Falling short is hard. Through your sailing career, there will always be new teams to make the cut for… the advanced group at your yacht club, a regional travel team, the US Optimist Development Team, the US Optimist National Team, your high school varsity team, the US Olympic Development Team, your college team, the US Olympic Team, or Volvo Ocean Race Teams, and America’s Cup Teams. And, I’m leaving plenty of teams out. Chasing after a spot on a team can be exhilarating and rewarding; it can also be disappointing and devastating.
Sometimes making a team is largely out of your control (e.g., the coach decides) and sometimes it is theoretically within your control (e.g., based on the place you finish). Your finishing place is affected by controllables such as how much preparation you put in, your attention to detail, engaging the mental skills you’ve also trained, smooth boat-handling, tuning into boatspeed, calculating risks with big picture strategy and boat-on-boat tactics. However, your finishing place is ALSO affected by uncontrollables such as weather, unforeseeable shifts, your resources, and whether or not your competition happens to be having a good day! If you can say you’ve done everything that was in your control, there can be some peace with that. And if not, hopefully that can fuel your fire for next time!
I have worked with people who ended up performing far better at events, because they initially didn’t make the cut. There may be shame (wanting to hide), feelings of guilt (e.g., “I didn’t work hard enough”), despair (it can seem like the worst moment ever), and rejection (whether the coach’s decision or not, you might feel like an outsider). Emotions can feel like a high tide enveloping you, but as the tide rolls back out, there can be an amazing transformation. You may find yourself more ready to seize controllables than ever, even if the “emotional tide” continues to ebb and flow. While your peers might worry whether or not they belong on the team, you can have the freedom associated with having nothing to lose!
There is power in being the underdog. If you let your mind be clear of “would’ves,” “could’ves,” “should’ves,” and now focus on controllables in the present moment “ you can seize that next victory! I’ve seen it with my sailors at World Championships, my skiers at Junior Nationals, my gymnasts at State Championships, and my fencers at major tournaments. You name the sport; when somebody has not made the cut or has experienced whatever setbacks, this can fuel the fire for their next victory. Even when one door closes (i.e., no more chances toward a given goal), another door opens. One beauty of sailing is that it is a lifetime sport with many paths for pursuing excellence.
First published in OptiNews Magaine, Volume 64 Number 3, July 2017.
Tim Herzog trains sailors and other athletes to consistently be on top of their mental game. He has been a college sailing coach at Kings Point and Boston College, and now is a mental performance coach at Reaching Ahead Counseling and Mental Performance (reachingahead.com). Look for more of his wisdom in future issues of OptiNews.