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Being Shouted at?
Should you stay or Go?

Top sailing journalist, Andy Rice of SailJuice (SJ), talks to leading RYA Coach, Adam Bowers (AB) about how to get a performance edge from good teamwork:

SailJuice (SJ): When people are sailing in a team and things aren't going so well, when should team mates stick together and when should they call it a day? And do you think there are any parallels with marriages or long-term relationships in sailing?

Adam Bowers (AB): You're not going to draw me on that one, Andy! I'm certainly not qualified to answer that. In sailing, if your goals are incompatible it won't work. The moment you get someone who's got a different goal, that's when the team will start falling apart. If you're 470 sailing for example, and if your goals don't match, then you're looking for a tough time and that pressure will only build as things get tougher.

SJ: So maybe it's as simple as writing down your goals...

AB: I think you're right, it's a simple tool that we very rarely use. One of the problems we have is you either go sailing with your chum and that works great for a while, and you expect that's going to get stronger in the future. But as you get into tailored goals more, that's when that friendship inevitably breaks down. Even if you have similar goals, such as going to the Olympics, if one person wants to go training all the time and the other person wants to take a more cerebral approach - even that is enough to create a rift.

SJ: What if you do have someone who wants to think their way to victory and someone who wants to do their way to victory? How do you compromise?

AB: It's certainly not impossible, because there are many successful teams that are made of two very different characters, but unless you realise that there is another way of doing something, you won't see it, so you'll rile against it all the time. You've got to sit down and say 'I think we've got to do this, and I think we've got to do that.' There are great sailing teams built up of completely different human beings, but their end goals are strong enough that they will find a way of making it work, even if they don't always agree on how the other goes about it.

SJ: Can you think of any examples?

AB: I'm not going to name names, but in the 470 everyone sails the boat at pretty much the same speed, so it comes down to how accurately you can sail the boat around the race course, and how accurate is your understanding of the rig. We get a lot of very good sailors coming through the 420 programme with an enormous amount of talent. At that level they've been able to cope with all the stresses and strains. But when you step up into the Olympic glare, when you put yourself under that spotlight, the pressures are significantly greater. Maybe it's because they're younger and inexperienced, but just because their way of doing things thus far has served them well, that way may not be sufficient for carrying them forwards into a more pressured environment at Olympic level.

One of the things that people never bring in from other sailing into the Olympic level, is the amount of time you're going to spend doing this game. It sounds wonderful, 'I'm going to go to Hyeres, Palma, train five days a week, and travel the world etc,' but it puts a heck of a strain on you; you don't see your mum and day, you miss your boyfriend or girlfriend, you don't spend time with your mates and that's the sort of stuff that sneaks around and starts to break down the fabric of any goal-driven ideal that they originally had.

SJ: Can you think of an example of a team where perhaps the team is greater than the sum of the two individuals?

AB: Here's one, although I don't think either of the sailors are weak, by no means. But I think Nic Asher (Nasher to his friends) and Elliot Willis epitomise two people doing a very, very good job [two-time 470 World Champions]. I'll also mention Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield [two-time Olympic silver medallists]. All those four guys are very good friends, but there are some very different people in that group. Nasher and Elliot are very different. Nasher is the more studious and sits and thinks about things, whereas Elliot will come and play PlayStation and Gran Turismo. So they're very different people but when you put them in a boat together, they work incredibly well.

I suppose the same could be said of Nick and Joe, that they're superb sailors and they bring very different parts to that party. Those two boats are almost set up differently in the way those two teams work together. There's no right or wrong with any way that these guys sail, but they are almost at opposite ends of the continuum in the way that the dynamics are dealt with in the boat.

In crude terms, I would suggest that Nick Rogers would consider that his job is to drive the boat as fast as he possibly can around the race course and Joe's part is to help Nick understand where he is on the race course, and to explain to Nick why Joe is asking him to go there. Effectively Joe is the tactical part of the boat and Nick is the engine room.

In the other boat, Nasher is the tactical brain of that boat and what Elliot does is paint an incredibly strong radar picture in Nasher's head so that Nasher can process a lot of the very good information that Elliot is bringing to him. So it's a slightly different way of processing the same job.

SJ: Nasher and Elliot I don't know so well, but I've spoken to Nick and Joe about their split of responsibilities, and they see that as a massive advantage in tight situations such as you'll find in a Medal Race for example...

AB: They've obviously proven that to work very well, but they must have developed some incredible trust for that to happen. For Nick to be able to drive as fast as he does, he has to put 100% trust into Joe's ability to call their way around the race course. They've obviously worked long and hard to get to that situation. That doesn't happen overnight, but I think time has allowed them to use this tool so well.

SJ: You've given us some great examples of how teams can work together so well. My impression is that Nick and Joe are very good at giving each space to do what they want to do.

AB: That's a result of time and trust. The trouble with all of this is we look at a successful team, we see the end point, but we haven't seen how they got to that point. All of those teams, if you brought them back to their start point, maybe more than 10 years ago, would have been a lot more fragile than that end point. So at some stage in their development, I wonder if Nick and Joe had a disagreement that might have led them to falling apart? Actually I've used Nick and Joe as an example because I happen to know that they haven't. They're one of those very rare teams that have been great friends from day one. That's what they've been able to build their trust and relationship on. That's rare because with great friends sometimes things become very personal.

I kind of wonder if we are there to play matchmakers as coaches. Let's say you've got an exceptional Topper sailor coming through the ranks, and we're looking to put him in with someone in a 420 or 29er, that's where we have to get a bit creative about who we put him with, otherwise he'll just end up sailing with his mate.

Now you might end up with a Nick and Joe scenario, or Nick Asher and Elliot, but for those two great examples I would imagine there are hundreds of examples that failed at an early stage. I kind of wonder if that's quite a big price to pay. Then again, should we allow people to do that, because you learn from your mistakes too?

SJ: You said that the basis of a good team is having the same aims and knowing that you're going in the same direction. But if things still aren't working, when is it time to move on?

AB: It depends what level you're talking about. When it comes to club sailing - when you're being shouted at. That's when it's time to get out. Here's a classic - husband/wife, boyfriend/girlfriend sailing together, scream at each other all the way round the race course, those people sail with different people, all of a sudden they're having much more fun and all of a sudden they actually enjoy the people they're sailing with, more than with their other half. Funny old world that!

SJ: So the advice is clear: If you're with a shouter, just move on then?

AB: You and I have sailed with shouters. We've sailed with people who don't shout. Who are your friends? The ones that didn't shout. Who are the ones you were most successful with? The ones that didn't shout. You're not there, as a helm or crew, to be made to feel uncomfortable or silly. That's not your job.

SJ: I suspect we've both been in Olympic campaigns with shouters as well. Some of those people are very good sailors, so what do you do then?

AB: Excellent sailors, yes, but unless you've got a massive support network to take away the emotional angst of being shouted at all day..... At the level you're talking about there, you're being asked to jump over this incredibly high bar and while you're doing all this technical mullarkey and being brilliant - someone's shouting at you!! Any psychologist is going to tell you that you're going to be distracted from your core value that day, which is dragging that shouter round the race course as quickly as possible. That's impossible.

I've been sailing with a brilliant sailor against the best FD sailors in the world, but the reason why I didn't go to the Olympics was I wasn't prepared to put up with that shouter any more. Even at that level you can't tolerate that behaviour. I'm not talking about someone who has the occasional rant. I'm talking about someone who lives off your subjugation, and that's no way to make a successful team. I don't think there are any teams that do well while being shouty these days because it's just too tough to be there.

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