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Ask JWorld – How to Make All Crew Members Essential

Sample notes by the tactician during Key West race.
Sample notes by the tactician during Key West race.

J World’s expert coaches have agreed to answer your sailing questions in future issues. Send Questions on ANY sailing topic to Kristen Berry at kristen@jworldannapolis.com

 

Ask JWorld – Kristen, this season I have had trouble keeping “non-essential” crewmembers on my team. Only so many folks can trim the sails, so what can we do to help keep people coming back to participate in the roles that are less important?

Keeping a team of sailors together is a task that befuddles teams at all levels. Whether it is club racing or the Major Leagues, managing people is a huge part of the sport. I would suggest that one of the first things to keep in mind is that there are no “non-essential” positions on the boat. On any high functioning sailing team there are at least two information “loops” running at anytime: the speed loop and the strategic and tactical loop.

The speed loop is trimming the sails, watching the speed, angle and heel of the boat.

The strategic and tactical loop is ensuring we are sailing the best course to the next mark, tracking our relative performance, collecting and tracking course data.

Thought of another way, there are physical and cerebral roles on the boat and it is difficult for any crewmember to execute their role if they are part of both loops. Yes, that’s right skippers. I am talking to you. You can’t do both and expect to do well.

With this “loop” concept in mind, that means that every person has a very essential role to play.

Often when I jump onboard a boat for a regatta I seek out the least experienced person and declare them the “tactician.” This person is responsible for recording our heading on the race course, our boat speed as well as listening to the rest of the conversation and recording items of interest. When we need to confirm whether we are sailing the best course, it is easy to ask our tactician to read back the last four or five heading notes and whether we are lifted, headed or at median becomes perfectly clear. The essential part of this is that I am free to look out of the boat and keep us sailing towards the next strategic element. The least experienced person on the boat becomes the most important for making decisions, and this helps keep them engaged even if their role is non-physical.

For many of us, our primary sailing season is drawing to a close. This is a great time to get your team – including extended team members, spouses and kids – together to discuss all of the perceived roles onboard the boat. Once you have that list, discuss how to divide the tasks across the average number of crew positions you have. A cool way to do this is to put a pack of sticky notes on a table and ask everyone to write down all of the tasks they can think of on the stickies. Place one task per sticky note. Then create a space on a table or a wall for each crew position onboard the boat.

Each person then takes their stack of sticky tasks and places them under the position they think should do those things. In the end the visual of dozens of stickies under a handful of positions will help create a sense of how important each role is. As well, this drives a smart discussion on who should be doing what and whether the process on the boat is as effective as possible. It will also help illuminate areas of deficiency (don’t forget tasks like bringing lunches, waters and ice!).

Try it this winter and let me know how it goes. In fact, send your crew task lists along and I’ll provide some outside feedback that just might help you improve your performance and crew satisfaction next season.

Have a question you want to ask?  J World’s expert coaches have agreed to answer your sailing questions in future issues. Send Questions on ANY sailing topic to Kristen Berry at kristen@jworldannapolis.com

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