Regarding the discussion “Female Teams and why they do so badly”

For reference:  http://www.yachtingworld.com/news/comment-why-do-all-women-teams-like-team-sca-do-so-badly-asks-skip-novak-64116 in Yachting World.

I have read this article by Skip and I have listened to many of the interviews by Team SCA, as well as the recent interview on Sailing Anarchy on Friday. I have sat watching this race from “the fence” of my living room, and so many times nearly put pen to paper wanting to express my feelings about this situation as we watch it unfold again in the VOR. Women’s ability to sail is not what is being questioned here, the SCA girls have shown women can sail, with their inshore race results. But I agree the question is how to improve the offshore racing. I have learnt through my experiences as a female sailor and I feel absolutely compelled to write back, because I am amazed at what I am hearing from the PR machine.

20 yrs ago I was one of the only girls to run a yacht. I Screen Shot 2015-05-17 at 23.21.15have raced professionally since 1990, and been around the world on 3 different all female campaigns: EF Education, Amer Sport, Tracy Edward’s Royal and SunAlliance plus done a training run Elle Racing, back in the EF days.  I have been through the Southern Ocean 4 times. Twice in one year.

I still race professionally in mixed high profile crews, mostly on a successful 100 footer. I am also a sports trainer. I write training regimes for cycle/run events as well as being trained in psychology and pilates and biomechanics/posture so I understand how to push people and keep them uninjured whilst working through mental blocks, all “issues” that prevent people reaching their full potential.

From where I sit it is not about the sailors but the way the campaigns are set up.

It is blatantly clear – get the boys off the boat asap and let the girls get on with it, coach them by all means but stop taking over, so build their confidence and the experience level as a team. When the employment contracts are written by the management and the crew want to go sailing – none of the women are going to say anything, they all tow the line, and if they don’t they get moved on.

Why when there have been 4 previous campaigns over a 25 yr period are we learning the same lessons? There appears to be a disregard to any previous female around the world sailing campaigns and I am hearing the same insecurities and problems that we had in 1998 and that we experienced in 2002, so this latest approach has not solved them. Words like:

“Lacking in Confidence”; “ not wanting to just make up the numbers”; “First time” for this and first time for that; “Lacked training time together”; On Sailing Anarchy they say they loose pace on a reach – we learnt that on EF in 1998 when sailing towards Freemantle against Merit Cup.

These issues are nothing new and if the committee that I met, in August 2012, would get out their notes they will see that I pointed out all this then. I would like to remind at this stage that there have been around 250 female participants in the race editions before, Shore and race crew – of this 111 have sailed the race, several have done it more than once so there have been 127 previous race experiences, with 2 further female campaigns (Maiden and Heneiken) – I know because I emailed them all to round them up for the Legends regatta in 2011, and we managed to get 25 women to the regatta, so it sickens me to hear of a lack of this race experience. In fact Altant (Richard Brisius and Johan Salen) ran the EF Campaign, so they should have had a wealth of information about the exact pitfalls of female sailing. Johan is even married to Christine who was the skipper of EF. Has the sailing world forgotten this?? So SCA is the 5th female campaign and not the first.

Team SCA was announced in August 2012, full of excitement I immediately called the team and went to Sweden to “share” my ideas and point out my race experiences. Here was an opportunity to make a difference, how exciting that FINALLY there is a well funded (highest funding along with AbuDhabi) team dedicated solely to women, with time (came together 2 years before the start) and with the first boat on the water. So in the eyes of the world they were not short of resources. I was really keen to help to push a female campaign through the barriers and passed all the things that we had previously stumbled over. To see them be competitive, to want to win is somewhat arrogant given the experience and calibre of the competition. From what I hear several of the previous competitors also went to offer ideas. The situation does not surprise me and I could almost be so bold as to say I predicted it, which was why I did not join the team, because the management did not convince me that they were taking these issues seriously in their proposed approach to running this team. How can you expect a different result if you do the same thing… I am pretty sure that is the definition of something?

So why do female campaigns come last from my perspective? First of all this is an evolution of experience and it will take time. Men have led battles since time began. Women have only had the right to vote for not quite 100 years, Leadership practice is uncommon, and something women need to learn. Plus when planning a campaign, in fact when writing any training regime one needs to look at the end goal and break it down and look at the weaknesses. This is THE TOP LEVEL CREWED Round the World Race. So it has top level competition and it is a RACE and it is long distance, which means you often loose sight of competitors and need to be alert to condition changes.

So I go back to my suggestions in Aug 2012 –

  1. Get a committee of women who are top end and previous competitors and brainstorm the pitfalls, areas of improvement and join up as part of the coaching team or sail if needed.
  2. Get a group of top end women in other sport/industry to become role models and to highlight the psychological pit falls of successful female leaders in a male world.

Check this out: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tabby-biddle/5-ways-to-stop-bad-attitu_b_7269562.html

  1. Work on mental toughness – get outside of sailing assistance find out how tough women make decisions. What is wrong with our sport – every other sport has psychologists, and if you don’t agree with psychologists you have used the wrong ones!
  2. Empower the female team to be a team and select good coaches to be employed for a maximum of month at a time to drop in for specialty coaching.
  3. Structure it better: RACE RACE RACE right from the start.
  4. Create a good solid shore crew to deal with the new boat and get it up to speed. The female team’s time is better spent racing, racing, racing.

So lets look at this SCA Campaign, obviously from my outsider’s viewpoint. The first announcement was in August 2012, a group of men were employed to get a training boat underway. I saw them in Hamble on their way to Sweden with a Volvo 70 – I congratulated them on the sponsorship for the all female team but I was alarmed that there was not a single girl in sight. Moreover, I am pretty sure, 6/7 months passed before any girls were employed. For about 6 months or so they trialled 40 or so girls – and bang goes the first year of training.

Dropping women into an already existing male group will never grow ownership – the girls are always the “visitors” to the boy’s camp. From a basic level, in a situation where a strong competitive sportsman is a coach to a team of women, the women will not rise and will constantly seek reassurance and approval. So then it spirals because the boys doubt the girls can ever take charge and the girls loose confidence at being in charge. At some stage the guys have to jump out and the girls in, but it seems to take ages for the boys to let go, generally because it looks too chaotic and they don’t like what they see. It is like with kids – when the parents are watching over correcting all the time. Let them learn.

Who is managing and coaching, leading, guiding and advising this campaign? Leading is partly about inspiring. Are these coaches and managers people who believe in women and understand their concerns? Who actually believe that women can beat men? Are they “people” who would go on an offshore race and choose to take women, as team mates, as equals? Have they chosen to support women or fallen into doing this? Did they actually visualise success or was it just a media attention stunt again?

If the answer is negative to any of these questions then how can they inspire and lead and fill this team with belief and confidence? Would it not be a good idea to have maybe one woman in the coaching staff to fill this role? Maybe some senior leading women from Industry as mentors who could inspire lead and motivate in the top level management? Aside from sailing and boat handling skills we need to turn the team into decisive weapons, with a belief that they are not different or inferior to any of the competition. Who trains the women in the army? Who deals with the mind set of female spies? Who coaches top level corporate females? There is nothing wrong with the female brain in decision making or skill levels or ability to succeed– we have many examples of successful females in leadership and engineering/technical etc – Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel, Michelle Obama, there is a list online of female CEO’s of top Fortune 500 Companies.

I am by no means saying that an all female team can do it alone and will succeed without a single guy attached to the sailing team – no way – we need to learn from the blokes, we need their experiences but it has to be done in a way that is empowering to a group of females, rather than over running them.

So lets look at the areas to address:

  1. Skills – sailing skills and inexperience.
    • Improve the training – Get SAILING. Competitive sailing is where you raise your game – what if a team of women had been pulled together in August 2012 and with a team of good guy coaches with an agenda of as much sailing as possible for 2 years. Hire yachts and do regattas – Middle Sea Race, Sydney Hobart, Races in Thailand – there are hundreds of races. And keep that going throughout the campaign. Like an academy
    • From a coaching perspective – hire individual specialist coaches and bring them in for a period to teach and then get another one in. Get variety – this keeps the idea of the shore team running the boat
    • Sailing around by themselves “training” is not the training that is needed, these girls could all sail, and adding only a few races into the mix was not sufficient. How many races did they do? And one of the main ones – the Fastnet 2013 – saw the SCA boys eagerly showing the girls how to do it – strings and the wheel in hand.

The Volvo Ocean Race is the top end of this sport. A top level marathon runner would never go for an event unprepared, not having covered all apects and expect to do really well. These girls are competitive women and for sure wanted to win legs! So why treat it like a Sunday afternoon stroll having a go for the first time on certain levels.

  1. Inexperienced crew: Hire some people who had sailed on teams around the world before, and experienced the conditions. What male team goes out with that proportion of people not done this race before or that proportion of single handers? Single handers are great sailors but as Sam said they spend most of the time on autopilot. Why start from scratch all the time? Is it not easier to build on foundations. There are male competitors that have done 6+ races. The reason I was told, on the dock in St Barts, for not using previous competitors was because they were too old – they wanted to start with fresh blood. – I think 45 was the average age of these women in question – in men at 45 they are in their prime. So if the women are not fit enough – why not have a few in an advisory role as discussed earlier. What is the point in the 20 years of female experience if it is not used? It gets disheartening going through this again and again. And this is why girls drop out of the sport, at the disappointment of coming last.
  2. Why don’t more women have experience offshore – this is a touchy subject: Women don’t get as much top level pro sailing experience due to the nature of offshore sailing –
    • The reality is it is a strength sport in a confined space and power to weight and numbers is important, and lets face it – it’s a bit of a “boys time out” – pulling and shoving, working amongst themselves in an alpha male way, not worrying about pleasantries or being distracted by primal urges, eager to have someone as strong as them by their side in a catastrophe where a sail falls in the ocean, constant banter and cajoling rising to the challenge, so there are not many opportunities in year in year out offshore racing for girls.
    • Listen to the discussions going on in the navy about females on submarines. It is not actually about the disbelief of women’s skills – that is about men and women being in close confined quarters for a period of time, that is about sex, about flirting and jealousy and the disruption it causes with the rest of the crew etc. But no one would like to admit it.
    • In the current climate, do you think that skippers/crew help their cause at home if they are offshore with equal men/women on board? Currently it is male dominated, and so is also about wives at home and their imaginations and trust of their husbands..
    • In general the sailing world is archaic in its structure – skippers, cooks, stewardess, deckhand etc.
    • On the other side of the fence how many girls have got the determination and drive to really push in through all that? Networking is at regattas and in bars. No job is given to anyone on a plate. So you have to really want to do it.

These are human facts. And it is ridiculous because the skilled keen dedicated up and coming sailor girl looses out. That is why most women’s experience is on single handed or female campaigns.

I would like to say that I have been incredibly fortunaonly chickte in my sailing career, sailing with people who see the benefit of women on a race yacht. But there is always banter not for my ears!!

  1. Build the team:
    • The problem the “new blood” thing is A lack of experience in surfing on ocean going 60+ footers, with huge seas and 70 knot winds, the level expected to push hard.
    • Experience comes in 2 ways – sport skills and life/people skills – age brings a more mature approach in many situations.
    • Give the team the OWNERSHIP. Empower the women to take control of their team. These campaigns are more often started by men, (except for Tracy Edwards) they hold the purse strings, write the contracts and don’t seem to let go and let the girls get on with it.
  2. Confidence: The black hole – a concept that unless you have been a female competing in a man’s world you will struggle to understand and I am possibly wasting time writing this down. There are not many other sports where men and women compete against each other.
    • This is about experience, job security as discussed above and psychologically arming the girls and building their mental strength.
    • Does being special mean it is not expected that you are capable. Every regatta I go to, even now, as a female sailor in the real world of international yachting, I hear a comment that doubts a woman’s ability. Last week at Palma Vela our volunteer rib driver said to me “wow you trim the spinnaker on a 100footer” – is that a compliment – he thinks it is and on some level maybe it is? Or is the perception that it’s a surprise that on a 100’ race yacht a woman can trim a sail when there are 25 perfectly capable men on board? If one gets comments like that at ever regatta for 25 years of ones life, is it surprising that at a subconscious level some self doubt may creep in? Of can women actually win anything against men? But this is a taboo subject – the male management don’t want to deal with this and the chosen girls don’t want to discuss this.
    • Until women believe in themselves TOTALLY and have respect around them this will not change?
  3. Preparation of race yacht – the least important job for the women to do. Send the girls to learn to work together racing in all sorts of different events and distances, and have the race yacht pulled up to speed by a team of specialist sailors who are already in the league of the competitors. Then the girls know the “bench mark”, and idiosyncrasies of the yacht, and put them – the warriors – on their trained horse with time to learn the nuances and go do the required racing.
  4. Turn the women mentally and so physically into weapons – they do this in the army/marines/female spies/ female leaders /CEO’s etc. Put the Ego in a box and ask them how they do it!!

So the party line seems to be to “Inspire the World”. Really?? Honestly Inspiration comes from being the first – like Maiden, The man on the moon, speed records (Paul Larsen/Sailrocket) and explorations. We are playing a broken record. It is ceasing to be “amazing” because it has been done several times already, and all it is doing now is making the younger generations ask why single the sexes out and make a fuss? For kids a competitor has no sex, this just perpetuates the psychological hang up for young girls of why would you think I was not capable. Therefore is not all this cheering a media stunt rather than recognition of an actual achievement.

The sad thing is there was time and money to do all of this right from the beginning and that is what was exciting.  The girls are proving my point because they are just getting better and better. The sadder thing is the experience the “old timers” have had over the last few years has put them off following.  The reality – we would all love to see the SCA girls do well.

But if you are going to battle with anything less than your opposition how do you expect to beat them when they have these bases covered and much more experience? We will have to wait till next time to find out. Lets not make the same mistake again!!

The best teams like each other, have grown together, are honest and trustingsam and I of each other and so will work to the end of the earth for each other. When a team outgrows individual performance and learns team confidence, excellence becomes a reality. “