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Dan'sMagic 11– Understanding 4-way slots

by gary wainwright
by gary wainwright

In competitive skydiving, because smaller moves are faster moves we engineer the dive with conservation of motion in mind. In doing so a line develops that runs from the rear of each formation to the front. The shortest moves will usually leave everyone in the same position on that line from one point to the next.

This means that if you begin in the middle (Centers) you stay in the middle. If you begin on the back (the Tail) you stay on the back. If you begin on the front (the Point) you stay on the front.

Although each position will require the same flying skills each slot has its own specific traits, certain skills that are more frequently needed in one slot than another. Knowing what these particular skills are will help to decide who is best suited for each position and will help each member of your team to work towards becoming an expert in their position.

The 4-way slots are defined by their exit position — by gary wainwright
The 4-way slots are defined by their exit position — by gary wainwright

The slots in 4-way from back to front are:

  • TAIL
  • REAR CENTER
  • FRONT CENTER
  • POINT

When flying pieces on the blocks the Tail and Rear Center are generally piece partners, (the rear piece) and the Point and Front Center are piece partners (the front piece).

You may have heard Rear Center called Inside Center and Front Center referred to as Outside Center. This refers to their position in the door on exit. Rear and Front refers to their position in the formation. Since there are many teams doing a variety of exits, these titles are more consistent and accurate.

Eye contact between the center flyers makes for a good set-up — by gary wainwright
Eye contact between the center flyers makes for a good set-up — by gary wainwright

CENTER FLYERS

The center flyers’ primary job is to lead the jump. From their position they are responsible for setting the fall rate, angles, pace and emotions of the entire skydive.

The centers can most successfully run the jump by flying as a 2-way team within the team. During each transition they need to present a clearly defined “set up” picture to the outside flyers that defines exactly where the formation will build. In essence (especially for young teams, the centers should completely finish their move as a 2-way, hold their eye contact and wait there while the outside flyers follow them.

The center work must be precise with attention paid to the center point and heading of each formation. If the angles are off by only a few degrees the result will be seen in a significantly increased distance for the outside flyers to travel.

It is of utmost importance that the center flyers make their moves with confidence.

It is also of utmost importance that the center flyers make their moves with confidence. The sharper they make the move and stop in position, the more clear the picture presented for the Point and Tail to match. Even if the angle is slightly off, when the centers make their move and stop with confidence the picture is obvious, and the outside flyers can easily respond with whatever adjustments are required.

If the centers move to the correct position, but cautiously, the picture presented to the outside flyers takes too long and is unpredictable. It is constantly moving and very difficult to follow. This will cause the Point and Tail to hesitate as they second guess themselves and the centers. In other words, better to be wrong with confidence than cautiously correct. But best to be both.

Better to be wrong with confidence than cautiously correct. But best to be both.

If the centers provide a sharp, predictable 2-way for the outside to follow, the team will be able to move as a 4-way at the same speed that the centers can do a 2-way.

The entire feel of the jump radiates from the center. They lead, and the outside flyers follow. They are responsible for pushing the speed when it is appropriate or for squeezing a formation to regain control when necessary.

Build in eye contact in the dirtdive — by gary wainwright
Build in eye contact in the dirtdive — by gary wainwright

OUTSIDE FLYERS

The outside flyers’ job is to follow the center. They are not in a position to lead. They must match the fall rate, angles, pace and level of aggression set by the center.

During the video review after the jump they can tell the centers to pick it up, slow it down or pay more attention to the correct angles. But during the jump they have to play the hand the centers deal them.

Both outside flyers should start off being patient and letting the centers lead. The Point wants to see a good set up from the centers before committing to the out facing position. The Tail should do the same before taking grips.

The center flyers’ primary focus is on each other and their 2-way. They finish it before looking to the outside flyers. The outside flyers’ primary focus is into the center. They see the setup the centers are presenting. They match it and then finish the build in their corner of the formation.

On round formations such as the Murphy, the outside flyers reference with each other — by gary wainwright
On round formations such as the Murphy, the outside flyers reference with each other — by gary wainwright

It is important that the outside flyers have a specific reference picture off the center that defines their correct position in each formation. Defining the center and that picture is fairly obvious in round formations, but in the long formations when the center becomes crowded it can be more difficult.

Round Formations

On round formations (such as B, D, J, O, 11, 14, etc.) the outside flyers look directly at each other on a line through the center. Their position is defined by the distance and heading relative to each other.

On long formations such as the Adder (L), the outside flyers reference with the opposite center person — by gary wainwright
On long formations such as the Adder (L), the outside flyers reference with the opposite center person — by gary wainwright

Long Formations

On long formations (such as G, 1, 13, 16, etc.) the outside flyers continue to look directly down the center line, but their correct position is defined by where they are relative to the opposite center person. (the Tail references off the Front Center, the point references off the Rear Center)

During a transition from a round to long formation the center flyers move onto that center line and somewhat block the outside flyers' view of each other. The tendency is that when the centers start to block their view, the outside flyers give up on looking down the center line and put their attention on their grips that are still out of reach. They may get their grips but will often be out of position or off level and in doing so sacrifice a clean build of the formation.

To guarantee they are in the correct position, when transitioning from round to long formations the outside flyers must maintain their eye contact down the center line. As the centers take that center line, the outside flyers shift their focus from each other to the opposite center person (The Tail matches the Front Center and the Point matches the Rear Center).

Everyone should work with their opposites
Everyone should work with their opposites

By looking past their piece partner at the opposite center, they see what their piece partner sees and are able to anticipate what their piece partners are planning to do and the moves they are going to make. If they stop looking down the center and focus only on the grips they will go to where the grips are instead of going to where the grips will be in the finished formation.

During a transition from a long to round formation the center flyers vacate the center line and open a clear line of vision for the outside flyers. At that moment they shift their focus back to each other.

Maintaining their line of sight down the center line but shifting their attention and focus to different references on that line is a particular skill the outside flyers must learn if they are going to be able to correctly “read the play” and match the center flyers set ups.

Rear Center, shown in blue
Rear Center, shown in blue

REAR CENTER

The Rear Center position is usually facing into the center and most often has smaller moves than the Front Center. This enables them to be the first in position and gives them the primary responsibility for setting the angles and center point.

They are often already stopped in position while the others are still finishing their moves. This provides them the opportunity to watch the others during the transition and to anticipate how the formation is going to complete.

On long formations that are the most difficult for the others to see, the Rear Center is aware of everyone. They feel the Tail behind them, they have grips on the Front Center while also being able to see the Point.

For all these reasons the Rear Center has access to more visual and physical information of what’s happening on the skydive than can be gathered from any of the other slots.

This enables them to be more completely aware of everyone on the jump, while also being most easily seen by them. They are often the first ones to recognize if the formation is building as planned and if it will be ready to be keyed. Consequently, they have the key on most of the points.

Rear Center is a good slot for your most experienced person

The awareness advantage puts them in a unique position to have information on the readiness of the team sooner than anyone else and with that they can anticipate how the jump should progress. The Rear Center’s job is to maintain this heightened awareness and intuitively use it to the team’s advantage, be that picking up the pace or knowing when to slow it down. This requires a great deal of mental calmness.

The Rear Center also needs to be very solid in their position. If there are hard or off-level docks anywhere in the formation the Rear Center is going to feel it. They need to absorb this while staying locked in position and not allowing themselves to be moved. The team responds to them. If the rear center moves, everyone moves. To maintain this rock solid form it sometimes helps for the Rear Center to be falling slightly faster than the middle of their fall rate range. If fighting at all to maintain the fall rate they will be significantly more fragile.

Because the Rear Center is in the position with the most control of the jump it is often advantageous for this to be where you put your most experienced person. It can also be a benefit to have a smaller person in this slot because a shorter person will reduce the actual size of the formations and the distance that the others, especially the Tail, will have to travel from formation to formation.

Front Center (or Outside Center), shown in blue
Front Center (or Outside Center), shown in blue

FRONT CENTER

The Front Center position is forward of the centerpoint. Front Centers spend much of their time facing away from the center, often while picking up grips on the Point. It is very important for them to work off the Rear Center and prioritize their center 2-Way.

When the Front Center does a good center 2-way the Point’s job is easy. Front Centers can never allow themselves to sacrifice solid, precise center work by trying to pick up grips on the Point too early.

When they do pick up grips on the Point the grips must be very solid. The Point’s visual awareness is greatly limited. The grips they feel from the Front Center will often be their primary source of information communicating to them that they are in the correct position. Through the grips the point will also be able to read the readiness of the team and if they should expect a quick key.

The position of the front center in the formations is split nearly evenly between facing in, or away from center. This often results in the front center having to perform several consecutive 180 degree moves. They should pay extra attention in working on the skill of starting and stopping these strong, fast, precise movements.

Front Center will often be the slot for your most skilled flyer

They are also required to make many blind turns when they have minimal if any visual contact with the Rear Center. Front Centers should spend extra time drilling these types of moves to become comfortable and familiar with them. They will develop a complete understanding of these moves and will be able to make them with confidence despite the lack of a clear visual reference.

The Front Center flyer must excel at a wide range of skills including the ability to make sharp, solid and sometimes blind moves, prioritize the center while facing away from it and taking good grips on the point flyer. This will often be the slot that it is best to put your most skilled flyer in.

Point, shown in blue
Point, shown in blue

THE POINT

The Point is on the front of the formations and is often facing out. It is not uncommon to spend the entire dive facing away from center and picking up few if any grips.

While facing away from the center Point flyers can see very little. But they can see enough. There is a clear, consistent picture during the transition to each formation, which indicates to them that a formation is building correctly. The Point must be patient and take the time to see the center’s set up as well as their own distance and heading from the tail. These specific pictures will guarantee they will be in the correct position when they commit to their out facing turn.

They also need to “listen” to the grips that are taken on them. The information they get from the grips they feel will confirm or deny that they are in that correct position and if they should expect the team to have a slight pause or a fast key.

When your team is new and the centers are still learning their job it is advisable for the Point to be patient and wait for the correct picture before committing to the outfacing turn. As the center work becomes more consistent and the pictures predictable, Point flyers are be able to move in synch with the centers while maintaining just as much confidence in their positioning.

As the Point flyer you will often have several formations in a row where you are facing out and must switch your eye contact from formation to formation. The timing of this “head switch” is crucial. If you head switch too soon you may lose sight of your reference. If you wait too long you won’t have the new picture you need in order to be as prepared as possible for the following move.

As your team is still building consistency and you are learning the point slot, it is better to do your headswitch after the formation is complete but before it is keyed. (For a team at this level the keys are usually not coming that fast and there will be enough time for this). With more practice you will be able to tell when the formation is guaranteed to be built and you will be able to make your head switch before the formation is complete with just as much confidence.

Point is a good spot for a confident individual who excels at outfacing

The keys are sometimes difficult for Point flyers to see, but because the centers nearly always have a grip on the Point it is easy for them to feel the keys and stay on the pace without actually seeing them.

Because the Point has fewer grips their grip taking and flashing skills are often not as developed as the Tail’s. It is very important for them to put in extra time drilling these essential skills to make up for the lack of repetitions they get to actually practice them on the jumps.

Being comfortable flying in an outfacing position is a unique skill. Everyone will learn it but if there is one individual more competent at outfacing than the others, then Point is probably the right spot for them. The Point is often on the “light” side in terms of fall rate. When maintaining an out facing position they are often arching a little harder while trying to see up over their shoulder. If the point is slightly on the lighter side they will be comfortable in this somewhat exaggerated arch position.

Tail, shown in blue
Tail, shown in blue

THE TAIL

Tail is most commonly on the back of all the formations and facing in. Where Point may not have a grip for the entire jump, Tail may have the same grips on every formation.

Having so many grips, and often the same grips, puts the Tail in a very busy position. Seeing the keys requires extra attention from the Tail. The Point can easily feel the instant the grips on them are released. But on many of the formations no one has a grip on the tail. They have only their visual reference to work with, and in 4-way terms that visual reference is often quite a ways away. On long formations the tail usually has grips on the Rear Center who is also giving the key. In order to have a simultaneous break, the Tail must look over and around the Rear Center’s body to see their hands as they flash off grips on the key.

Complete separation is another issue for the Tail flyers. Since they often have the same grips it is not uncommon for the Tail to get off and then back on grips before the entire team has shown a complete break. On the key the Tail needs to do a big flash with both hands, and be aware that everyone has dropped their grips and shown a complete break before picking up the grips of the next formation.

Another issue the tail flyer has to deal with is that in general, no-one is looking at them. If the angles are off it is more common for them to favor the point because that is the direction the centers are facing. This puts the Tail in a position of having to improvise without hesitation to cover for the centers' inaccuracies.

The Tail must also be able to pick up grips on the Rear Center without restricting the Rear Center’s move. To do this they must look past the Rear Center to the Front Center. This way the tail is seeing what the Rear Center is seeing and can anticipate his moves and intentions. It is then possible for the Tail to pick up grips while at the same time helping the Rear Center to complete his move and do his job.

Tail needs to be an aggressive flyer with a “make it happen” attitude.

With so much to be aware of and so many grips to take the Tail must learn to pick up solid grips quickly and efficiently. This way they can communicate their readiness to the Rear Center through their hands.

For the more advanced teams it is ideal that whenever possible the Tail picks up grips on the Rear Center before the center is built. This allows the Rear Center to remove him from the key check list and only look for the last grip(s) in front before keying.

above all else cover

With so many grips to pick up it is important that the tail is very solid in their position to guarantee that they are never floating while taking grips. While the point can be slightly to the light side, if anything the tail can be slightly heavy. The tail also needs to be an aggressive flyer with a “make it happen” attitude. If there is someone on the team that is stronger in these qualities than the other individuals, the tail slot may be where they belong.

More Magic From Dan

Previous Article (10): Tricks of the Trade

Next Article (12): Controlling Team Pace – Coming next week!

All Dan'sMagic articles

This series of articles is extracted from Dan's book, Above All Else – available from Square One HERE or Amazon HERE

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