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©Speakers Academy-Walter Kallenbach
Professional sailor | Volvo Ocean Race

Gerd-Jan Poortman

Gerd-Jan Poortman is an inspiring and enthusiastic speaker about his experience in the Volvo Ocean Race.

Keynote Speaker,Workshop / Masterclass
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Rated with
Keynote Speaker,Workshop / Masterclass,

Specialist Subjects

1. Teamwork

In the Volvo Ocean Race all the initial odds are the same, we all sail in the same boats and have the same information. We are sailing against the 50 best sailors in the world, so how do we ensure that for 9 months 8 sailors beat the rest of the world? Working together is not enough here. You have to create a high performance team that is constantly looking to improve. The key question here for me is how do you make the best use of the available talent? I make this consideration in the most difficult circumstances imaginable, taking into account as many as 6 different nationalities on board.

The tools I use include core values within a high performance team, performance stages of a high performance team and different methods to achieve optimal communication.

2. Leadership

A boat is a small space of about 100m2. On this small surface we compete for 150 days in often life-threatening conditions against the best sailors in the world. The leader plays a crucial role in this. On one hand, he or she must make quick and appropriate strategic decisions under high pressure.

On the other hand, you want to lead the team so that responsibility and initiative are taken. This requires an enormous amount from a leader. These are two contradictions that a good leader must master, but in sports this is sometimes punished or rewarded mercilessly. I have worked with top leaders and led many successful teams and skippered them across the ocean.

3. Innovation and development

The Volvo Ocean Race is the Formula 1 of sailing. We always sail with the best equipment and are always looking for the latest innovations to get the best out of the boat and the team. This can be in terms of material, design but also in terms of nutrition, health and fitness. Everything must be addressed to get close to winning. My background as a sailmaker and my technical training help me in this constant search.

4. Motivation & Inspiration

The Volvo Ocean Race is featured in many sailors’ dreams. Sailing with a group of men around the world is a challenge in itself, to do so competitively makes motivation the most important factor.

However, motivation is not the same in everyone, but this does not have to be a bad thing. With different forms of motivation, you can still achieve the same goal. Because of my dyslexia, I find sailing the nicest activity because here I do not have to read and write. My entire educational history up to and including university in England was a struggle that I successfully completed and now continue in sailing. I am not a natural, but I am a fighter who perseveres and that keeps getting me to the top. Threats can become your strength! Again, my last project with Team Brunel was special because I was also the initiator. During the presentation I will elaborate on this success story.

5. Security as a performance factor

In the Volvo Ocean Race, the balance is taken between accelerating to go faster and accelerating back to opt for safety. Always accelerating means something will go wrong somewhere, something will break down or an accident will happen. Awareness of safety and the consequences of unsafe sailing affect a team’s performance. Investigating what the dangers are and knowing what to do in difficult situations is very important. Taking responsibility for safety within an organization is also very important, for this, experience and training by the leader are indispensable. These are all aspects that we have experienced on board in good and not so good situations.

6. Medical aspect

Sailing on the ocean means depending on yourself. We can’t go to the doctor or the hospital. We take huge physical risks and sometimes something goes wrong. I am also one of the medics on board and I am trained to be able to keep a teammate stable in case of an emergency. We can suture, set bones and we are trained in disease control, pain management and many more medical aspects. I myself broke my back during the ocean race, had to stitch myself up and had people in sickbay and luckily got them out after intense help.

7. Data to perform - using big data in sports

The Volvo Ocean Race is the Greatest sailing race in the world and is very similar to Formula 1. On our boats we generate an enormous amount of data. We have 21 sensors generating data every second. We have weather reports on which strategic decisions have to be made. Of course we have software systems that help us process this data, but that’s not going to win the race. After all, the competition has these systems at their disposal too! No, the win is in the human choices that need to be made about the accuracy of the data. About how to use the data to make strategic choices so that the difference with the competition can be made.


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