The sailing season began a month before the ice on the Charles River melted. As early as February, members of the high school’s sailing team gathered for educational, classroom-based practices run by the team’s captains. These lessons are measured by written tests that all prospective team members occasionally take.
According to senior and co-captain Gabby Rizika, the purpose of these lessons is to train sailors for the mental aspects of sailing and racing before they begin to develop the physical component of the sport.
“Sailing is as much mental as it is physical, so you need to be able to recognize the parts of the boat, what to do in certain situations,” Rizika said. “A lot of it is pattern recognition.”
According to senior and co-captain Will Neubauer, the tests begin with simple boat labelling but progress into situational problems and racing tactics.
Sophomore Helen Bechler said the material on the test covered a range of topics.
“We’re learning things about racing and teamwork and rules, and then every once in awhile, we’ll take another test,” Bechler said. “At the end of the season, we’ll take a final test just to see how much everyone improved through the learning process.”
Rizika said the goal of the tests is to fill the team’s roster with competent sailors who can elevate their skills to the boat-racing level.
“This is not a learn-to-sail team, it’s a racing team,” Rizika said. “So while there is the opportunity for kids to come and learn how to sail, our roster needs to be mostly filled with kids who know how to sail.”
This classroom portion of the season is something unique to the sailing team, according to Rizika.
“A lot of sports teams are really physical, so if you can run fast or if you can jump high or perform well in an athletic skill that you need to do, you’re going to be good at the game at a high school level,” Rizika said. “You don’t need to understand so much of the mental part. But for sailing, so much of the game comes from knowing these mental things that I think the test is really important to the team.”
Bechler said she didn’t find the tests stressful, and she could see how they helped her.
“One thing that we did go over a lot were the drills that we do during practices, and so it was helpful knowing those going into practice, to be able for the captains to say ‘ok, we’re doing this drill,’ and then we go out and do it,” Bechler said.
Neubauer said that while the tests felt manageable to athletes who had sailed in the past, learning new material could be difficult for kids who had no boat experience. If an athlete had difficulty learning the material, they would be less likely to succeed on the team.
“For kids that are new to the team or are trying out, it really puts them in a place where they have to decide to learn or they’re not going to do very well on it,” Neubauer said.
Neubauer said that since the team does not have a coach until the official season starts, having the test is a very helpful way to gauge the kids coming on to the team.
“It’s important to learn material, but it’s just as important to create a fair team, and that’s one of the ways we have a safe and effective tryout session,” Neubauer said. “I don’t think we could have a team without it.”