Friday, March 1, 2013

Zack Marks on the College Sailing Experience and Eckerd College

Name: Zack Marks

School: Eckerd College

Position: Assistant and Women’s Sailing Coach

Career Highlights:
- Honorable Mention All-American (2011)
- Academic All-American – 2nd Team (2010)
- Competing in Singlehanded Nationals in hometown St. Pete, FL.
- Sailing my final nationals in the Gorge!

Learn More About Eckerd's College Sailing Team:

Eckerd's College Sailing Team on Facebook:

Tell me what was most exciting about the recruiting process for you personally as a student and as a coach?

As a student, this time of year is so exciting because you get to explore a lot of different options and possibilities in evaluating what the next four years of your life will look like.  It’s also an opportunity to position yourself for life after those four years are up, which adds another dimension of excitement to the process.  It is kind of like window shopping.

As a coach, it is really exciting to meet so many other athletes that are passionate about sailing, and who are looking to make it a part of their time in college.  I have always enjoyed passing off my own knowledge and experience to the younger generations, and getting a look at the selection process that college coaches go through.

What did you enjoy most about the College Sailing Experience?  What did you enjoy least?

The most enjoyable part is that you will sail a lot!  When you think about how many starts, mark roundings, and unique situations you encounter every day, it is really astounding how much sailing you actually do in a single week.  When you add that up over four years, it is no surprise how much you improve by the time you graduate.  Also, you get to sail with your friends all the time.  When you do something like an Olympic Campaign, you are usually on the water with maybe one or two other boats.  It makes the practices and hard work that much more enjoyable when you are surrounded by your best friends.

The part I enjoyed the least is the conflict that is sometimes generated by having to earn your spot.  In high school, whenever I wanted to sail a singlehanded event somewhere, I could just go and sail.  Not having that option anymore was initially difficult to accept.  When two or more people are competing to get a starting spot for a big event, this often leads to conflict rather than everyone focusing on the big picture, which is to make everyone better as a group.  While this was upsetting at first, you eventually start to see an event as the team going to a regatta instead of individual sailors.  I eventually came around to that side of it, and enjoyed this aspect of college sailing that much more.

What’s the toughest part about adjusting to the college sailing lifestyle in and out of the classroom?

A lot of people struggle with this.  In high school, there is a lot of structure to your day.  You are forced to go to classes for a certain period of time, and then you do your extracurricular activities right afterward.  In college, there is some structure in the form of practice times and team workouts, but there is almost an infinite amount of free time that you have never had before.  You have to learn how to manage that time to do all of your other school work as well as sailing practices and workouts.  Based on Eckerd’s location, we fly to a lot of places for competition, so the sailors usually take advantage of that time and do their school work.

Why should a sailor come to Eckerd College next year?

The school is in an interesting position this year.  We almost always get into one of the spring national championships, but we have never really contended for the championship.  As of July 1, 2012, the sailing program at Eckerd was upgraded to a varsity program under the guidance of the athletic department.  This gives us access to a great deal of resources such as tutors, trainers, etc., and allows us to go to more intersectionals throughout the year than we ever have.  We have two full fleets of FJ’s and 420’s (20 FJ's/12 420's), and two full time coaches.  The head coach is Kevin Reali, a two-time ICSA All-American.

As an additional note, the temperature averages about 75 degrees all year which means a lot more sailing.  Even if you don’t initially get to go to a lot of regattas for the team, there are tons of local fleets that are really strong and competitive outside of college sailing.  This will allow you to keep improving outside the system, and reach your goals much more quickly.

What are you looking for most in a recruit?

A lot of kids that look at our program are also looking at similarly small schools all over the country.  While a lot of these schools are similar in size and what they offer in terms of education, they are all very different sailing programs.  I essentially want to see someone who is passionate about sailing and willing to put in the hours.  Attitude is everything if you are going to succeed at the college level.  I can make a less experienced sailor much better quickly, if he or she has a great attitude.  I won’t have the ability to make much progress at all with someone who has talent, but won’t commit their time to the team.  Typically, the ideal person is selecting the college because they want to sail, and wants to be at the school for all four years.  This goes for both skippers and crews.  We get a lot of walk-ons at the crew position, which I think undervalues how important the position is.  We always want to look at talented high school crews and make them part of our team.

What are your team’s goals for this season?  What about over the next four years?

We would like to qualify for all three spring championships.  Our women’s team is doing really well, and we have four solid women’s skippers.  We are really close with the competition in team racing, and we are returning all of our starting fleet race skippers from last year, when we missed nationals by one spot.  We graduated a few of their crews, but we should have a very strong shot of bursting through the bubble this year.

Four years down the road we would like to be a more established team, and get to the point where we are consistently ranked in the top 10.  Essentially this will mean we transition from going to nationals to competing to win the national titles.  It will take some time and a lot of persistence to get there, but it’s something that we view as a very real possibility down the line.

What does it take to be an All-American in College Sailing?

Above all else: Persistence.  This was a frustrating process to me, where it felt like I kept doing the same things over and over again at practice and regattas, and it did not feel like I was getting any better.  In actuality, you are getting better, so the trick is to try to keep a positive attitude the whole time.  The season is so long, and there are so many variables in play at each regatta, that you really need to worry a lot less about results and focus a lot more on the process.  Eventually it will all work out if you put the time in, and go about the process the right way.

Zack Marks

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