In the realm of competitive sports, where passion merges with prowess, and dedication meets the vast expanse of the open waters, lies the remarkable journey of Yannick Lefèbvre. GRAM coach, but a sailing beast at heart.
The son of a sailmaker, it was written in the stars that Yannick would play a significant role in the world of sailing. He is doing well, with a 17th-place finish at the 2016 Rio Games as the climax of a period full of sacrifice and training laurels. Shining at the 2020 Tokyo Games would be the next logical step in Yannick’s sailing story. Unfortunately, Yannick and his then skipper Tom Pelsmaekers just missed out on a ticket to these Games.
Disappointment soon gives way to dreams for the future. From then on, Yannick dreams about Paris.
We speak with Yannick a few days after the World Sailing Championships in The Hague, where Olympic tickets were up for grabs.
What feeling do you keep from this past World Championships?
“Even though we missed out on one of the Olympic tickets, I actually have a very positive feeling about it. Because it would be too easy to evaluate the process leading up to it as negative in this negative outcome. We, and here I am talking about people in general, by nature focus more on the negative while the challenge is to pick out the positive things. After all, these are the things we can build on.
It goes without saying that we must dare to name things as they are, without disguising them.”
So what are the positives you take home from this World Cup?
“It is noticeable that we are increasingly finishing in the top 10 of a regatta, with our first place in race 14 being the highlight. These are things we look up to and can be proud of as a team.”
That positive feeling you are left with from this World Cup, does that feeling match the expectations you had beforehand?
“Jan (Heuninck) and I have been training strongly on certain aspects recently. It is therefore very nice to see that we are showing so much progression in those aspects. Something that should certainly not be underestimated at a World Championship, as the top of the sailing world is here.
So that positive feeling has mainly to do with our progression and not with our place in the rankings, we’re not losing sleep over that.”
So were there even any expectations beforehand? Or was it purely about testing your training work against the world’s best?
“As Jan and I have not been sailing together for long, it goes without saying that we are not yet fully attuned as a team. Our focus is still mainly on completing our skills & abilities puzzle. That is a process that does not happen overnight. In that aspect, we have learned to let go of having some expectations in advance. All we expect from ourselves and each other is to create an environment where we remain committed to progression and do so through a powerful and analytical feedback loop.”
In that way, you seem like a small business rather than a sailing team.
“Certain aspects of our cooperation are indeed based on business principles. In business, it is so important to learn to know your limits and, above all, to learn to accept them. For instance, we should focus more on how to perform at our best at specific moments instead of comparing our expectations. Obstacles and challenges will appear in your path every day, it is then up to you to respond to them appropriately. It sounds cliché, but you cannot do more than your best.
To continue that line with business; it is important to keep evaluating yourself and stay on track. So identifying the non-urgent, yet important issues and working on them remains one of my key principles. It is easy to spend a whole day in the swing of things and feel in the evening that we have had a productive day based on our clocked hours and our to-do’s ticked off. But were these really the right to-do’s? Were these really the things that needed to be addressed to achieve our goals?”
So how would you describe a concept like ‘performing’?
“For me, performing at the top level revolves around two aspects. On the one hand, flexibility, being able to adapt to unexpected circumstances and daring to make decisions accordingly. When the wind turns, it is up to you to adjust your sail accordingly. On the other hand, it is also crucial to be able to zoom out, you always have to have the ‘big picture’ in mind and always check your actions against this.”
You have not been sailing together with Jan for long, how is this teamwork going so far?
“It is a great experience to work together towards a certain goal. Jan is an enormously driven sailor who dares to mention things and thanks to his open communication we can tackle just those things with a view to improvement. At all times, however, it is of paramount importance that there is trust; the trust that your teammate is doing his stinking best and always takes, in his eyes, the best possible decisions. Indeed, trust is and always will be the foundation of teams performing at top level.”
Do you also notice any progression in terms of your teamwork and communication?
“Definitely. As in any company, we try to use each other’s strengths as much as possible, something that is only possible thanks to consultation. We still encounter obstacles here and there, but tackling and solving them together ensures growth and progress. Important here is to look at problems as problems and not as someone else’s shortcomings and therefore not to link them to anyone. If you do that, you only shoot yourself in the foot, in other words, you weaken your team.”
What’s in store for you guys after this World Championships?
“Our next big date is the European Championships in Vilamoura (Portugal) in early November (8 to 23/11). There, one more Olympic ticket will be handed out to the first yet unqualified European country. Suppose we fail to get that Olympic ticket in Portugal, we still have a few chances of qualification. Firstly, the World Championships in Lanzarote which takes place in March, and secondly the World Cup in Hyères in April. There, three more tickets will be handed out to non-qualifying countries.
To be on top of our game at those races, we will have to improve our speed on the water. So a lot of time and energy will be invested in that.”