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It’s that time of year. The annual reshuffle of teams and team members. People leave teams to join other teams, and teams ask people to leave, putting out the same PR spin as celebrity split-ups (undertones in italics)
“It was a mutual decision” (Hurling his Cookie on the packing mat at Nationals was the last straw)
“We couldn’t find dates with overlap” (We didn't look very hard)
“It’s been great but it’s time to move on” (It was time 6 months ago but we had to make it through the World Meet)
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking; we remove the weakest link – hey presto! – now we will reach our dream average! But, much of the time, it’s better to stick with the ‘devil you know’ Beware of the pitfalls of blithely replacing a team member. It seems like the quick fix (or it may seem like a very long fix till which you’ve been counting down the days!). But time and time again it’s been demonstrated that the best way to progress in scoring is to keep the same team line-up. It’s okay to have a skydiver on the team who isn't as good, or who has a different approach – or even a princess! It is important to respect each other, and if you really don't like someone, you're probably not going to go far. But you don't have to be bosom buddies, as long as you can agree on a common goal and buy into the team plan.
It may be easier and more efficient to manage the disadvantages of the ‘weakest link’ than cope with a set of new challenges you have yet to evaluate. For example, if you have a team member with a slightly lower performance level, it can be very useful to work on personal skills in the tunnel during the off-season, rather than just drilling blocks and randoms. Very rapid progression can be achieved and the benefit will be seen when you start 4-way or 8-way again.
If you have someone whose attitude sucks and it's blocking the team, it may be productive to work on removing this obstacle via plain speaking. This can be done in a 'rock meeting' format, where everyone speaks uninterrupted while holding the 'rock', which is then passed to the next person. If the problem is so bad you're thinking of axing a team member then at least talk to the person first, and explain the extent of the problem. This can be done by team members, or it may be useful to ask your coach to get involved. At least it gives them a chance to address the problem and work on their behavior.
If the problem is just that the team member is 'different' then remember, this may be an advantage, teams where everyone is too similar can tie themselves in knots. It may be better to work at accepting each other as you are, valuing your differences, and avoiding winding each other up – however tempting this may be!
If you have a team member who is not performing as well as the others, bear in mind that a lot can be changed in the off season, without doing a single jump. Homework, visualization, other skydiving and tunnel, skills training – and simply the time to digest the learning of the season. Many teams to start on a higher average at the beginning of the year than when they left off, if they plan the down time accordingly.
There is also the example of a team wanting to keep the same line-up apart from one person who wants to leave. If you are the person who wants to leave, then it’s worth bearing in mind that the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side.
With whom do you replace the 'weakest link'? 90 per cent of times your replacement will have as many disadvantages as your previous teammate, and you don't have that time flying together. The tempting ‘angel’ who is going to take you to paradise may well turn out to be Lucifer in another jumpsuit!
Unless you have someone clearly in mind, to find a new team member you need to study history, arrange tunnel and/or jumping tryouts. This is all time and energy that could be focused on improving what you have.
It usually takes another 50-100 jumps (or more) with a new team member to regain the standard you were at before the change. In 8-way especially if you replace people every year it is really hard to progress to a higher average, you spend a long time covering old ground.
Ultimately, if you continue a policy of replacing the weakest link, sooner or later it will be YOU!
What do you do then? – Axe yourself?!
Eclipse have only 1,000-1,700 jumps each, but have 700 as a team. They have been together for SEVEN years with the same line-up, and are now in their fifth year in AAA. Eclipse achieved a fourth place at UK Nationals this year, with a 17.4 average, normally territory reserved for skydivers with much more jumps. They beat or equaled skydivers and teams with far more jumps, but who had not kept the same line-up.
Eclipse progression, on 100 jumps a year
12.7 average, 2012 UK Nationals
14.5 average, 2013 UK Nationals
15.6 average, 2014 UK Nationals
16.1 average, 2015 UK Nationals
17.4 average, 2016 UK Nationals
Team member Martin Cressey spoke to Skydive Mag, “We set the team training budget for each year on the lowest figure a team member can afford. Some want to spend more but this way, no-one feels in out of their depth. Three years ago for example, I wanted to spend more money than the others. I looked at joining a new team and spending £7,500 instead of £4,000, and figured I’d end up at about the same average! So I spent the money on 8-way instead!“
Martin (and Johnny) carried on their 4-way with Eclipse, and did two years of 8-way with Thunderbirds, then joined Microclim8 in 2016, became National 8-way Champions, and set a new British Record average with Microclim8 at the World Championships in Chicago!
If, despite these words of warning, you’re really sure you need a new team member, look out for Roy Janssen’s article next week.