How a Compliment Can Change Your Attitude While Sailboat Racing

Just a Few Words Could Be a Big Gift in Sailing Competition

A few days ago at the gym, a woman gave me an out-of-the-blue compliment that was really meaningful to me. She delivered a positive message that kept me focused as I powered through my workout. (And, as I’m writing about it for a monthly column, clearly her words had a more lasting effect than just boosting one morning in the gym!)

Her words got me to thinking: If that brief conversation affected me in that way, what would it do for all of us if we all got into the habit of complimenting each other more frequently? And what that might do for one-design racing?

Sailboat racing chesapeake
One-design racing on the Chesapeake Bay. Photo by Will Keyworth

Seems to me that sailors who feel better about their sailing efforts will be motivated to keep sailing and growing their skills, and one-design fleets that include members who are supportive and lift each other up by calling out good things are going on will be more sustainable and successful. Yes, one-design racing is about competing against one another, but we all get better as each member of a fleet gets better.

So, let’s go a little wild with our compliments for a bit, shall we? Give it a whirl; it feels good both receiving and giving them. A few key ingredients:

Make sure the compliment is about something that is under their control. “Nice job lucking out with that wind shift” isn’t really something someone can build on. “Nice job seeing that new wind out on the right side of the course” means a lot more.

Be specific. “Nice race” is a cursory statement; go deeper and describe why it was a nice race.

Be genuine. Really mean the words you’re saying. Don’t just say them because you think it’s what the person wants to hear.

Bonus points for if your compliment is about something they have previously had challenges with. “Your spinnaker sets are looking super this year! I can tell you have been practicing!”

Compliment your teammates.

Do you race on a multi-person boat? Complimenting the sailors who are literally in the same boat as you helps in two ways: It builds camaraderie and it highlights efforts to replicate. It’s a motivator to work hard alongside people who appreciate your efforts. And knowing what skills are valued makes you want to be sure to use those skills again and again. For example, “Nice tack! You held the jib sheet for just the right amount of backwind to get the bow through to the new tack.”

Compliment your competitors.

Yup, go for it. A positive vibe in the boat park and on the water makes every regatta more enjoyable. And the vast majority of us are spending weekends and vacation days to make regattas possible, so it’s supposed to be fun, darn it. Amplify the fun. “Wow, you were shredding it today! I could see how hard you were working upwind; your time in the gym is really paying off!”

Compliment the newbies.

Sailors who are new to the sport or new to a kind of boat are a great compliment target. Feeling good about your investment in getting involved with a fleet and hearing that you’re making progress are likely to keep you wanting to come back for more. Progress and hard work are often most visible in people who are new to a boat, so your opportunities for paying compliments are many! “I’m so happy you decided to sail with us. And I’m really excited that your time in the boat is really starting to show; your downwind speed is really improving!”

Compliment yourself.

Time and time again, positive self-talk has been shown to increase athletes’ performance. You can help keep yourself motivated and learning by highlighting good things you are doing. Do it while you’re racing and as you review how your day went. Write it in your sailing journal, or say it out loud to yourself. All these methods work. “Taking the time to replace that mainsheet made sheeting out around the weather mark go a lot more smoothly. You made a good decision to do that.” “One more upwind leg in this big breeze. Your cardio work is going to benefit you here!”

Keep the happiness flowing. It’s good for everyone. Accentuate the positive!

About the Author: SpinSheet Small Boat columnist for more than a dozen years, Kim Couranz has earned several national and world titles in Laser Radials (ILCA 6) and Snipes. She has also raced J/22s, J/24s, and Ynglings on an international level.

For another great sailboat racing article by Kim Couranz, click here.