Interview With The Maximum Performance Group
I have been following the World tour around for eleven years now and I often wonder to myself are most of the sailors that are competing at these events really that professional? Over the years I have seen sailors partying in the middle of the week at competitions, sail heats with no spare rig or caddie on the beach and some even seem to treat events like a glorified holiday with the lads. How many of the sailors on the tour really prepare for events as much as they could do and treat their careers in windsurfing like a full time nine ‘til five job? Obviously I am not making a sweeping generalisation here about every athlete on the tour but there is no doubting that many of the PWA tour sailors could improve their performance by quite a large percentage if they really put their minds to it. Anyway for years that is just the way it has been, without any real benchmark of true professionalism and preparation for competition the sailors have been going about their ways quite happily over the years.
Then…Along came MPG group. So far four sailors with possibly more joining as we go to press, a dedicated team of sailors who have joined up with a pro sports coach, Scott Sanchez. The goal…To win!…To be champions and so far they have done pretty darn well!
MPG officially announced themselves towards the end of 1999 and basically have put a spanner in the works for many of the sailors that were plodding along quite happily under the old regime of competing. Suddenly at events The MPG guys were turning up at the beach earlier than anybody else, totally prepared for whatever the day may bring. Quivers of sails from the four sailors were already fanned out on the beach before some sailors had even gotten out of bed. Coolers containing lunches and energy drinks were always on hand at the waters edge and during heats spare rigs were always on hand in case of possible mishaps. MPG take their careers in windsurfing seriously and under the guidance of Sanchez they train, eat, sleep and breathe with one goal in mind…To win!
HOW MPG STARTED
Most of this feature was compiled during the Aloha classic towards the end of the year 2000. My starting point was a chat with Scott Sanchez the coach of the team and then a few words with all four of the members. The first questions were obvious… What is the background of Sanchez and how did the whole MPG thing get started?
“As a competitor I have competed in two Olympics, I have been in World championships in alpine skiing, I have also coached Olympic Teams and world championship teams in Skiing. I have got gold medal athletes that I have worked with. I have worked with almost every national team in ski racing so I have a really wide experience of different philosophies, approaches and practical applications of sports science. If I had to give myself a label I would say my business is to make champions.
I studied sports science in University. You really learn things out in the arena though what I have learnt is not in any textbook.
The whole thing started with me and Micah I met him in Salt Lake City when he was about 13. We both used to windsurf together. Back in those days I started a team called the Gorge junior team in Hood River and Micah joined that Team. Over the course of the years I kept in touch with Micah while I was doing other things. We hooked up later and I started to do some physical training with him before the odd event. I eventually told him that there was a lot more I could offer apart from the physical training, that is just the beginning of it.
After I finished coaching the Olympic ski team in 1998 I decided that if I was going to go into windsurfing I wanted to really have a big impact with it and I had the idea to have one person out there in the forefront of it as an example of what I can do. Micah was the prime candidate for that, you could not ask for a better guy to work with. He had all the right attributes, commitment, consistency and dedication. Micah spent the first seven months working alone with me and the other athletes just came right after that.
They saw Micah getting stronger and results coming and stated to consider joining the team. Jimmy came right away, then Francisco and then Daida, the rest is history pretty much…”
“I actually met Scott probably about seventeen years ago in Utah. That is when I learnt to windsurf. He was even coaching me back then when we were sailing around. Scott used to sail a lot with his girlfriend at the time Ronda (now his wife). We kept in touch over the years and he put together a Gorge junior team in 1989. He called me up to come out and work on it. At the time I had no real goal to do the world tour or anything but I decided it was a good idea to go and train a little bit for racing. I eventually hooked up with Scott again a few years ago and we started training on a full time basis. That was the time that MPG really started”
“I joined MPG because I saw it as a chance to improve my physical conditioning. Also it was an opportunity to be able to train with other sailors and increase my sailing level. Without a doubt training and sailing with other sailors is the way to go. If you are on your own you are not going to accomplish nearly as much as in the same time as being with other people. Having Scott there who has a tremendous amount of knowledge in terms of sports science and physical training is definitely the way to go. I simply do not know enough and I don’t think most of the athletes know enough about physical training to do it by themselves”
“I saw Scott and Micah working together. It was the first time that I saw a professional with a passion for coaching that wanted to do it within windsurfing. I saw a great opportunity. I was third on the team after Micah and Jimmy. I had been looking for somebody like Scott for years”
“I was hanging out a lot with the guys on the Team and I was going out with Jimmy and I was good friends with Francisco and Micah. So one day one day Scott saw me on the beach watching them training and said ‘why don’t you join us?’ I did not even consider it before but after he asked me I thought about it and decided it could be worthwhile for me”
With a background in Olympic competition and having worked with teams of professional sports coaches, it must have been a real eye opener when Sanchez started turning up to his first few World Tour events…
“You have to be prepared for anything, it obviously depends how much money is on the line and how educated some of the guys are. Nobody has taught these guys how to be professional, there is no accountability there. How are they supposed to know what to do? They learn by watching other sports or other people and I have seen over the course of last year and a half a lot of guy’s copy what we are doing. I have seen a lot of the guys stepping it up and trying different things. We definitely have had an effect on a lot of the other sailors, they are down at the beach earlier and look a little more organised. I am not going to point a finger at any of them if I think they are being unprofessional I have got a lot of other things to worry about. If you are prepared and your gear is prepared you have one less excuse and I don’t want any excuses when my guys come back to the beach.
We go through the competition routine training. A lot of people look at us and go ‘what are you rigging that many sails for?’ But when the contest comes around we are ready. In Ireland Francisco changed his rig twice in the final against Nik Baker. Up a sail down a sail, bigger board, smaller board. That was something we had already done for three months consistently. These crises and situations happen and if you have already practised them and anticipated them then you are set to go. The magic is doing it consistently. A few people might read this interview and think ‘That is a good idea I will do that’. They will do it here and do it there but very few will be consistent enough that it will have an impact”
So what exactly do they do? Is the MPG training regime run like an SAS swat camp?
“The program of the team is designed around each individual as far as their strengths and weaknesses. When an athlete starts with me I do a full assessment of where he or she is with their physical side, competition skills and their skill patterns on the water. After that assessment it takes a few weeks to put all the results together and rebuild a program around that. The team concept helps develop a high intensity-training arena to duplicate what you receive in competition. If you have a really comfortable training environment and you are not pushed, pressured and held accountable it is just glorified baby-sitting. It is not going to do anything for the athlete at all”
“A typical day involves anywhere from starting at 7.30am and goes until 5.30, 6.30 in the evening. That encompasses anything from taking care of nutrition supplements, preparing meals, warm ups, gym workouts and all the sailing. The best thing for windsurfing is windsurfing. Skill wise I can really help the guys learn a lot because they are depending on their arms and upper body strengths to get them around in a rotation or to get a better cutback or bottom turn.
In most sports everything comes from the power zone, your hips and your stomach. Sumo wrestling, martial arts, American football whatever it all comes from the hips. I get the sailors back to the very basics of that and gets them awareness and balance control. Most windsurfers are top heavy and not balanced. They are really good at pulling but they can’t push anything and don’t understand how they can control the balance of the rig and generate speed from the rig to the board, through their hips. I help develop the power zone for the sailors, that is what I give them.
At the beginning of the year The Team all show up at the same time. We do six days a week with Sundays off. We try to keep everything in balance everything from family life to personal life and at the same time the productivity of the training. Generally there is a lot of enthusiasm for the first few months. For the first five to seven weeks they can go really hard for a long time, then after that they don’t receive the same dividends. At that time they should be training for shorter times with more intensity with more rapid recovery. The recovery, that is what produces the results in the long term.
We have anything from $2 a minute if somebody turns up late for the gym…it just depends. Most of the time when one of the team is late it is not because they are disrespectful it is usually a good reason. There is the occasional oversleep but my consequence is nothing compared to what the team mates consequence is. They have to listen to the others harping all day”
“It is tough work, basically imbetween contests we are training as much as we possibly can. Working on equipment, tactics and physical training. We are doing a lot of stuff, it is almost like when we go to a contest it is a holiday for us. All we are doing there is going and competing”
“It is not easy. It can be ten hours a day sometimes. I wake up and it is straight into exercise and then all day long sailing. There is not much time to do anything else. On top of the physical side I have to take care of sponsors, organise equipment and do all my other business”
“If you look at who is doing well, everybody at the top of whatever discipline they are in have a pretty regimented routine. Maybe it is not so structured as us but the guys at the top are definitely working their ass off! If you look at somebody like Josh Stone for instance who is very charismatic and seemingly casual, behind the scenes that guy works his ass off, I am sure of it. I don’t enjoy waking up in the morning everyday to train but a certain amount of sacrifice is involved if you want to be as good as you can be and reach your full potential”
“It is hard because it always seems that Sundays which is our day of rest is the best sailing day of the whole week. I am not allowed to sail on Sundays. I have been respecting it so far, I think there was one time I did not respect it and then by the middle of the week I collapsed with exhaustion. I was burned out.
We all fill out a book everyday of what we eat, how long we sleep what weights we have lifted, hours at the gym and time on the water. I put in it what boards I test what sails I have used and what fins I have used.
I think that you need to push yourself out of the comfort zone in order to improve. It is very easy to just sail when you feel like it of just do ten push ups rather that twenty but when push yourself all the time you are more prepared to sail well and perform no matter how good or bad you are feeling. Sometimes I go out and sail and I really do not feel like it. At the beginning of each year I have written down what I want I wanted to achieve and Scott holds me accountable to what I wrote. I put down that I wanted to compete better and to win and he doesn’t let me forget that. It is like having the dessert but not eating your vegies. Basically he is there to tell me I have to eat my veggies if I want to win.”
Just how much does all this training, diet and hard work improve the performance of a sailor and how long does it take before they start seeing the difference?
“It depends on the individual. It depends where we start from. We all want instant gratification, that is just a human nature thing. If you have the patience to go the distance then the individuals will see the benefits. It takes time to go the distance and you have to learn that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”
“I definitely have increased my strength, I am pushing a lot more weights. Healthwise I feel so much better. The weight training and diet definitely help, I have had no injuries all year and I think that it is all related to my level of fitness”
“I am much stronger than I was last year. I still weigh the same but I feel so much stronger, especially in the waves, my jumps are higher and I feel more powerful with wave riding. I am definitely much fitter than before. Without a doubt, it has been really worth it for me. To be training with Scott and the rest of the guys, I think it is the best thing that could have happened to me. It has especially helped my wave sailing, training with Cisco and Micah.
What Scott has done is to help me to wake up my talent. He made me work harder and focus on winning. I was getting to the stage I was not putting half the effort into sailing that I could have done. He has a lot of experience in competing and he has taught me all he knows. He has helped me change my tactics depending on the conditions. He lets me know what to do and I just go and try to do what he tells me.
The last two weeks before the Aloha we were working on my bottom turns and it has really helped me a lot. It definitely helped me do well in the Aloha, I never thought I was going to do so well. The level here is very high. Most of the girls sail here all year round and I am just here two weeks before the contest. I made it to second place in the Aloha so I think that is not bad eh!”
“I was training pretty hard before by myself but I did not know how to do it properly. Without the proper training regiment and proper nutrition you are not going to make the gains that you would do if you have somebody there that knows what they are talking about. I was feeling for several years that I was going to the gym and making my own routines but not doing it effectively.
Strength wise, there is no question that I have become a lot stronger. One of my biggest problems before was to put on weight, that is what I wanted to do. That is what I told Scott from the beginning, that I need to get heavier and I have managed to put on ten pounds since I started. That is all muscle.
I think my sailing level has increased, this year I did not do so well in the events in Gran Canaria and Fuerte but I think that was due to other reasons, not the lack of training and preparation that is for sure. Without a doubt everyone in the team has improved tremendously. If you look at who is involved in the program Micah, Francisco and Daida they are all winning or right up there for world titles so there is no question on how the whole thing is working”
“Last year after the event in Gran Canaria I could not even walk. My legs were just jelly, the double elimination and sailing in 50 knots I just could not walk. That was just before I joined up with Scott. I could not even walk down the stairs. Luckily they did not start the next round until a couple of days after because I would not have been able to compete the day after the first final. For the physical side it is very important to be in good shape. It also brings you confidence mentally to know you are in good shape. You have a lot more confidence in yourself, the harder you work the luckier you get”
DIET AND NUTRITION
MMMMmm! A nice cheeseburger, chocolate cake, sugar in your tea…..beer! Forget it! Not on MPG, not if the athletes really have the will to win. There are actually no strict regulations on the diets for the MPG athletes, just guidelines set by Scott as to what is good and what is bad for you. (Personally I could probably cut down on a bit of chocolate or the odd cheeseburger but when it comes to beer…That’s surely where you have to draw the line? …JC)
“The athletes can do whatever they want. But if they want to win then I give them the guidelines and it is up to them to follow them. Other professional athletes have been very successful with what I have told them to eat and drink. Cut out the sugar, when you buy a drink, all these sodas etc., look at the sugar because it really has a big consequence on your performance. Sugar also has a big effect on people’s mood swings, they take sugar and think they are more lively for a while but then they crash. Then they go down to the sub shop and have a big white bread Hoagie sandwich and the all they want to do is take a nap. As I start to bring an education to my team and an awareness of what certain foods do to your body and moods then they can maintain a level of predictability.
I expect my athlete’s work ethic to be in the same sync as their goal. They all want to win. If they want to win that is what I am there for. I am here to tell them the guidelines. Sometimes for the athletes this is pretty uncomfortable but getting them out of their comfort zone is essential to getting them on the podium”
“With the diet, at the beginning it was kind of hard because you have got to stop eating a lot of the things you were used to eating. We are not allowed to have any sugar and it is tough at the beginning but then you start to like it. I eat normal food but basically nothing with sugar and no alcohol for sure. No fast food definitely we just eat good, healthy food. It makes you feel much better”
“We have a nutrition log to keep track of what we are eating, it is more for personal use. We don’t have to do it but it is a definite benefit if you keep track of what you are eating and drinking. You find out if you are gaining weight and if you are becoming stronger, tired or whatever. We also have a weight lifting book that we fill in too to keep track of the progress we are making”
THE MENTAL SIDE
There is no doubting that Francisco Goya in particular always had a mental problem with competing. There was always an abundance of talent there but putting together a good heat…forget it! Somehow Sanchez managed to get the skeletons out of Cisco’s closet and deservedly so at the end of last season he was finally crowned World Wave Champion. How did he do it?
“Cisco did not know how to compete. He was absolutely clueless. He did not have the practical experience of success. He just ended up having a traumatic experience every time he came to an event. It ended up just one domino effect after another. Any little thing could upset his whole mental state for the day. He knew that and I knew that. He has got some incredible god given talent. My talent is to teach him the basics of competition and to remove his immaturity and his emotional side. In this sport it is not that often that the one with the best skills that is winning the competition. It is not the best sailor but the best competitor. The one who has got the best balance of competition skills and sailing skills is the one who is going to win. With Cisco that is what we spend most of the year focusing on.
I put him in situations that made him extremely uncomfortable. The very first experience he had of it was down in Waihoo on Maui ten months ago when I said:
‘OK. Close your eyes, imagine we are in Sylt and there are 30,000 people watching you. All your German fans are there and you have got pretty high expectations. I want you to go out and perform for twelve minutes…now. I want to see what you are going to do’.
He went out there and it was though he was carrying the weight of the whole world on his shoulders. He could not do anything to save his life. To me that was a really exciting thing to see because when he got back to the beach and he was hanging his head low and was very upset…I said this is the most exciting thing I have seen in a long time. He did not understand ‘I sailed like a kook’ I told him that the power of his imagination is so strong that he could turn himself totally inside out just by me having a little bit of dialogue with him. Now all I had to do was give him the skills and put all that in the right direction and he is gonna be a world-beater. That is where we started from. Trying those basic things on a day in, day out basis.
You just can’t learn how to compete in a short space of time. We went to some smaller events so he would have some experience of going up through the ladder. He also had the practical experience of having the pressure that he should win at a local event. It is almost more pressure for him to go to a local event than it was to go to a world cup because in the world cup there are five or six guys that can win at any time. At a local event if Cisco goes there then he is expected to win. I wanted to give him that experience and give him that pressure, so we did that in a step by step process”
“Of course you can always train on your own but it is hard to do it well. Scott has been a big influence on me and was missing in my overall game before he came along. My sailing level and my ability to sail well has always been there and I could do all the moves. But to actually compete and to win that was something that I was always falling down on. I can’t even remember how many times I used to lose in the first heat of a contest. I would have the highest scoring jump or wave of the event but then I would be out of the competition. I never had my third wave or my second jump or I let my emotions get in the way of what I has actually to get done out there. Of course you are not always going to have the best heat or always feel yourself in the zone but that doesn’t say you have to lose. I have learnt a lot more to use my head in competition rather than my heart, which was the way I used to be. I definitely know now that it feels a lot better to win than to lose”
“The way that Scott has helped me most is the fact he has helped boost my confidence. We are putting in the training and the time beforehand and then when we go to the events I know that he is there to help me if I am making any mistakes. I have got somebody watching me on the water, to tell me if I am not doing something right. If I need something quickly on the beach, I don’t really have to worry about all those things. Scott is watching over my back on the beach, which allows me to be a lot more relaxed. He prepares a lot of the food for us at contests. That gives us one less thing to do and more time to rest”
MPG is not just a banner name for the team, they are also promoting themselves outside the industry and hoping to land that all important big sponsor. I am unable to disclose the cost that each sailor pays Scott for his services but I can assure you that it isn’t cheap. I asked Scott what difference an outside sponsor would make to help MPG.
“Absolutely, right now each sailor absorbs the cost of the program. There are a lot of things that are necessary to provide a program like this. Ideally we are looking for one umbrella sponsor but it is not necessary. We would like something connected some way to the health industry or connected in a positive way to the image of windsurfing. Something outdoors, healthy invigorating, extreme those kind of things.
I get pretty darn humble. When I used to work with the ski teams, I had six staff to do what I do now. I do everything from making shake bottles to pseudo massage, stretching, video, coaching. I have got a lot on my plate but I am glad I have got a lot on my plate.
If we had the big outside sponsor that would alieve some of the financial burden from the athletes and also give us the freedom to contribute even greater things. I could bring more qualified people to help on a consistent basis. Right now I bring people in to help out just for a few weeks at a time. I have some of the best resources in America available to me. Physical therapists and all kinds of sports medicine people. I would like to be able to use those resources on a regular basis, which I was really used to coming from ski racing. Right now we are not at that level yet but we will be, step by step”
Apart from paying their monthly fee to be a part of the program, Scott also has the sailors contracted into an incentive program based on end of year results and percentages of competetion prize money.
“Every body is on a bonus. I would not do it any other way. There are a lot of nights I don’t sleep because I am thinking of an idea or a way to get these guys motivated to improve that last little detail or to handle the pressure. I am not a nine to five punch it in punch it out kind of guy. If you want a guy on the podium it does not come from that kind of an attitude. Everybody has an incentive for doing well. A lot of the sailors get bonuses for winning that as far as I am concerned goes right down the line. Every single detail makes a makes a big difference. If they need a board at nine in the morning or whatever I will go and do it. If they need something done they know that they can call me. At the same time they are paying for their training but they are paying to be held accountable for things. We hold each other accountable, there is solid mutual respect there and it is there because of the incentives on both sides”
“It is a fixed fee. We do have different incentive programs. Some of us pay more if we win a title and others a little bit less. There is basically a set fee, but it is adjusted slightly for everybody. Basically I have agreements with my sponsors for victory incentives and I have the same deal with Scott. If I do well then he also does well”
“Of course there are bonuses for Scott. I have a contract with Scott to give a bonus if I am world champion, also a percentage of prize money from events. I have a similar thing with a lot of my sponsor and for every person I hire to work with me there are incentives. That is all part of the game, that is just the way the whole thing works. People definitely work on incentives, we are all aiming towards the same thing and that helps keeps us united in the goal”
MORE ATHLETES ON THE TEAM
At time of writing, as far as I could tell, Levi Siver was about to join the team and was going through an intensive two week initiation programme. I asked Scott exactly what kind of athletes he is looking for?
“We have one new athlete that has made it through the four levels of enquiry. He will be staring on November the 28th with us. I have had a lot of athletes in my living room professing that they want to win they want to do well., but when they get to level two of the enquiry they want to do it on their terms. Those terms are usually the areas that I feel need the most attention that I can give the most feedback on. If they are not willing to change those I just say ‘We are not ready for each other, you sound like you have got it all figured out in your head so just go and do it’ In my business I get hired and fired based on results. If I take on ten guys you can kind of get lost in the results. I would be cutting myself short and would need more qualified guys to work on the program. I if I tried to have too many on the program on my own, I would be shooting myself in the foot and sink MPG in a year.
I am not going to take anybody on who is going to be a liability. We are pretty selective about it and I am looking for people that are going to be an asset to the program. We are looking for people that I consider have a lot of potential to change. If they don’t have potential to change, I am not really interested. People come looking for a program like mine because they are not on the podium and if they are not willing to change then I cant help them at all.”
“We are looking to expand to about six. It hopefully will cut costs down and also give us a little bit more variation of people to train with. We are looking for somebody that is a good sailor and that has got good potential but we want somebody that is going to be a positive influence on the group, somebody motivated and willing to put in the time and effort to make it work”
“I think people are looking at for example how consistently Francisco is sailing, how Micah is sailing and how strong and big he has become, you know and the same with Daida. The whole level of sailing is going right up. People are interested to know exactly what we are doing. There have been quite a few approaches to join the programme. I think the sport is getting to a level of professionalism that you need to do something like this”
“A programme like Scotts can bring up anybody’s level. I have been training together with Josh Angulo this year and Scott has helped him a little bit and you can see that Josh has improved a lot as well. Fifty per cent of my training this year I have been sailing with Josh.
Scott creates the programme for us, which gives me one less thing to think about. I then have more time to work in other areas such as designing new equipment and thinking of new manoeuvres etc. The more you delegate then the more you can concentrate on your own game and what you have to do”
There are many that would argue the athletes who are in Maximum Performance Group are the best sailors in the world anyway and most likely would have won titles even without the help of Sanchez. The talent of Goya in waves, Buzianis as a racer and Daida Moreno as one of the best all round women is indisputable. They have all finished the year with world titles and podium positions. Jimmy Diaz however despite being a formidable racer, has never really challenged at the top and it could be argued that MPG didn’t really enhance his overall performance in terms of results last year. Since time of writing MPG have taken on top wave sailors Jason Polakow and Levi Siver. Polakow immediately came back from a winning drought and took victories in the last two events of the season in Sylt and Ireland. It will be interesting if Sanchez can turn Siver into a winning machine as well.
Other sailors called MPG a lot of different name