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 and look at the three key elements that go in to any effective training program; (1) time on the water, (2) practice around other boats, and (3) expert instruction. These elements can come in many different forms, but optimizing each is the key to improving quickly and consistently.
1. Time on the water
This one is simple; more hours equal better skills. Getting on the water more often requires that you have a plan, so sit down with your teammates and your parents ahead of time, and put together a plan for how you're going to get on the water more often whether with a training partner, alone, or with a coach. Remember, if you're not training, there's probably someone in the world who is, and every hour builds skills.
2. Practice around other boats
This part is something that the clinic model is really good at providing - quality time testing yourself against other boats. To be able to use the skills that you've developed in step one (Time on the water), you're going to have to practice those skills in the presence of other good boats. Take tacking for example; when you're the only boat on the water, and your mechanics are good, you might nail your tack every time, but when the pressure is on - when you need to lay down a solid wire-to-wire tack to hold a thin lane on lay line, are you going to be able to execute? If you've practiced around other boats, you'll have a much better idea of where you need to tack to survive for the next minute, and the confidence of doing it will help to ensure that the mechanics come together when it matter.
3. Expert instruction
This one is the glue that ties it all together. No matter how talented you are, how much of the big picture you see, or how many hours you have available to dedicate on the water, there is no substitute for a set of eyes outside of the boat, and some expert advice at the right moments. When new teams struggle to break into the battle or experienced teams have trouble making the jump into the top of the fleet, chances are good that they just need a little bit more one-on-one attention with an expert who can quickly figure out what the hurdle is. Building a relationship with a consistent coach to help you track your progress is critical whether that person is a class expert or not, but be sure to reach out and find someone who can lend their expertise when you feel like you're just not quite improving at the pace that you would expect.