by Kenneth Andreasen, US SAILING's High Performance Director and Head Coach
Many people ask the question, “Can you combine college sailing and Olympic sailing?” I think the answer is yes, but there has to be a variation based on where you are in your sailing career and where you want to go. For some sailors it makes sense to do four years of college sailing and pick up all you can learn in that environment, for others college sailing isn’t the right path and it makes sense to go straight into an Olympic boat.
From my perspective the answer lies somewhere in between; it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
Perhaps after two years of college sailing you’ll find you have all you need and then feel that you are in a better position to start your Olympic campaigning.
My goal as High Performance Director and Head Coach of the US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics is to win as many medals at the Olympics as we can. A college coach’s goal is to win Nationals. We both have goals of achieving the highest goals in our fields of sailing. We both have a common goal of developing sailors to their maximum potential.
Some sailors fit really well into Olympic sailing and for some Olympic sailing is not the right path. If you think you’re headed toward an Olympic campaign, here are the key points to keep in mind.
• Plan your Olympic path
Be realistic and plan your true Olympic path. It takes time and does not happen overnight. It’s possible to work college sailing into your Olympic sailing, but you need to stay on top on when you need to do what. Naturally you cannot just go to the Olympics. You need to qualify and that is a long process. Stay up-to-date with the current U.S. selection system. With more and more sailors sailing their Olympic boat full time, the days of a quick one- or two-year campaign are gone. Depending on the class you choose to sail in it will take years to get to the top in each Olympic class.
• Boathandling: Lots of hours on the water
One great thing about college sailing is the number of hours you spend on the water. In today’s Olympic sailing, many sailors get sidetracked with many other tasks (boat work, fundraising, etc.) and “forget” that what makes them stand out is by dedicating more time to sailing.
• Tactics/strategy: Medal race at every practice?
Olympic regattas finish with a medal race where the top ten boats get to race each other in one final race for double points. This is a very intense race with a lot on the line. It takes the ability to stay calm and being able to maneuver your boat in tight situations and being comfortable with a certain task. That task could be to “stay ahead of a specific boat, or to put one boat between you and someone else.” In college racing, almost every race is like a medal race and you can use this to become comfortable performing the tasks.
• Fitness: Get fit, use your training resources at school
You have to be fit and one of our goals on the US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics is to be the fittest team on the planet. We are working with trainers and nutritionists to make sure we eat right and work out the right way. Every boat has its certain needs and we need to make sure that we are the right fit. In college sailing you have a lot of great resources to draw on. Go to the athletics department and talk to the trainers. Some may need some “sailing education,” but use your four years to get in the best shape you can.
• What class? With multihull (mixed) and 29er XX (women) being introduced for 2016 there are a lot of different choices. Many college sailors are used to sailing mixed crew. Evaluate your temperament and find out which class is more like you. You have to truly enjoy sailing the boat, as you will be spending many hours training in it.
• Stay connected to Olympic sailing
Bring your boat to school and go sailing a few times a week. Work with your coach on when sailing your Olympic class will fit into the team schedule. Many sailors try taking time off for four years and they “only” compete in a few events during the summer. Meanwhile, the competition sails full time. This approach makes it very hard to come back to the top of the class. Most college coaches will allow you to bring your Olympic boat to the sailing center and you can sail that boat every week.
• Participate in Olympic caliber training camps, like the US SAILING Development Training Camps. Knowing what is going on and training with your competition is always great.