America's Cup: Mantra of 'just another day' key to coping with pressure

By Paul Lewis

There are some signs of wear and tear in Emirates Team New Zealand but their mental strength has to be admired as they sit one race win from the America's Cup.

All through this regatta, Team NZ have maintained a "just another day at the office" strategy. They still are, but it's getting harder to maintain.

Skipper Dean Barker is still playing his straight bat; he doesn't hit anything or anyone for six: softly softly, catchee monkey. He'll do it in singles if he has to. But the smile comes less readily to his face now.

Don't misinterpret that as Barker cracking. He is simply showing signs of mounting impatience at the calls on his time after weeks of media interviews as Cup fever grows.

As soon as he gets off the boat, the chase boat delivers him (and usually tactician Ray Davies) to the media centre where, with Oracle Team USA's skipper Jimmy Spithill and tactician Sir Ben Ainslie, they face a post-match press conference.

Then it's to the back of the hall where New Zealand TV (and others, including the Herald) have another go. Then there are other TV calls, those who have arrived since the finals began - Campbell Live, Seven Sharp, breakfast programming ...

It doesn't sound like much but try it for two months straight at the sharp end of an America's Cup regatta. Barker has the patience of a saint; most of us would be driven insane.

Which is where the "just another day" head game has been so valuable. Davies, the perky 41-year-old tactician who has performed almost flawlessly in this regatta, was a prime example after Race 11 yesterday.

Journalists pressed him to see if he would slip into the "we've nearly won it" mode. Davies wasn't having any of that. "We are in an extremely strong situation," was as far as he would go.

"We have to approach it like every other day; we go through the same routine we always do."

Theirs has been an impressive display of group mental strength. "Just another day" sounds preposterous. Of course, today will not be just another day. It will be, possibly, the day Team NZ win the America's Cup.

But they prepare for that by blocking all that out with the familiarity of routine, the security blanket of repetition and normality.

Barker perhaps put it best in an earlier interview: "We like the race day to be like every other day we have prepared for. The boat gets the same treatment in terms of system checks; we try to do everything the same so we make sure we are ready to go well. When we are on the water, we go through the same processes and the same manoeuvres as fast as we can.

"It's hard to do because this place is full on. There are sponsors, guests, media, crowds - all people you have to make time for but you can't let it get to you or put you off. It's just another day.

"You know you need to sail at your absolute best but you don't want to load yourself up with pressure. You need to find the ability to make sure you are in the sort of place where you can cope when the pressure goes on, or you need to do something extra or you need to push harder."

But the last word goes to Davies, who with Barker has handled that pressure remarkably well.

Asked how they'd approach today's racing, Davies said: "You have to take it to them. You can't just sit back and play safe. You have to push and go for it - and you get rewarded if you sail well in these boats. That's our mentality."

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf04 at 24 Nov 2014 21:23:14 Processing Time: 672ms