Five ways female sailors can maximize opportunities in sailing

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Five ways female sailors can maximize opportunities in sailing


It’s often cited as the biggest barrier to females participating in sailing. Confidence – or rather, lack of it – impacts women at every level and in every aspect. It means that opportunities – when they do arise – too often go unrealized.

What’s the solution? Should female sailors simply ‘man up’ and get on with it? 

 The question of how to boost confidence among female sailors is a complex one. One solution doesn’t fit all. It’s a multifactorial issue. For most people – male and female – the issue often stems from childhood and therefore it’s not an easy fix.

So, how can female sailors kick-start their confidence and realize their sailing ambitions? 

  1. Seek out a mentor

Having a mentor can massively help women to boost their confidence. Women are generally very good at working their networks – in fact, that’s regularly identified as a female strength. So, use your network to broaden your opportunities. Choose a person you respect or who you think could be useful to you. That might not be the same person over the duration of your sailing career; it might be that you need someone with technical expertise, or equally, it might be that you need someone to give you insight as to how to transition into a different area of sailing.

  1. Share the experience with the right kind of friend

Women will very often try a sport because a friend already does it, or because they agree to try it together. Confidence comes from having someone to share the experience with.

As with a mentor, that friend doesn’t have to be female, they can equally be male. Wider societal changes are unfolding all the time, bringing an increased awareness of gender equality and with it a more inclusive trend, and sailing is not completely immune to that. So, on an individual basis, there are men who will say, ‘let me understand the problem, let me help’ – which is great.

But sailing also has other barriers, including women who are confident and established in their sailing careers who can, for various reasons, be deliberately obstructive. Fortunately, these women are in the minority and it is important not to be put off by this. Instead, find someone who wants to share and enjoy the journey, too.

  1. Understand your internal narrative

Confidence is governed by an internal narrative. This can have a huge impact on confidence, and it can be particularly deep-rooted, but it is essential to understand your own internal narrative in order to move forwards. If you grew up in a family where very often boys were labeled as ‘strong’ and praised for being ‘brave’, while girls were labeled as ‘pretty’ and praised for being ‘good’, it’s no surprise that those girls will have grown up thinking they have to be ‘good’. If they didn’t fit that, they were labeled as ‘difficult’. On the other hand, men that don’t fit labels are thought of as ‘brave’, ‘ground breaking’, ‘challenging the norm’.

Ultimately, though, ‘good’ women don’t change the world! It’s the ‘difficult’ ones that do.

So ask yourself, do you accept the label of ‘difficult’? If so, what you are going to do with it? What is it that you are going to change? It’s a case of ‘reframing the narrative’. Take control. Examine what you are happy to accept or not accept. Be honest with yourself, and don’t accept a label without challenging it.

  1. Be your own best friend

Talk to yourself as if you are your own best friend; someone who really believes in you. What would a best friend say? They’d say ‘look at your sailing CV, look how great you are, look what you have achieved!’. Internally – in their heads – women will naturally talk themselves out of a situation unless they felt absolutely certain that they were qualified or experienced enough to take it on, but by doing so, they deny themselves opportunities to move forwards. You build confidence through trying something and giving it a go – from actually doing it. It’s then about coming back and recognizing what you can and can’t do, and building your intentions from there.

  1. Pick apart success, not a failure

Once you have tried something, focus on what went well. Analyze your success; after all, it’s success that you want to repeat. This can be challenging because women naturally focus on unpicking their failures, in a very different way to men. Men tend to attribute their success internally; they will celebrate their own skills and capabilities; for example, they will say it is they themselves who won the race. Women on the other hand will attribute success on the racecourse to having the fastest boat, the best team around them, or even sheer luck. In contrast, they will blame themselves for failures, whereas men are more likely to blame the boat or other external factors. By focussing on the successes that we as an individual made happen and are directly responsible for, this creates a positive mindset, and you are more likely to replicate success in the future.

Now try for yourself…

Putting these steps into practice will help you create and make the most of new opportunities, whether that be trying a new role on board, breaking into a new class, qualifying for squad or event, or any other sailing goal you have in mind.

Regardless of the hurdles you know or feel to be in place, acknowledging any lack in confidence and identifying what is causing that needs to be your fundamental starting point. Set your goals, then be realistic about how you approach a situation. There is rarely a quick fix in sailing, so be prepared for it to take time – and therefore, determination. Stick with it, apply these five steps, and you WILL go far!

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