02 Jun Psychological and Emotional Preparation for Offshore Sailing – Part 1

So, you’ve made the decision to sail ‘offshore.’ For most people, preparation for offshore sailing means getting the boat equipped and organized for a long passage, ensuring that all systems are working well, and that all the check lists are getting ticked off. Preparation usually involves ensuring appropriate training in navigation, weather knowledge, and first aid training to name but a few of the long list of essential skills. However, in all the excitement leading up to a long voyage and ensuring that everything is as ‘ready’ as possible we must not forget perhaps one of the most essential elements – our psychological and emotional preparedness . Enter performance psychology.

Up until recently, people gave this part of preparation little or no consideration. There was simply an assumption made that in times of stress people could manage themselves or not. Most people never really considered an experience from the psychological or emotional demands and consequences. This holds true across disciplines. I have worked as a performance psychology consultant for the past 30 years. Much of this time has been devoted to working with elite performers in the context of sport and in more recent years to the performing arts as well as in the corporate world. What we’ve come to understand is that our mental and emotional dimensions need training just as our technical and tactical skills need training.

In order for us to prepare the mental (cognitive) and emotional dimensions, it is important to have at least a basic understanding of the background.   We often hear terms like mental toughness – but what does that really mean? Are some people born ‘mentally tough’ and others not? The good news is that things like mental toughness and solid decision making skills can actually be learned and developed – just like technical skills can be learned and developed.

For starters, it helps to understand the language of performance. For example, total performance is comprised of 5 components; doing, physiology, thinking, feeling, and team. Doing refers to the technical and tactical skills of sailing. Physiology refers literally to our physical well being – fueled, rested, hydrated – or in other words just general health and ensuring that our bodies can function at the level that is needed. Thinking is the mental part of performance – thinking, decision making, processing information – in essence our entire cognitive realm. Feeling is simply our emotional state – and more specifically from a performance perspective our ability to manage our emotions and to respond appropriately. And finally, that leaves team. Yes, we need functional and healthy interpersonal dynamics.

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