Life lessons from boat racing – leaders lead

When we first starting racing many years ago, I was trying to do everything. I drove the boat, called tactics, called sail trim and generally annoyed the hell out of my crew as they sat around waiting for the next order.

Well our results showed that. We improved gradually, but then hit a wall and couldn’t get any better than middle of the pack. Not only that, but I was not enjoying racing and would come off the lake with my head ready to explode.

So we tried an experiment. I gave up the helm. The reasoning behind this was that in most circumstances, driving the boat was fairly mechanical but required absolute concentration, and it alone was a full time job, especially on a short course. If you let your concentration waver by calling tactics or calling sail trim, you simply weren’t driving as well as you could. Not only that, I was also missing a fair bit on the tactics and sail trim side as I simply couldn’t do those and helm at the same time.

It worked well, and to this day I rarely drive the boat in a race. Instead I concentrate on tactics, and now rely on others looking after the mechanics of getting the boat going well. Is it working perfectly, no but it is working well and I’m doing just one job which is to try to figure out the best way around the course, with minor departures looking at trim. Our results improved dramatically and with the old boat, we ran off a 5 year championship string. With the new boat, we are still figuring it out, so our results are middle of the pack but we are getting better as we figure out the responsibilities.

If you equate this to life off the water, it is the recognition that in any team there is a person that calls the shots but he or she doesn’t have to do all of the critical things. They need to train others and then let them get on with the job. Of course they need to keep an eye on things, but their job is to make sure the process is proceeding in the right direction and that all of the jobs are being done well. If you train people well, then they can do the jobs better than you can, and you can keep your eyes open for bumps in the road or considering the topic of these articles, waves in the lake.

I also learned that there is only so much that I can do and still be effective. If I take on too much then I don’t do anything well, so I concentrate on the tasks that have the highest return.

Life lessons from boat racing – tactics, tactics, tactics

The search for the newest go faster gadget is one of the things that keeps us boat racers interested. It certainly is fun, and can be pretty expensive, but the lesson I have learned is that these things come last on the list. Yes, you have to have functioning gear, in good order, but there isn’t a magic bullet.

Instead you need to concentrate on doing things right – start well, pick the right side of the course, read the wind, tack on wind shifts, stay out of trouble and execute well. All of these things don’t need technology, they need common sense and a heads up game. Poor tactics can lose you minutes over the course of a race, whereas the latest go faster toy will gain you seconds. It isn’t rocket science which one gives you the bigger gain.

Yes – all things being equal, then the gadget may help – but they never are. Boat racing, just like life is based upon making the fewest mistakes, and when you do make a mistake, and you will, how you recover and move on. It is seeing the advantage and then capitalizing on it.

I’ve worked in Information Technology for the whole of my life, and it has been one unending search for the better mousetrap. Looking back, I can say that new tools certainly can help – but if you concentrate on doing things effectively and well, with a good vision of what you want to achieve then the gains will be much greater. Not only that – but each time you try a new mousetrap there is a learning curve, sometimes huge, sometimes small that you have to endure, so being expert at what you do is a never ending chase.

I’m not a luddite, so exploring new technology, both on and off the water isn’t something that I’m averse to, and no-one can sit on their laurels and hope to retain gains. What I find though is that while you need to introduce new things, you also need to make sure you are and continue to do all of the basics right first.

RIP Brazil

The story of the World Cup so far has been Brazil’s 7-1 defeat at the hands of Germany. It came as a shock to many who were predicting a close game, with the edge to Brazil, but it didn’t to me. I’d watched all of the games to this point and was already in mourning for the Brazilian version of the beautiful game.

Gone were the fabulous runs of Pele, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho and the absolutely mid blowing skills they showed. It had been replaced by a chippy foul ridden, over the top physical game that lacked all of the sparkle and joy of the great Brazilian sides I remember. Brazil had always been a side where defense was an afterthought, but  that had always been offset by an ability to score goals where and whenever they wanted. Now with only really one key player filling the offense role in Neymar, the whole edifice looked tottery.

The loss of their captain Thiego Silva was the final piece in the creation of this disaster. Without him, the defense was non existent and Germany were ruthless in taking advantage. They realized that the emperor had no clothes and were brilliant in taking their many opportunities.

All I can hope is when the dust settles, Brazil will rebuild their national team to bring back the spirit, joy and sheer dazzling skill that they had been known for. I miss it.