Steve’s Tip of the Month: Mental Toughness

I recently had an enjoyable chat with Andy Southall about mental toughness. Andy is not only one of the most decent blokes I’ve ever met, but he is also a real scholar of human behaviour and mental fitness. Our conversation helped me to pen a few notes for this month’s tip; so thanks Andy!

Mental Toughness

Top sailors have exceptional mental toughness that they use to turn unfavourable positions into favourable positions and that turns small opportunities into big leads. Here are a few mental fitness DOs and DON’Ts to help you both on the racecourse; and maybe within the wider game of life too!

Top Sailors DO’s

  •  DO: Stay in the moment: the race is always from ‘here’ on; forget past mistakes
  •  DO: Accept that sometimes things don’t go their way (bad luck or tough call); but…
  •  DO:…know that this doesn’t mean that they won’t get it right (or get a bit of fortune) in the next moment of the race e.g. the next shift, arrival of pressure, tactical situation
  •  DO: Focus on sailing well rather than worrying about their fleet position
  •  DO: ‘Control the controllables’; sailing has random factors that humans can’t control so
    sailors are better to accept them and focus on what they can control!
  •  DO: Remember that others will be making mistakes too!
  •  DO: Believe that their moment in the race will come if they stay positive and focussed; are patient when they need to be
  •  DO: Remain composed; evaluating what mental disposition will likely achieve the best performance and stay with that
    o Use emotions positively; knowing when controlled emotion cannot help and knowing when it may help (e.g. light winds vs stronger winds)
  •  DO: Honestly review their sailing performance by breaking down the race into stages and considering ‘what went well’ (including preparation) and ‘what could be improved’; rather than by fleet positions at the finish or letting one mistake dominate their critique
  •  DO: Be ready to capitalise on any opportunity; by avoiding the DON’Ts below!

Top Sailors DONT’s

  •  DON’T: Waste energy thinking about mistakes made previously; they’ll miss the upcoming opportunity and fall further behind!
  •  DON’T: Hold negative thoughts about things not going their way; or believe that the next moment ‘won’t go their way because it’s not my day’; they’ll miss the upcoming opportunity and fall further behind!
  •  DON’T: ‘roll the dice’ (take uncalculated strategic or tactical gambles) by tacking away from competition/fleet, particularly if they are on the lifted tack
    o unlesstheygenuinelyhavenothingtoloseandeverythingtogain(NOT an uncalculated gamble!)
  •  DON’T: Think that a competitor going faster in any moment means that they are necessarily doing something wrong or being a rubbish sailor;
    o but rather that the other boat may have different wind/waves or a different sailing setup; this may be crucial racecourse information and/or an opportunity to learn!
  •  DON’T: Forget that when they are ahead that if they sail smart then the sailors behind will increasingly come under pressure to take gambles to find a way past
    o but that sometimes things don’t go their way – so they are mentally ready to ‘fight back’ immediately if the competition does find a way past
  •  DON’T: evaluate your own sailing performance and/or development in the sport by results alone; it is awareness and execution of the process that matters so always evaluate that first!