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Introduction to Self Coaching – You are your own Coach

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Many of us had coaches when they were younger but as we grew up most of us switched to national or international classes which other than youth classes do not offer regular training by a coach. The Danish contender sailors are organized quite professionally by working together with a decorated Danish Olympic coach. They do two big training sessions a year and sometimes the coach comes to regattas to support on and off the water. But even these guys are on their own for the rest of the year. Therefore self coaching is quite an attractive alternative. Even for professional sailors it can be of additional value.

The problem is none of us has ever done self coaching before. Normally you look from a sailor’s perspective, i.e. the race wasn’t good then you are frustrated and think about the result. You are trapped by your feelings. The coach has a much more analytical approach. He always tries to learn something for the future.

So the first thing we have to learn is how to change perspective to be able to do self coaching. At the beginning this is much easier when you are just out practicing. But after a while you will also be able to do this during racing.

Your training will be much more effective and the learning curve will increase big time. Especially as most of us are amateurs time is always short. So spending valuable time on the water will increase your level without putting more time into your sailing.

To start with self coaching ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Have a beginner’s mind. The Zen tradition says that to learn, we must be an empty vessel. If we know it all we can’t be very open to new knowledge and experiences. The self-learner realizes that an open, seeking attitude of experimentation and suspension of judgment allows new perceptions to form.
  2. Be unafraid and ask as many questions as possible. Fear locks you up and stops you from changing. Taking yourself too seriously, having to maintain a certain facade, and playing rigid roles all stop you from being able to loosen up and go with the ups and downs of change. The self-learner is secure about the process of learning and change. Trust in yourself. A major change aways needs time. Let it happen and you will be suprised of the result.
  3. Have fun in the process. Why shouldn’t we have fun? Most of us sail in their free time. So we should not take it too serious. The best learners even have fun as they make mistakes. The slowest learners tie themselves up with every mistake. When we view any mistake as a failure, our negative emotions mask the valuable feedback available around every mistake. The self-learner welcomes all feedback around mistakes and uses them to advantage. Of course it is difficult to say “Just have fun” when competing for the World Titles. But in training or training Events you should be much less tensed up an be able to laugh about a capsize in a race.
  4. Be creative. Be creative with your training. Try different things. Sometimes this will lead into a wrong direction but often you find a totally new and much better solution. Peak performers are creative and playful in extracting learning from every experience. They take a fun approach to the change process and realize that creativity increases options for them. Especially when you are out on the water a lot by yourself you get bored after a while. So shouldn’t you start being creative and try out new things?
  5. Develop high Self-Awareness. Self-awareness is not about what should be; it is about what is. Self coaching is about noticing and observing yourself and about using feedback from any sources to heighten that sense of yourself. The self-learner places a high priority on becoming self-aware and realizes that self-knowledge can be about the past or the present. Self-awareness is the master skill. Who knows better what is good for your sailing than you.
  6. Take time for self-reflection. The self coach and self-learner uses quiet alone time to learn about self. This down-time might be meditative, a walk, reverie, daydreaming or journaling. The self-learner places a high value on this private time as a means to re-charge batteries, to take stock and to gain personal awareness.
  7. Journaling. We often learn best when we have a mirror against which to view ourselves. Writing makes our thought processes clearer, and enhances our self-awareness by our looking back on our actions. The self-learner gains confidence from seeing improvements over time. Also watching other very good sailors performing can be quite helpful.
  8. Set manageable goals. Having goals is quite important for the improvement process. However it is important that goals are realistic. When you shoot for winning the National Titles after just having finished mid fleet at a local club event you better give yourself some time and sub-targets until you expect to reach your big goal. This way you avoid frustration and you will also be happy about the small steps you make on the way.
  9. Change your training environment. Sometimes you might want to change your training environment to get a new perspective or maybe only to have some more fun again. After a cold Northern European winter it can be a highlight to drive down to Lake Garda not only to enjoy the thermal you have there but also to get some sun and warmer temperature.
  10. Have a training and racing diary where you write down all the things that were good and the things that need improvement. You will find out where you really need to work on. Some things you will already know or suspected before – others you will be quite suprised of.
  11. Involve family and friends. It is very important that your family and friends support you with your goals. Talk to them about your goals and also how much time you think you need to reach them. It can be quite frustrating if you have set up everything for your season and then find out that there is collision with other important social events within your family where you are expected to take part. Often you can find compromises.
  12. Look for support. If you are not a very good strong wind sailor, try to find a sparring partner who can help you improve. The other guy might have the problem the other way round and you can help him in light air. At the end you help each other.
  13. Be prepared for setbacks. There will always be phases your development is stagnating, results are not as you hoped. Bear in mind that all those experiences will help you to become a better sailor. Often the effort pays off on the long run. Be forgiving with yourself and consider that students at school also always have their strong and their weak subjects. Be a forgiving self coach. As sailing is such a complex sport there will always be weaker parts that need longer time to improve.
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