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Third article in Dan BC's series on training for peak performance, extracted from his much-loved book, Above All Else…
There are many definitions for the mental approach or mental state we are in when we perform at the top of our game. It has been referred to as “flow”, “the zone” or the “ideal performance state”. It is a place where our minds are calm, undistracted and focused in the moment. When we let our instincts take over. It happens almost effortlessly for us when we allow it to.
The phrase “on the line” always fit perfectly for skydiving. When we are on the line we are flying as aggressively as possible while still maintaining total control of the jump. “Under the line” refers to when we are being too passive or cautious, and not flying as aggressively as we can. “Over the line” is when we are being too reckless, and flying more aggressively than the team can control.
Slalom skiers can only go down a hill as fast as they can control. If they try to go faster they will be less efficient in their handling of the course and lose time or fall on their faces and be out of the race. On the other hand, if they are led by the fear of falling, their priority becomes not to fall rather than to go as fast as they can control. This approach will prevent them from pushing themselves to the fastest speed of which they are truly capable.
The same is true for skydiving teams. Many skydivers are capable of individually moving at a fast speed. But to score the most points possible in Formation Skydiving we go as fast as we can while making the smallest, most efficient moves possible, and keeping the entire team perfectly synchronized. When a group of recreational jumpers forms a team, their skills are less developed. They may have the ability to move quickly but not the experience and training to control it.
In order to keep control of the jumps, they may only be able to fly at 30% of their full speed. With time and training they become more consistent. This consistency provides more control and with it the confidence to fly faster. The team may have started out flying at 30% of their max speed but can now confidently fly at 50% while still maintaining control. But at 30% or 50% the team is still “on the line”, flying as aggressively as they are currently capable of controlling.
Though the percentage of max speed the team is capable of evolves, the mental process of flying on the line stays the same. The skill of flying on the line is the same skill at 30%, 50% or 100% power. When we are on the line we are at our best. We trust our instincts and we naturally perform up to our full potential. We will be at our best when we trust our instincts. But our best will truly be equal to our full potential if we instinctively are on the line. Few people are. It is a rare individual that is perfectly balanced. In our daily lives and activities most of us tend to be either on the more aggressive or more passive side. This is not simply a learned and acquired behavior. Infants come out of the womb with a tendency towards one or the other. It is truly a part of who we are. We are born this way.
When we are on the line we are at our best. We trust our instincts and we naturally perform up to our full potential.
Our best performance happens when we are right on the line. If our instincts are to be overly passive or overly aggressive, than trusting our instincts will not lead to our best performance. We will tend to favor one side of the line or the other. We need to retrain our selves to be instinctively on the line. Though it may be difficult to change “who we are” it is not impossible. We are certainly able to change who we are in the limited context of athletic performance.
When we review and evaluate our performance it is not enough to ask whether it was technically correct. We want to lock in our natural performance so that we train it to be right on the line. The questions we need to ask are: “Was that our best?” “Were we on the line?” “Did we have more in us?” “Could we have been more aggressive?” “Were we too aggressive, almost out of control?” “Do we need to calm down more?”
In order to be right on the line, you must give yourself conscious reminders during your preparation, when visualizing and during the actual performance. If you are someone that tends to be too passive, you will need to tell yourself things like, “GO”, “PUSH IT”, “GUN IT”. If you are someone that tends to be too aggressive it well be more along the lines of “STAY CALM”, “STAY COOL” or “ONE AT A TIME.”
At any level, flying “on the line” defines your best. You are flying at the maximum speed you can control. The mental process and “feeling” of being on the line stays the same as your skill and abilities advance. Your abilities change, but the skill of performing up to the full potential of your abilities doesn’t change. You must learn this skill at the beginning of your training and continue to practice it as your skills evolve. The competition will just be another step in this process.
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