Sail1Design would like to welcome a new writer to our team, Brown University sailor Lydia Whiteford. Lydia is a sophomore at Brown, majoring in English, and a member of the nationally-ranked Brown Sailing Team
By Airwaves writer Lydia Whiteford
I discovered my love for sailing when I began as a freshman on the team at Severn School. It was a huge transition for me at the time; trading in cleats, a lacrosse stick and lines on a field for boots, a lifejacket and shifts in the breeze. Luckily, thanks to the excellent mentoring I received from my coaches and teammates while at Severn, I was given the opportunity to pursue my new passion competitively in college at Brown University. I remember going to my first day of sailing practice as a freshmen feeling confident, but now I realize that I was not totally aware that I was about to face another huge transition concerning sailing. The change from high school or junior sailing to college sailing is a bigger one than I think most freshmen know at first, but these are some helpful tips that I’ve come to realize with time will help any new freshman make it.
1. Prepare for Commitment – High school and junior sailing is already a significant commitment to begin with, most new college sailors are used to the time away on weekends and long hours spent on the water practicing so this is not that big a shock to most. However, college sailing amps up the intensity to a new level. With practice everyday and regattas most weekends, there is a lot of time allotted to being on the water. Then for most teams you have to factor in workouts, meetings, and travel time to your already jam-packed schedule. It is also important to remember that practice is practice, and it is going to happen no matter what in most cases. There will be times you’ll find yourself sailing in the dark, in the rain, in the freezing cold and the more prepared you are, the easier it will be. Time is not the only thing that will increase in necessity, either. Money also becomes a factor if your team is not 100% varsity. To ensure to yourself that you will have the proper gear, money for dues, and that you get to experience all the things the team can offer good budgeting skills are handy. Everyone upon leaving for college will tell you that time management is key, but with something that takes up as much time as college sailing it is crucial to think ahead of time about balancing everything to make your own life easier. We all put so much time into this sport because we love it, and with college sailing especially the more you embrace what is asked of you, the more rewarding it will be.
2. If you have an ego, now’s the time to give it up – In high school and junior sailing, talent will get you far. And that’s an awesome thing, because it opens up the world of sailing on so many more levels for you to experience, such as being recruited to a top college with an awesome team. However, once you are on that team it is important to remember that now things have changed. The biggest difference that I’ve found between high school regattas and college regattas is that the playing field is totally leveled, and you can’t fall back on luck or skill in the way that you could in high school because 17 of 18 teams at any event will be extremely competitive and anyone can win a race. Because of this it is important to remember that, even if you were recruited to the team you are on, you may have to wait your turn to sail in the biggest and hardest events. There is so much of a difference in the level of high school and college even though the formats for the regattas are the same. I once heard an extremely talented former college sailor say that your years on a college sailing team are like a pyramid. The bottom years have the widest berth for learning more things, and you fine-tune those skills as you get older until you are at peak performance at the top. This is why it is extremely important to grit your teeth, tell yourself its okay to lose every once in a while, and learn all you can from your coach and fellow sailors so that you are constantly improving.
3. Start Asking Questions – And Don’t Stop – If you are on the shyer side of the high school sailor spectrum, it is easy to be intimidated by the more experienced members of your new team and blend into the background. The best advice I can give on this, however, is push yourself way out of your comfort zone. This might mean asking the “A” skipper advice on a particular maneuver between drills or practice races, or it might mean staying late to chat with the coach about a topic you’re not 100% clear on – maybe even asking him to hop in a boat with you some time. This is incredibly hard to do, as it can be easy to feel young and confused around people who have done so much college sailing. However, these people are your best assets when it comes to improving. This applies especially to members of your team. They can feel easier to talk to than the coach sometimes, and most will jump at an opportunity to help out an underclassman and share their knowledge. Asking them questions always ends up as a win–win for all parties involved. You get advice and different viewpoints on situations from people who have already experienced them, and that helps you become a better-rounded sailor. They get to explain the way they do things, which also helps them improve by having to think about it. Coaches and upperclassmen are also often impressed with underclassmen who have the confidence to ask questions because it makes it seem like they care enough to put themselves out there, and that is a very admirable quality when it comes to college sailing. The only way to improve and stay on top in the rankings is to be constantly adapting, and the only way to be constantly adapting is to ask people who are doing things that are working.
College sailing is one of the more rewarding things a sailor could ever do. You get experience sailing against the best competition in the country – and in some cases the world. You will make connections to help you in all aspects of life, as everyone knows how small the sailing world is and once you make friends in it you keep them. Making the most of the beginning of your college career comes first with recognizing that college sailing and high school or junior sailing are very different animals, even though they look similar from the outside. But the best way to jump in, along with taking this advice, is to remember that we all endure everything that the sport has to throw at us because it is a true passion. And everyone in college sailing who fights for those winning rankings knows this to be true and lives by it!