Communication on board any top-notch racing program is a big part of that team's success. These sailors understand that the objective is always to minimize excess noise, maximize quality information, and help develop a calm sense of well-being among the team. So how is this accomplished? Let's take a closer look.
Most racing sailors have been instructed on what to do, but rarely on what to say. Knowing who says what to whom and when is essential. So let's start at the beginning. Idle chatter actually does have a place in every program—heading out to the racecourse or on the way in can be the perfect time to tell war stories, talk trash, and gossip. But at some point, the team has to go into race mode. On our boat, this happens at least 30 minutes or an hour before race time—that's when all the talk starts to focus on race-related information. Observations on wind patterns, current, speed, boat and sail trim, and opponents are all noted. And everyone on board is encouraged to voice his or her opinion and make suggestions. In this pre-start session, we are trying to formulate our game plan, and it is critical that everyone on the team be on the same page. There should be no doubt about what the basic strategy will be for the race.
All this while, constant communication should be taking place between the driver and the trimmers in the back of the boat. They should talk about where the sheets are relative to maximum trim. Common statements from the headsail trimmer would include such succinct sentences as "We're three inches eased," or "I need you to press on the jib," or "We're max in now." As the driver hears these comments, he or she should be relating how the boat feels with information like: "I've got too much weather helm; ease the main a bit," or "I need a little trim on; I'm going to sqeeze it up in this flat spot," or "Let's power up for this lull."
Information regarding upcoming maneuvers, like what kind of spinnaker set will take place, should come from the tactician, and the crew boss (if there is one) should then make sure that the boat is set up properly for that maneuver and the team is ready for action. When it comes to setting the spinnaker, as the driver, I always call the hoist because being in the back of the boat gives me the best vantage point for seeing just when the kite should go up.
At the completion of the race, before the boat reaches the harbor, I always make it a practice to hold a short team meeting to discuss how things went, sort of a debriefing. Again, everyone should be encouraged to speak up, make notes on what went well, and what needs to be fixed before the next outing. It is important to remember that regardless of the outcome of the race, there are always good things that happened—this way you can end your debriefing on a positive note. Being positive and upbeat is essential to a cohesive team, and positive reinforcement is important, especially when you are behind. And the way in which you express yourself can convey this. Remember, it is not always what you say, but how you say it, so don't forget these few pointers for productive communication on board:
|Face the person you are talking to; it's often hard to hear on the water.|
|Never raise your voice louder than you need to; excessive shouting can be a huge negative.|
|Don't be condescending or quick to assess blame. Instead, offer positive suggestions on how to improve the situation or the boat's placement in the race.|
Offer encouragement to newer crew members, and coach them along.
Good, productive communication almost always leads to better performance on the racecourse. If you have a system in place where the team is encouraged to contribute to the effort, and people know what to say, and how and when to say it, a happier, more successful season is just around the corner.
Make your communication count. Like Mama always said, "If you have nothing useful to say, then say nothing."
Communication that Helps
Communication that Hurts
The Crew Member's Manifesto by Dan Dickison
Team-Building Basics by Betsy Alison
Achieving Good Teamwork Downwind by Dean Brenner
Buying Guide: Boom Vangs
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