Start lines and health lines – sailing & coping

Start lines are moments of alertness and readiness. imagine yourself in a start line and feel the sensations in your body, the heart pulse, the tunnel vision, hearing only what is necessary, becoming synchronize with the flags, the countdown and the rush doing it right.  Wow. Welcome to reflect emotionally on starting lines, and feel the difference.

As a former Paralympic sailing coach in the 3 persons sonar class I experienced that stress is always there on the race course. Like in our daily life where we have so many challenges, not just one. Then there are waves of acute stress, like this crazy covid 19.

Embracing this concept and its implementations was podium proof for me through long magical years. Certainly to overcome our poor starts.

My team experienced so many bad starts, early ones and late ones, bad air and penalties. We had it all. We were vocal, shouting at each other, aggressive inside and outside the boat, our tension was like a bucket of water behind our boat with everybody around knowing that.

We marked it as highly critical and looked deeply into it. I measured speed, accelerations up and down the line, we train to attack and being attacked, finding a hole or keeping a position.   Two sides’ starts and middle line training. We visualized it and set crew protocols for the best start ever. We analyzed by video all the starts, practices and regattas, we knew all top teams starting patterns.

We over emphasized and over train starting line and it didn’t changed much. We improved technically, few of our starts were ok but we started feeling fatigue, it was time consuming distracting us from other important goals such our upwind speed in 15-20 knots neglecting important strategy training.

In the major regattas, the frustration stayed, the pressure between the crew impact the motivation to train, with no patience to one another.

I suggested to speak only about the position we want to be after the line, I set a new goal: “decide and get to the best position around 100 meters up the line”. Only that.  

We conceptualizing the start line as part of a “starting zone”, a space that is bigger around 20 boat lengths upwind, into the race course, this new position is about 2 min’ of good sail.

By doing so we could see bigger picture, like bird perspective. We start talking of options to gain, on our trimming automatic modes, the crew involvement and control improved.  It made us “hungrier” and more competitive, fun was back in the boat.

Training start line became s setting tool and kind of a metaphor for handling other parts of the race course. It was no longer time consuming but a tool to re-focus, to be attentive, to work together and to train strategy-decisions mechanism in the boat (in another article…).

Coping with our over-stressed start line was done by three changes:

Meaning: we modified the meaning of the start line, we set a new goal with emotional meaning for us: sailing freely to a favorite position. It’s a motivational factor:

Comprehensibilitywe perceived the internal and external stimuli in a rational way. The stress of the start, being chaos at times, become coherent, clear, in context of the whole race. It’s a cognitive factor.

Manageability: looking into our abilities to cope and solve our problems, managing it as a challenge, gaining the resources to help us. It’s a behavioral factor.

Those three factors of meaningfulness, manageability and compressibility are taken from a stress model relate of health called “Salutogenesis”. It focus of health promotion and says that all over our lives there are stimuli and stressors and we can cope. This three factors build “sense of coherence”, a model that offer coping styles and an orientation to life in general.

“In contrast to pathogenesis’ risk factors, salutogenesis illuminates salutary factors that actively promote health.  In contrast to focusing on a “particular pathology, disability or characteristic” of a person, salutogenesis might work with a community of persons and “must relate to all aspects of the person” (Antonovsky, 1996).

One of its fundamentals is that we encounter stressors every day that we have to deal with, our experience of a risk can develop into a resource, and risk and resource thus become relative concepts. (Eriksson and Mittelmark, 2017). 

By Gaining a “sense of coherence” in our sails, my team return to the front of the fleet and to top achievements:  2ed worlds 2009, 4th worlds 2010, 1st Hyeres world cup, 3ed Weymouth world cup, and world championship 2011.

Nowadays, the salutogenic model offer you an orientation to cope with the corona virus challenge.  Your sailing experiences are great recourse to reflect of your coping styles and how you wish to use meaningfulness, manageability and compressibility in the near challenges. Stay safe.

Welcome to share your thoughts and experiences with me.

Further reading:

Antonovsky, A. (1987). Unraveling the mystery of health: How people manage stress and stay well. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Mittelmark MB1, Sagy S2, Eriksson M3, Bauer GF4, Pelikan JM5, Lindström B6, Espnes GA7, editors. The Handbook of Salutogenesis. Springer; 2017.