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Four great skydivers, each capable of regularly performing at their personal best, do not on their own make a great team. Until they develop sharp, clear and understandable freefall communication they will still only be four great individuals.
The best teams develop their communication and timing so accurately that they appear to be glitch-free in their movement. They function like clockwork; as four parts of a machine.
The team’s ability to perform at their best is a direct result of this communication. Many teams train under the assumption that communication will result naturally by simply having enough airtime together. They do not develop this communication into their training plan. The reality is that you must dedicate time and training to this from the very first jump.
Simply enough, the main tool we use for this communication is eye contact. We know everyone uses eye contact, it is the first and most basic thing you are taught when you become a skydiver. But it is never emphasised to the necessary degree. Eye contact is not just looking in the general direction of the person across from you. It is looking straight into their eyes. Seeing their thoughts, reading their mind. Calming each other down. Firing each other up. Making well thought-out decisions together in a fraction of a second.
Look straight into each other's eyes whenever you can. Obviously when you are facing out this will be a problem. But if you can see the eyes of the person across from you, then do so. Do not just sit with a blank stare waiting for a translation. Make an effort to read each other. The language is not complex. There are only a few thoughts that come up during any jump. You will be communicating the same thing over and over again. Thoughts like, ‘calm it down’, ‘control’, ‘let’s turn it up’, and ‘better stops’. These things can easily be seen in each other’s expressions. Deep philosophical or political conversations will have to wait. But everything you need to communicate about in order to get the most out of every move on every jump can be done in a flash.
We cannot see everyone's eyes all the time. For this reason we also communicate through our grips. Taking solid, clean grips, without fumbling around will signal to the person that you are gripping what your condition is – your readiness, or lack thereof, to start the next transition. This is essential for the key people. It will enable them to make the correct decisions on keys and pace, allowing the team to continue moving in sync with each other under any conditions. The ability for a team to really communicate this way is one of the most exciting and rewarding aspects of formation skydiving. Your team’s best performance is a direct result of this.
On stop drills we separate each skill into its own part of a transition, starting from the break of a completed formation to the complete build of the next formation.
1 Anticipation– While in the completed formation everyone anticipates their next move as they look to the key person.
2 Flashing – On the key all teammates flash hard with both hands as they break.
3 Sharp moves – Move with as much power as you can control to your position in the next formation…
4 Eye contact and awareness – Hold your eye contact during the entire move until you are stopped in the next formation. Stopped, no-contact, without grips. (On stop drills we think of showing the judges a completed no-contact formation that will be scored.)
5 Anticipation – This no-contact formation is the pre-finished picture. Everyone has finished their move and stopped in position. This is the moment when the formation is guaranteed to complete. It is at this pre-finished picture that you need to train yourself to anticipate the next point.
6 Grips – Match the centre flyers. See them deciding to pick up grips. When picking up your grips look directly at the grip and take them aggressively and efficiently.
7 Anticipation – Back to number 1, look at the key person and anticipate your move…
On these drills you execute each part of a transition one step at a time. By doing so, you give each of these skills your full, undivided attention. You train the move. You train the stop. You train communication with good eye contact. You train your awareness of the entire team. You train your anticipation. You train taking good grips. You train seeing the keys. You train team synchronicity, and you learn to do each step aggressively and together.
By looking harder and watching longer you see everything that is happening and your awareness increases dramatically. You start to stay level even when there are fall rate changes. You recognise over-movement as soon as you have gone two inches too far instead of discovering it after moving two feet. The team develops a feeling of total control. The jumps become very predictable, no surprises.
Soon you can look less and see just as much. The pre-finished picture appears during the transition, not after the stop. The formation is guaranteed earlier and you don't have to wait to pick up grips. This training builds a foundation of individual and team skills that will enable the team to rapidly and steadily progress from then on. Jumps should include all randoms and block 9 (cat & accordian). I suggest also doing skydives that use the first point of the blocks as randoms. When doing these jumps they should involve only the first points of blocks.
With the stop drills if you are not sure if you are getting on the grips too soon, you are. It’s better to stay off longer at first than to pick the grips up too soon. Get really good at the stop drills before moving on. It will be time well spent. By the end of stage one the team should be moving together as one. If you feel the stop drill is done successfully then repeat the sequence but not as a stop drill. Go to stage two…
The only difference between stage two drills and stop drills is that on stage two you don't have to build a completed no-contact formation. Still come to a complete stop. Still pick up grips when the centre does. But leave out having to show the completed no-contact formation to the judges. At the end of stage two the team should be moving together like clockwork and scoring more points. A strong, steady team pace should have been established. The jumps should feel controlled, predictable and aggressive.
At this point the awareness of the team has been trained in. You are familiar with what each point looks like before it is built. The pre-finished picture comes almost immediately after the break. On stage three drills you stop thinking about going fast and stopping hard. All you have to do is see a clean break and get your grip. In the time it takes to see the clean break you will have seen enough. This is still not a speed drill. But the speed will come…
Now, and only now, you push it to the limit. Speed drills, stage four, will now increase a team’s effectiveness at scoring points as they have developed a deep, strong freefall communication.
Read Dan's blog at: Dan Brodsky Chenfeld
Article originally published in Parachutist