Monday, March 4, 2013

The Blood Bath Drill

The Blood Bath drill probably has a lot of different names, and I am certain that I am not its inventor.  However, it was never taught to me by another person.  I came up with it on my own as a way to run races that would make boat speed negligible, in order to keep a group of mixed talent together, and challenge my best sailors.  In every sailing program across the globe, there is always at least one sailor who is simply faster than everyone else on the team.  Even coaching at an Opti program this weekend, which boasted three or four of the top ten finishers at Nationals, I saw a sailor that could just motor past the others.  Boat speed is a premium skill in the sailing world, but sometimes (NOT ALWAYS) it can actually stunt the most talented sailors from continuing to improve and reach the highest levels of the sport.  For example, most of the sailors that possess this level of speed never have to truly rely on any other skills such as boat handling, starting, tactics, etc. to win races.  Most races these days are between 45 and 60 minutes.  Some are even longer.  In these scenarios, faster sailors often merely line up next to other boats, let competition drop out behind them, and then cover when they tack away.  While this is not always the case, it is very typical, and is known as “sailing around your competition”.  The Blood Bath drill makes boat speed and wind shifts negligible, and places an emphasis on starting, tactics, and boat handling.  If the fastest sailor in your program struggles with any of these skills, he or she will struggle initially with this drill, but gain a lot of valuable skills with practice. 

Set Up:
The Blood Bath drill is essentially a windward leeward race that is one to four times around with a leeward mark just below the start finish line.  The only catch is that the course is as tiny as you can stand to make it.  As a general rule of thumb, the straight line distance from the middle of the starting line to the upwind mark, is set as many boat lengths apart as there are boats on the starting line.  For example, if you have five boats racing, the straight line between the center of your starting line and your windward mark is five boat lengths.  The leeward mark is set up half of that distance below the starting line.  In this example, it is two and a half boat lengths directly downwind of the middle of the starting line.  If this is too much for the group to handle, you can double these distances.  However, the longer the course is set, the more you will give back to the sailors who have great boat speed.  You will have to find that magic distance that works for the group, the conditions, etc. 

Additionally, you need to set up the line so that it is just large enough for the amount of boats you have.  Too large of a line will give sailors too much space to perform a weaker start, and will not get the point of the drill across. 

The drill is run just like traditional races with a two or three minute starting sequence, but with a lot more races.  The purpose of the drill goes further when the coach is keeping score as if it were a traditional regatta, but with no throw out races.  This forces sailors to understand the importance of consistency in a competition.  The amount of laps you make the course will vary from group to group.  Two or three laps are usually ideal.  If you go with less, you will place more emphasis on the start, and less emphasis on great boat handling, tactics, good mark roundings, etc.  If you go with more laps, you give the fastest sailors a larger window to try to sail past slower or less experienced team mates.  This will defeat the purpose of the drill, which is to eliminate boat speed, and to discourage large mistakes (fouls, over early starts, poor starts, poor mark roundings, etc.). 

As an additional note, this drill will lose part of its message if it is not policed and judged strictly.  Boats WILL foul each other, usually more often when you are first introducing the drill.  If the sailors argue and won’t spin, they will miss the overall point of the drill.  Coaches should make the calls on fouls, or make both boats spin if it is not obvious who is at fault.  Eventually, the sailors will get more disciplined, and learn how to use the rules to their advantage instead of trying to circumvent them.

This depends on the type of sailing you do.  If your focus is always on longer races where boat speed rules supreme, the Blood Bath is best as a supplemental drill to speed testing, tacking/jibing on the whistle, etc.  However, you should not avoid it altogether.  Even in these programs, I would recommend the drill at least four times a month for one to two hours at a time.

For high school or collegiate programs, the drill has much more immediate value, and you should run it much more often.  In these programs, it is most effectively used as a staple, where it is run AT LEAST for a short period at every practice.

Why the Blood Bath?:
At some point in one’s sailing career, they will run into someone, or many people, that are just as fast as them, if not faster.  At the highest levels of nearly any major fleet, there are usually at least a few boats where the boat speed is negligible between them.  In these scenarios, races are won by the sailors who start well, sail consistently, employ flawless and aggressive boat on boat tactics, etc.  A sailor who almost solely relies on his or her boat speed will struggle to move forward against these types of sailors.  Furthermore, when sailor progresses to high school sailing or collegiate sailing, where the courses are short, the boats are slow, and everyone else is fast, he or she will find themselves perpetually going up against sailors with equal boat speed.  Eventually in the sport as a whole, margins get smaller and sailors need to find other ways to reach the top of the group.  This drill can play a role in helping everyone reach the next level of their sailing career.

The Name:
The drill was given its name for several reasons, all of which are obvious immediately upon running it (if they aren’t already).

See you on the water,

Zim Coach

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