WINNING PSYCHOLOGY

by

Bruce Goldsmith

Reprinted from Rebel Rabble September 1980

In addition to boatspeed and tactics, the consistently sucessful sailor uses
psychology to a great degree in winning races and series.  It is a big 
advantage in planning your own strategy if you have an idea how your competitors 
might react to the multitude of  situations that occur in racing.  The following 
is a discussion of the psychology that I feel  has helped my racing record.

     It's common to over-react to a small speed  difference between  two boats.  Use
this to your advantage  by grinding down a few competitors on the way  to the  
starting line .  It will help your confidence and cause anyone who notices to avoid 
you on the starting line.

     In addition, a reputation of being an aggressive starter will further clear your
choice of positionon the line, especially if you line up soon enough  to allow others 
to know where you plan to start.  Avoid last second jibes or ducking in.  They tend to 
cause retaliation by a lessor competitor, sometimes resulting in both of you being
over early. 

Take advantage of any false starts to further your speed image.  Check starting line 
bias, and generally get a feel for the early part of the race.

If you really blow the first beat, it seems to help to pick a goal for finishing the 
race that seems barely possible.  Your perspective changes completely if you are 
shooting for 10th from 40th rather than taking the wildest chances hoping for a 
miracle to put you in first.

Yea there is lotsa room for 10 boats

Usually on the first beat, one side of the course works out better than the other. If this happens in a big way, next time around most of the boats will go that way, regardless of whether the factor that caused that side to be good still exists or not. This, of course, allows you to go the other way with clear air and good odds of passing lots of boats if you've analyzed properly that the factor causing the one side to be good the first time no longer exists.

Passing a competitor on a reach can be a real study in psychology.  Think in 
terms of discouraging a luff by getting well to windward before you are too close 
behind.  Not one in a hundred will let you by without a luff if you come up behind 
and then go up, but more than half will not luff if you go high first-then whiz by. 
 Evidently, people's minds are oriented to three on all kinds of happenings.  If you
get caught in a luff, try three short attempts to pass to windward which you don't plan 
to have work.  However, on the fourth attempt be more extreme and you'll probably make it.  
The same rule of three works sometimes when trying to break a cover on a windward 
leg on the fourth tack your covering competitor may let you go.  Other factors will 
be more dominant in most cases but at least don't stop at three tries.  Either waste 
only one tack or give it four tries.

     Covering is, of course, best right on your competitor's mind, but if you can't 
tolerate lots of tacks, let the challenging boat be slightly to weather and behind. 
He will think he can pinch out to weather enough to get clear.  However, if you foot
just enough to keep him thinking this, he will usually fall back steadily after the 
initial squeeze to windward slows him down.  Remember, you have to make him feel like
he can outpoint you by footing slightly or just not pinching when this game starts.  
In other words, bait him into not tacking away.

     Another covering tactic that includes some psychology is to give your challenger 
clear air on the tack you want him on, and tack right in front of him on the tech you 
don't want him on.  This will force him to go the way you feel is best tactically for 
both of you relative to other boats.

     At marks it's often hard to tell whether an overlap exists or not.  If you are the 
boat trying to get the overlap and honestly don't know whether you have it ask your 
competitor ahead to judge the situation.  His reaction is one of surprise that you trust 
him and he tends to become more generous to you in his judgment of the overlap.

     Late in a race you become faced with a situation that requires a minor miracle for 
you to win.  Naturally, you want to try it if it's the only chance.  The error most will 
make is that they won't do this tactic extremely enough.  I guess psychologically, they 
don't believe it is really possible, so a half effort causes them to lose, even if the 
miracle windshift, calm or storm does happen.

Series Psychology

The importance of being in the first few places in the first couple of races 
is overdone.  People take bad odds flyers on the third beat of the first race when they
are in 1Oth place figuring there's no chance for the series if they don't.  This usually 
is wrong thinking and too often loses 10 more places.  Also, the importance of a 
throw-out race over impresses many.  You have to hang in every race.  It's amazing 
sometimes what scores end up counting.  The best example of this is the Southern Circuit,
where eleven races were sailed.  I can remember getting a D.S.Q. and 19th in two of the
first three races, and still ending up the winner.  No way that would have happened had 
the 19th been a 20th, even though it didn't seem important whether we were 19th or 20th 
as we crossed the finish line.

     Best of luck using Psychology to your advantage.  I'm looking forward to a matching
of minds with any of you the next time we meet on the race course.  Could be interesting 
if we both use the same "Psych".

WHEN TO FOOT & WHEN TO POINTMore tactics by Bruce Goldsmith