July 10, 2014

Reducing Mistakes - More Important Than Boatspeed?

By Doug
I gave a clinic in Colorado a few years ago and shared something that others may find useful.

Besides the final score of a Superbowl, what statistic is most likely to determine the winner? Passing yards? Nope. Rushing yards? Nope. Total yards? Nope. Time of possession? Nope. Winning record against other teams? Nope. All good guesses, but all wrong. The answer is the number of mistakes - the team that turned the ball over the least has almost always won:
  • Since Superbowl I in 1967, only three winners committed more turnovers.
  • Super Bowl winners have committed 52 turnovers while losers have committed 135.
  • Fifteen Super Bowl winners committed zero turnovers.
In professional football, the best talent money can buy is wiped out by mistakesSo, is this also true in sailing? I decided to check it out for myself. Here's a list of mistakes in a typical race:

Before leaving the beach
Arriving late at the rigging area
Not checking sailing instructions
Not checking relative positions
Not checking tides
Not checking weather
Not clearing my mind
Not checking the boat
Not checking spars, fittings
Not preparing spare equipment
Not stretching

At the starting line
Arriving late
Not checking tides
Not checking wind phase
Not checking line sight
Not watching earlier starters
Not picking the correct end
Not anticipating first shift
Not knowing the favored side
Not having a game plan
Not knowing where fleet is starting

The start
Not picking a good hole
Getting greedy
No using peripheral vision/time
Not accelerating
Not pointing
Not protecting my lane
Not working 100% to punch out
Ignoring location of judge boats

The first shift
Getting boxed in
Not tacking when fully mature
Not protecting my lane
Not knowing where the leaders are

The first beat
Not knowing which side to protect
Not knowing where the leaders are
Not staying with the top 10
Not keeping head out of the boat
Trying to win race, not the event
Approaching the 1st mark
Not anticipating traffic
Forgetting last shift is persistent

The 1st mark
Getting greedy
Not being in the top 5
Not powering up properly

The 1st reach
Not protecting my lane
Letting stretch/not stretching

The run
Not keeping clear air at all times
Not carving
Not protecting the inside for room

The bottom reach   
Not stretching out

2nd beat
Not leading to the right, or
Not staying with the leaders
Not keeping head out of the boat
Not using boat-speed

Rest of the race
Poor communication
Pumping too much
Not watching others mistakes

Picking the wrong end of the line
Not protecting the right

After racing
Not eating pasta within 30 minutes
Not stretching
Not checking for protests
Not writing down everything

One of the good things about keeping a sailing journal is that you can go back and learn from an event, even years later. I did this for:
I created a spreadsheet with the races along the top as columns and the possible mistakes along the side as rows. For each mistake, I scored 1 for a minor mistake, 2 for a major mistake, and 3 for a disaster (like an OCS). This turned out to be fantastically revealing.

The row scores for each part of the race told me what part of the race was the most dangerous. I had always assumed that it was the start, but I was wrong. Think about it - In Melbourne we had 72 boats on the starting line that was almost 500 meters long. It was crazy for sure, but the same number of boats had to squeeze through just 1% of that space to round the first mark. For me, the first mark rounding was much more difficult and where lots of mistakes were made.

Lesson learned:
  • Get a clean start, get into phase, and think way ahead about how you want to approach and round the first mark.
The column score totals for each race were even more revealing.

Lessons learned:
  • My boatspeed was consistently good, but my finishes were not consistent.
  • No mistakes meant 4 bullets (ignore race 11 in Chile because I had already won).
  • There is a correlation between the number of mistakes and how badly I finished.
  • Spending time on physical preparation is important for boatspeed. But mental preparation to reduce mistakes is also important - perhaps even more so.
Something to keep in mind when preparing for Hyères.


  1. So true. And the problem with sailing is that there are so many mistakes you can make!

  2. When I first saw this checklist, I had to admit that alot of what Doug calls a mistake, never even crossed my mind as something I should do/not do.

    It's the oddest thing how he can multi-task so well on the water but once his feet hit land, he's a space cadet. I've often told him I need to carry a spray bottle full of water with me so that I can spray him in the face on land and jump start his brain.

    It really is quite a pleasure to watch the transformation from land to water. Sailing comes more naturally to him than walking and talking.

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks! And with the large fleets we'll have in Hyères, even small mistakes will be very costly.


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