What is the one race metric that everyone knows how to interpret? Coaches, sailors, parents, sponsors… They may all have a different take on what the numbers mean, but at the end of the day, the one metric that everyone has in front of them at the end of a competition are the results on the scoreboard. Talk to any high performance athlete though, and you’ll likely hear the same mantra: focus on the process and the results will take care of themselves. To be “in the zone” the results need to be out of mind, but for so many athletes, finding that zen can seem impossible when in the background there is a constant focus that comes back to one thing: results. Whether you are a coach helping an athlete learn to focus on that process, or an athlete figuring out what feedback you need from your coach in order to sail to your potential, here are three metrics that don’t require any fancy technology, that can help to shift the focus back to the process.
Average gains per leg: With nothing but a notebook, a pencil, and a carefully drawn table, coaches can easily collect mark rounding data on multiple teams throughout the course of a race day. This one, quick and reliable piece of information can help to shift the whole focus of a regatta from the final scores, to the process of passing boats. What was your average first mark rounding? How many boats did you pass on your downwind legs on average? Second beats? These numbers will give you an idea of where your strengths and weaknesses lie, and will help coaches zero in on even more specific areas of interest (“You lost 1 on the second beat on average, and most of those losses were made in the first minute of sailing after rounding the leeward mark,” for example). With these stats in hand, you can start to test strategies in a much more systematic way - “We’re going to play all of our downwinds according to X,Y, Z priorities to see if it changes the gain/loss outcome on the leg.
First beat - second beat delta = first play ability: With just the data from point 1, above, there are so many additional metrics that you can create, but I’m just going to highlight one of my favorites: something that I think of as the “First Play Indicator.” By using gains or losses on the second beat and subtracting those from the first windward mark rounding position over the course of a regatta, you’ll start to get an interesting indicator of how good your escape from the starting line was. If you’re great at escaping the line, chances of grinding through the fleet on the second beat are small - you’re already in the position you should be based on your speed and smarts. But if you’re consistently underperforming on the line, chances are that you’re racing near boats that you should be beating, so when the fleet spreads out a bit and you get some breathing room on the second beat, you’ll start making gains. This one needs a bit more data, and is best used over the course of a regatta - comparing one event to the next, but it’s an example of how, with a little work (or some smart spreadsheeting) you can go a level deeper to generate some useful information for your athletes to use in their training plans.
Starting percentage: If there’s one area I’ve found that people have a hard time reconciling experience with reality, it’s on the starting line. When you’re behind, it’s so easy to think that the teams who are ahead just started 100m ahead of you - they were always winning, right? But the reality is that even the best teams don’t nail the start every time. With a bit of factual data, you’ll start to see patterns in what the top teams are doing to escape bad situations, and where the holes are in your starting game. Two data points that I like to collect surrounding this idea are “Starting Plan” and “First Tack Time” metrics. For starting plan, I subjectively categorize each start: A means that you started clear, and the only thing that might hold you back is boat speed after a few minutes. B means that you had clear air at the gun, but a compromised lane, preventing you from sailing your own groove - inevitably you’ll fade and need to tack to keep clear air. C means that you’re in bad air from the beginning, so every second you spend in your current lane is a second spent going slower than the boats around you. “First Tack Time” is a complimentary data point - how long after the gun did you hold before you tacked? Painting a picture of a day of starting using data can be enlightening. The top boats might not always execute plan A starts, but when they’re plan C, they tack within 30 seconds of the start. In contrast, a fast team who hangs for more than about a minute and a half in a plan B lane, will likely find themselves in a plan C position!
At the end of the day, the number we all want to move is the one printed on the score board, but by providing more granular, objective process data for our athletes, you’ll help them develop their own theories and ideas, become better life long learners, and hopefully become more process oriented athletes!