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Focus on your Strengths

Aaron Faith — by James Stevenson
Aaron Faith — by James Stevenson

How many times have you heard this at a meet? “What the heck happened to our 21s? [for example] They used to be so good” 

In a two car race, with both cars being equal, which car will win? The car driven by the driver with the most skill. It's our strengths that that place us in pole position. We win the race because we are better than the rest of the competition. 

What about this thinking?…The driver who made the most mistakes lost the race. That can be true also but there's something I really hate about this approach and the whole mindset behind it.  I'm not trying to sell you some sort of theory on sport psychology and promoting a positive mental attitude, I’m simply questioning the physical time and effort we put in to a skill we are not good at. Why do we do that? Why did I used to do that? 

I will speak for myself here but I am far from alone. As the competition draws near and the time, money and jumps left reduce, we start to naturally apply our critical eye on our performance – areas like weak exits, blocks and random builds. I can even remember feeling like I had spent almost a whole camp on these areas. We didn't get enough jumps in due to bad weather so we prioritised. We made fixes but without the repetition needed to lock them in. I remember feeling so frustrated at the end of the camp. 

This doesn't only happen on training camps, I've watched teams do exactly this with just 10 jumps to prep right before a meet. They spend several jumps working on that block move they are not happy with. They train a feeling of mediocrity, of poor closes, of rushing, of the team being out of synch. Instead, if the team spent that time doing dives with some of their best blocks, they would build a team pace of calm and confidence, of being in tune. By training their strengths they would rehearse great skydiving, and carry this assurance into the meet, a big morale-booster.

Aaron & Julia of Satori at World Championships, Dubai, 2012
Aaron & Julia of Satori at World Championships, Dubai, 2012

Obviously we need to work on areas that need improvement, but remember this, you don't have to be the best at every block in the dive pool to win the Nationals, you could win if you were better at just 55 percent of them! To stay better at any skill you have to practice it. Know why they are your best blocks and invest in them. Don't allow yourself to get distracted for too long in one area, especially if it’s negative. Every team has their best blocks and their worse blocks, accept that. Training your strengths trains the team to perform at a higher level – this spills over into the weaker blocks, so they improve naturally, without undue frustration. Rehearsing your best exits builds the team’s ability to fly on the hill, a vital third of the competition skydive. Your weaker exits will benefit from the flyers knowing what a great exit feels like, and how to fly together in close communication from the door.

How you divide your time between the good and the bad depends on, how good and how bad but, at the end of the day, the most consistent team will win so try to have some sort of equilibrium with the time and effort you put into your areas. 

Think in terms of military tactics on the battlefield. A British tactic taken from the Romans and still used in large scale battle: if you are facing the enemy across in several areas and say the left flank is losing but the right flank is winning, you have a choice to make. Invest your reserve troops in which area, left or right flank? The teaching is to invest in what is working!

Focus on your strengths!

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