Composure: a hard skill to coach

Jun 28, 2017

I have recently been in Bermuda coaching at the Youth Americas Cup and watching the Americas Cup racing. It has been a fascinating experience and as always one that has provided some useful insights and lessons.

One word that has struck me from both competitions is composure. Pete Burling the helmsman on Emirates Team New Zealand has it. He never looks flustered, seems very cool, calm and measured in is actions and responses and consequently he makes good decisions under the highest levels of pressure the sport can throw at him. Of course, it helps that he has a very skilled team around him and an incredibly innovative and fast boat.

 Likewise, in the Red Bull Youth Americas Cup; a competition which sets out to offer under 24’s there chance to shine on the biggest stage. 12 international teams battled through to the final 8 and over two days they duked it out to become champion. Again, it was the teams who managed to keep their cool, stay calm and focused under pressure and make the fewest mistakes and more importantly could move in from a mistake without it affecting their subsequent performance who came out on top.

I was coaching a team that made it to the final, we were one of the newest teams there and whilst we had a developed solid base of boat handling and techniques and on paper had the skillset to do well but there was a lack of composure in key moments that ultimately helped seal the teams fate.

 My question is how do you coach composure? Is it a skill that you either have or don’t? Does it only come with experiences (good or bad)?

It was clear from watching the racing the in the qualifying events where there was less pressure there were plenty of teams who showed very high levels of performance, but once the final came and the media spotlight descended it was the teams who had raced and trained together the longest and who kept their cool and composure who consistently came to the front.

Before the event we talked about the need for composure, discussing how the communication on board would work, the decision-making process, establishing routines and what to do in the event of a setback. But ultimately when the heat was on the lack of racing under pressure together relative to some of the other teams won out.

I would be really interested to hear people thoughts on whether composure is a skill that can be coached, is learnt through experiences or is a skill that we are born with or develop very early in our life. One thing is clear that when you look across every sport at the highest level it is the athletes that win the battle in their mind and can stay composed that we see with the trophies.