Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Mitch Hall on Coaching Team Racing

Name: Mitch Hall

School/Title: College of Charleston/Assistant Coach

College of Charleston Sailing Team: http://bit.ly/CofCSailing

College of Charleston Sailing Team on Facebook: http://bit.ly/CofCSailingFB

Can you speak to what spring semester is like for college sailors? How does it differ from the fall?

Spring semester is more team racing oriented, where you work towards team racing nationals in May. The fall is all about fleet racing.  At College of Charleston, we like to focus on the fundamentals of team racing.  We won’t run any starts, or sail any races, until we feel comfortable in every play and every position on the course.

What does team racing do for you as a sailor moving forward from college sailing?

The most exciting aspects of team racing are how it implements the rules, boat speed, and boat handling at the same time.  To be successful, you have to be good at all three.  Team racing also emphasizes team work.  You can be the fastest boat on the entire race course, but your team won’t win unless you work together, and execute plays.

In today’s sailing world, there are actually a lot of ways to stay involved in team racing after college.  There are a lot of large regattas like the Hinman, Charles River Team Race, Morgan Cup, and a few more in the New England area that a lot of college sailors and ex-college sailors take advantage of, and compete in every year.

What qualities and skills make a good team racer?

Aside from the actual sailing skills, having the ability to identify and analyze certain situations quickly is critical.  Situations unfold in the blink of an eye, and you have to adapt without hesitation.  Confidence in your abilities is another important attribute.  If you are confident, you will know what to do in any situation without hesitation.  The person, who has this confidence and does not hesitate, can usually take advantage of a situation.  Lastly, it’s good to have the mindset and understanding that situations are always changing, and a race is never over until you cross the finish line.

What separates a good team racing team from a phenomenal team racing team?

Last year’s Team Racing National Championship was very competitive.  To give you an idea, I think we won the regatta with three or four losses.  Georgetown, who we struggled against all year, didn’t make the final four.  It’s always anyone’s championship.  Basically, any team that steps up, starts well, manages races, and can stay in control from start to finish is going to take it.

What do you feel are the most effective team racing drills?

Having a complete understanding of the rules is essential before you get into on the water drills.  One of the most effective drills we use, after we understand the rules, is the box drill.  Essentially, you set up four marks like a box, and continuously practice pass backs on each leg.  We always do this with simple three boat pass backs to get people in the mindset of team racing, before you get into any combinations or plays.

What are the biggest mistakes made by less experienced team racing teams?

I see a lot of people get overly aggressive at the start, and lose track of time in the process.  This obviously leads to a lot of poor starts, which really hurts teams during short races.  We really focus on making sure we have all 3 boats on the line at go.  It substantially increases your odds of winning races.

How do you balance all of the different personalities you see on a team race team?

We have a great group of sailors here, who are all working towards a common goal.  Having that goal helps a lot.  At the end of the day, though we all have different methods, we are working towards the same outcome.  We all end up falling on common ground.

Do you mix and match teams at practice, or do you always keep your top group together? Why?

Our teams all stay together as much as possible.  We do this because communication is so important.  You have to communicate all the time, and sometimes without saying anything.  The more you sail with each other, the easier that is to accomplish.

When you have multiple boats competing for the third spot on the team, what stands out to you about a sailor that helps make that decision for you?

Fortunately, we have not seen many of those situations since I started working here.  Seniority is a big factor in that decision.  Having someone with more experience is crucial to making all the right decisions, and we would want that person in the open spot.  At the same time, you want to continue to grow and develop your younger sailors, as they are the future of your program.  You don’t want to spend too much time and effort in developing someone who won’t be at the school next semester.

What things are not coached enough in team racing?

College sailing goes by really quickly.  So much time and effort are put into results.  You need to enjoy the experience, and keep a positive attitude.  If you don’t like what you are doing, you will not do well at it.  We like to stress a positive attitude for team racing at College of Charleston.  This is definitely not coached enough.

Mitch Hall

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