

Rudderless sailing - Ingraining a deep understanding of apparent wind, and how the boat responds to sheet and weight adjustments is critical. When you pull the rudder out you get immediate feedback.

Yoga - Focus on mindful movement will help the tactile aspect of feel in the boat.

Heeled to windward sailing - For honing the overall feel mechanism (no one component individually) this is a good exercise that delivers instantaneous feedback.

Why does feel matter so much? It allows us to anticipate what apparent wind is doing without needing to wait for the obvious signs like sails stalling, power crashing, etc. and the more tuned into this we get, the more successful we will be at adjusting sails, weight and steering SOONER when small changes occur, which will allow us to make smaller changes and ultimately keep swinging more weight around the race course.

How Does This Effect Technique?

Okay, so we have dissected what "feel" means a little bit, and we're working on honing it; now how do we actually apply that to make the boat faster? I'll argue that the key here is all about making small, precise adjustments earlier to eliminate the big clunky adjustments later. Part of this adjustment can be made mechanically, by just telling ourselves to always be moving the sheets a little bit, but the underlying theory behind this is that small changes are always happening, and the better we can get at feeling those tiny changes and adjusting accordingly, the less likely we are to need to make the big adjustments later. The change to technique often starts with crews.

In under powered conditions, it's important to keep in mind that crews are driving the boat. The sails are our engine, and while heel, and steering are both important factors in getting the most out of that engine, if the engine itself, is out of tune, there's little else we can do with steering and weight to maintain speed. As a result, I like to say that sails lead weight and steering. When we take video from outside of the boat, and you go back to watch it, a big feedback loop to critique is whether sails are leading weight, or weight is leading sails. This is true in both over powered and under powered conditions.

Under powered example: In under powered conditions when the boat looses power, we want to ease FIRST, as weight swings in - too often we dive in with weight while keeping sails choked, in hopes that the boat will just power up again. This comes back to making small adjustments more frequently, as this is usually a bigger sign that we needed to ease slightly 5 seconds ahead of time, but just didn't feel the drop in pressure soon enough.

Over powered example: In over powered conditions if we start steering up as a puff hits without trimming main sheet on, we loose pressure on the leech of the main sail, and when the puff begins to fade, inevitably we trim on the main sail, the boat doesn't respond, and we end up crashing to windward, pulling on the helm to get the bow down, and losing half a boat length. Every time. Period. This is a result of feeling the pressure gain from the puff too late, and responding to the big change rather than starting early with the tiny change. If we respond early, we feel the initial pressure gain, and we trim on to anticipate the boat's acceleration and therefore the forward apparent wind shift. If pressure continues to increase we might need to ease momentarily to keep the boat flat, but immediately begin trimming on again to anticipate the forward apparent wind shift.

In so many other boats that we sail, this refined sense of feel falls on the helm to tune into, and in big boats, it's muted by the size and momentum of the boat, but it is mission critical that in the FX our crews put in the time practicing feel, and intentionally working to refine these fine tune adjustments if we are going to compete at the top level.

If I had to sum this up in one line it is: smaller adjustments, more frequently, more in tune with small changes that you FEEL occurring in pressure, sea state, and ultimately apparent wind.

Note: Big improvements in all of this at the last camp, but it needs to become more consistent and more of the norm. Focus intensely on this when you have a chance to practice by yourselves.

Apparent Wind

My final note is on apparent wind, which I think we all need to be continuing to wrap our heads around to apply to every technique that we ever practice. In a skiff, where the apparent wind can quickly double in certain conditions if the boat is being sailed well, it is a critical component of boat speed. Especially with mylar sails that don't visually change as easily as dacron sails in changing pressure, we need to learn to anticipate changes based on the feel of the boat. If we wait for the big tell-tale signs of apparent wind shifts (stall, power crash, etc.) we have waited too long.

This is a long explanation of apparent wind and flow over the foils, and if you haven't read it yet, I think it's work the read to spark some thought.

When you're feeling good about it, I'd like all of you to take the quiz below, so that we can figure out where we stand, and specifically, what would be good to talk about.

Apparent Wind Quiz

Playlist of all videos from the camp can be found here

February SOCAL SQUAD TRAINING CAMP

February SOCAL SQUAD TRAINING CAMP

This weekends focused was on “winning”. Most teams have a short period of time before they are in a place where they need to perform, and all teams should have this time set in their minds and calendars. But how can you win if you are not the best or if you don't have the time in the boat you want? This question should be going through your head constantly. We might not have that answer for you, and it will change with every individual. But the answer does not not start with copying the best, it starts by being creative and finding a way to sail your boat in the way that you think will make your boat the fastest around the course. And it starts by knowing where you are at, and changing your strategy based on your level of perspective (remember the mountain climber).

Mechanically: I really enjoyed seeing everybody's improvements on how all the teams looked sailing the boat. figuring out ranges for sail trim, placing your feet and hands during each maneuver in the same place is important. But, remember back to our debrief, there are two ways to sail the boat. You can make yourself look like the best, if you make everything look correct then most likely you will be close to sailing your boat correctly. But doing this does not always mean your boat is going fast. The second way is that it does not matter what you or your sails or lines or anything does, as long as your boat is going fast in the right direction (VMG). Copying what the best look like is a good start, but it might not always work for you or your team, and when you get to a certain level you will never beat the best by copying how they sail. 

Attitude or your mentality is close to one of the most important things if you want to win. Maybe this is your teams communication, how you psych up yourself or you team member, or what you believe will happen in the future. We talked about the winning mentality and being competitive and I think this will be the thing that will dictate who does well at worlds, who goes to Youth Worlds, etc.. All of you need to think about your goal with your partner and figure out what mind set you will have to approach your competition. 
After seeing most of you over the past few years and last weekend I see there is a large gap in the door for any team to sneak into the top spot and take control of the US fleet (this should be encouraging) especially with the attitude I see at the top of the fleet. If you are a top team who expects to win,  there needs to be a shift in your attitude if you want to make it a reality.

3 Elements Of A Successful Training Program

3 Elements Of A Successful Training Program

In the past we've written a few articles highlighting the importance of logging hours on the water, we've talked about the importance of getting out on the water without a coach, and we've given some tips on how to get the most benefit from a coach, but today we're going to back up one step...

Skiff Squad At ODP

Skiff Squad At ODP

In the last year, the US Sailing Olympic Development Program has raised the bar in the US junior sailing world to new heights by pushing more and more junior sailors towards high performance sailing, and by creating a culture of excellence in the Olympic feeder program. Invitations to top level ODP clinics are generally reserved for the top few teams from each fleet, who have proven that they are ready to take their programs to the next level by working with Olympic coaches, Americas Cup sailors, World Champions, and a team of supporting specialists. Our goal with the Skiff Squad is to help as many of our teams as possible reach that level by providing the best regional program available, and by creating a top caliber training program for athletes who are also working with the ODP.  

Last weekend, two of our teams headed out to Florida to battle with the rest of the fleet, as Sam and Ryan (SoCal Squad) prepared for the ISAF Youth Worlds in December.  Over the course of three days, the boys worked with ODP coaches on and off the water, in a regatta format, where the pair topped the rest of the US fleet, and mixed it up with the Kiwi girls who won a silver medal at the ISAF Youth Worlds last year.  

Results from the weekend can be found here.

The Skiff Squad Track

The Skiff Squad Track

Over the last several years, the Skiff Squad has helped to develop some of the top sailors in the country including College National Champions, ISAF Youth World and 29er Open World medalists, and Olympians.  From a coaching perspective, the path from getting into the boat to the top of the fleet is somewhat straightforward, and for sailors who are able to dedicate the time, the process is fairly methodical, so we're going to break it down for you below.

November PNW Debrief

November PNW Debrief

2016 November PNW TC

Debrief

With a solid group of ten sailors in the PNW region, there are a few goals to keep in mind before the next event. I strongly encourage you guys to grow your region whether that is through adding younger kids or joining up with Canadian teams. I also think it is important to push your local clubs to let the 29er fleet become privately owned.

Share the Fundamentals

It is important that the group starts to create a culture of teamwork and sharing. It would be beneficial to organize days where you practice as a group even if you don’t have a coach. Go practice the footwork and handwork we learned for maneuvers until it is muscle memory. Front, Back, Back, Front.  

Main Trim

Be aggressive with pulling the boat into and out of maneuvers. A good tack can be completely done by the crew pulling on the trap into and out of the tack. The keys to pulling is to wait till the boat has maximum heel, then drop your butt hanging on the wire, and then pull your body to a flat trapping position and go straight to hooking in. The power in your sails come from precise sail trim, so focus on being consistent with where you put your sails. More info on that from the last debrief below….

There are two reasons to ease your mainsheet: either you are over trimmed, and thus stalling your sail, or your are overpowered, and thus healing the boat.  If one of those things is not true, you should always have your mainsheet two-blocked!  Here are some generalizations that can be made about the 2 reasons to ease main.

Main is stalling

  • Wind is lighter (light to side force)

  • Vang should be loose (goal of easing is to open leach)

Boat is heeling

  • Wind is stronger (driving force to windy)

  • Crew weight should be all the way outboard

  • Vang should be tight (don’t want leech to open off)

LEARN THE BASICS THROUGH VIDEO

There are about eight videos that have been posted from the weekend. All have some really good information in them if you watch closely and break it down to step by step videos...first watch main trim….then watch body movements...then watch leaches….then watch rig movements...etc. Videos from the weekend can be found here. Compare and analyze like we discussed. Here is a good video of  Ryan and Wells at CalYC from the SoCal Squad in light air.

 

Spread the word to make the squad happen. If there are any questions always feel free to reach out.

November NorCal Debrief

November NorCal Debrief

2016 November NorCal TC

Debrief

With the NorCal region starting to flourish, it will be important for all the teams to nail down the basics of boat handling before the new year in order to put us in a strong position for strong results at Worlds.

Lessons Learned

Saturday - A good rabbit start is crucial to productive training and the learning process. When you line up well it allows you to judge how well you are doing at different aspects that each line up focuses on.

Sunday - If you can sail well in light air everything else gets easier. As you add more wind you are given more options of what you can do. For example, in light wind if you need more power the only option is to lean into the boat and power up, but if there were wind you could also adjust sail trim in order to get power on.

Light Wind - 0 to 5 Knots, Less is More

For most teams every movement in light air shakes the rig, boat, and blades. Shaking is not fast. The goal is to simplify movements and let the boat get moving. All you are aiming to do is to help the boat move. Prioritize getting your weight forward, slowly transitioning weight to each foot, and thinking out your movements through boat handling. Check out the video below and decide which movements are smooth or not….

 

Side Force - 6-12 Knots, Harness All Power

Be aggressive with pulling the boat into and out of maneuvers. A good tack can be completely done by the crew pulling on the trap into and out of the tack. The keys to pulling is to wait till the boat has maximum heel, then drop your butt hanging on the wire, and then pull your body to a flat trapping position and go straight to hooking in. The power in your sails come from precise sail trim, so focus on being consistent with where you put your sails. More info on that from the last debrief below….

There are two reasons to ease your mainsheet: either you are over trimmed, and thus stalling your sail, or your are overpowered, and thus healing the boat.  If one of those things is not true, you should always have your mainsheet two-blocked!  Here are some generalizations that can be made about the 2 reasons to ease main.

Main is stalling

  • Wind is lighter (light to side force)

  • Vang should be loose (goal of easing is to open leach)

Boat is heeling

  • Wind is stronger (driving force to windy)

  • Crew weight should be all the way outboard

  • Vang should be tight (don’t want leech to open off)

Learn the Basics Through Video

There are about eight videos that have been posted from the weekend. All have some really good information in them if you watch closely and break it down to step by step videos...first watch main trim….then watch body movements...then watch leaches….then watch rig movements...etc. Videos from the weekend can be found here. Compare and analyze like we discussed. Here is a good video of  Ryan and Wells at CalYC from the SoCal Squad in light air.

Please register for the December NorCal Skiff Squad Clinic before October 31st to avoid late registration fees.

October SoCal Debrief

October SoCal Debrief

In particular, the veterans in the fleet need to work on developing feel through intentional focus on feeling various aspects of the boat, while our younger teams will make the biggest strides right now by carefully comparing their techniques with those of the top teams, and working towards imitating those techniques...

Featured: Isolate Details For Rapid Improvement

Featured: Isolate Details For Rapid Improvement

Okay we’re cheating a little bit here by re-publishing an article that Willie wrote a while back, but this is the core of our training and coaching model, and we really believe strongly in it, so take a look and make it part of your process!  Original article on www.mcbrideracing.com.

 

How many times have you had a coach tell you, “You need to focus on getting a good start here,” after a rough race?  Thanks for the advice coach, but what does, “Focusing on getting a good start,” actually mean?  If your mind is occupied with visions of coming off the line cleanly and racing away to get the bull-dog, chances are good that you’re not focused on what really matters: the details.  Just as you need to focus on the finer points of the starting process (keeping your bow ahead of the boat to leeward, communicating about incoming threats, choosing the appropriate time to accelerate based on the conditions, etc.), improving a racing technique requires intense focus on the details. 

Let’s explore this idea by using the example of straight line speed, upwind in driving force conditions.  Ripping around the race course in any given condition can be broken into a number of different factors that become more and more subtle as we dig deeper into them.  Within upwind speed, “technique” is one obvious, major factor, but within “technique” we can go a step farther and discuss things like weight placement, sail trim, or steering. Within each of these topics, we could go a level deeper to address, for example, puff response in our steering – that is, how do we adjust our steering technique to compensate for a blast of pressure?  The more time you spend practicing, watching, and thinking about these factors, the more refined your understanding of the nuances will become, and therein lies the opportunity.

As in our earlier starting example, focusing on the end result usually causes you to lose focus on the details which combine to produce success, so the more we can isolate individual, granular skills, and focus on just those skills, the more quickly you’ll see results.  For example, to isolate “Puff/Lull Response” within the subject of “Precise Steering,” upwind in driving force conditions, we could practice a drill where the mainsheet and jib sheet have to stay static – no movement allowed – and the skipper is forced to steer to keep the boat flat.  This drill exaggerates the movements required from the steering, but in doing so, it also exaggerates the instantaneous feedback that the skipper feels, so it allows them to hone their steering technique accordingly.

Next time you head out to practice to correct a weakness in your technique, dig down into the true underlying issues, and try to isolate each one by inventing a drill that forces you to focus on a single aspect of the issue.  Design the right drill, and your practice productivity will sky rocket!

2017 Calendaring

2017 Calendaring

One of the biggest developments in 2017 compared to years past is that we are working hard to lock in a schedule for the full year, so that we can be in sync with the US Sailing ODP program, as well as other events throughout the year....

Passing On The Legacy

Passing On The Legacy

In 2011, Tyler MacDonald asked me to sail the 29er Europeans with him in Switzerland, and I told him that I would be remiss to commit to a summer of sailing in Europe without putting in a full effort to prepare before hand.

October NorCal Debrief

October NorCal Debrief

This weekend’s stormy weather created a way for sailors to push their limits and preparation on day one, with lighter wind on Sunday to focus on being calm and smooth....

September SoCal Debrief

September SoCal Debrief

This weekend’s range of wind speed in the ocean provided an awesome opportunity to focus on the finer point of sailing in lumpy conditions.  

September NorCal Debrief

September NorCal Debrief

Over the weekend we saw each of you sail for the first time, and we're really excited for the potential in this core group of teams up in the Bay Area.  Here are some of the main take aways from the weekend...

Building the Program

Building the Program

One month ago I flew home from the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero with a new appreciation for what Olympic success looked like, and the first thing that I did was buy a fresh, new notebook for 2020.  The next four years are an empty canvas.  The 2017 calendar is not yet set, we have resources to support the program (coach boats, housing on the west coast, support from the US Sailing leadership, etc.), my time as a US Sailing coach is potentially "up for grabs" when it comes to coaching hours, we have other coaches interested in helping out, and we even have some institutional knowledge about how to succeed in the skiff fleets. We have everything that we need in order to create an amazing training program to put US 49ers and 49erFX teams on the podium at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

With that said, the biggest component that will determine whether we succeed or fail, is our ability to come together as a group, collaborate, push each other, and ultimately raise the bar for sailing as a whole in the United States.  With only a handful of athletes who have their sights set on Tokyo, each athlete is a key piece of the puzzle, and a critical voice in the process. We will have to have hard conversations about how coaching gets allocated when some teams make gold fleet and others do not.  We'll have to talk about the reality of how each team is going to collaborate to raise the bar, while simultaneously making plans to beat each of the other teams to qualify for the Olympics.  We are going to have to talk money, and who will be paying for what - how everyone will make a living to support themselves while putting in long hours on the water.  Some athletes will be involved full time, while others will only be part time competitors looking to ramp up the effort at the end of the quad. We have students, professionals, pro sailors, and some athletes who don't fit into any of those categories. We're not going to put in place the perfect program right out of the gates, but by implementing a collaborative strategy that builds on feedback from all of our participants to grow the program, I know that it can evolve to a really productive, fun place for everyone within the next year or two.

I have done a lot of thinking about what it takes to make this happen, and the number one conclusion that it always comes back to is that this cannot be a top-down program.  As a US Sailing coach, I can do a lot to support the team, but ultimately, everyone needs to be involved in the calendaring, the planning and the program development to help us create the best tools for our athletes to succeed.