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I want to tell you about 3 experiences I've had in competition and how I dealt with them. I'm a cameraman on the British female 4-way team, NFTO and over the last few years, I've come to recognise that you need to train for when sh*t unexpectedly happens.
It's round 1, it had to be and I'm about to get on the airplane! As I climb the ladder, I feel a twanging sensation and realise the elastic of my right bootie has snapped. There's no repairing it at this late stage, so I get on the airplane and roll the bootie material underneath itself as tight as I can.
Climbing out on the float rail, I can feel my unsheathed foot instantly getting cold and it makes me feel vulnerable. But then I remember, I’d done a few training jumps at Skydive Hibaldstow simulating exactly this situation and that helps me to relax. It's no biggie, I've been here before and I nail the exit.
Two years later in Australia, I manage to snap 2 GoPro clips en-route to the airfield in the bus. The team saw me snap the first one, so I swap my 3rd stills camera in and despite being careful, I manage to snap one of the legs of that GoPro clip too! Fortunately, it held in place and the girls didn't notice. The girls had enough pressure as it was, so I kept that second failure to myself. Next year, I’ll eliminate that problem by replacing those plastic clips with metal.
Again, at the 2018 World Champs, I came down from round 1 thinking, 'Yeah, that was a great skydive, we rocked!'
But when the scores came in, I felt like someone had slapped me around the chops with a wet salmon. I’d given the team a camera bust right at the beginning of the jump because a hand was hidden behind a bootie. The judging was harsher than I remembered two years back! On the video slo-mo, you could see the reason for the penalty and there was little room for argument.
It wasn’t a case of unexpected equipment failure, but it was a problem to be dealt with!
Fortunately, for the past 2 years, I’d been training and thinking about which side of the formation I should be on. This was from the perspective of minimising grips hidden behind booties / helmets, rather than presenting formations neatly across the screen.
The drawback is that many blocks tend to flip 180 degrees (like #2 and #6 amongst others). Consequently, it’s not always possible to move around in-time and your only recourse is to present as steep an angle as you can, which you should do anyway. Moving around too much however also makes the video look dizzy, which the judges don’t like.
There’s an argument to say that it is up to the performers in the team to present the grips to me; but I disagree. I think there’s plenty of times where points can be saved, and I’m convinced I’ve done it already. At the moment, it’s a real work in progress, it’s not always possible and in time, I may abandon the idea altogether.
During the course of a normal training season, I’ve got a list of jumps I do to simulate problems:
The problem is that when something goes wrong, it can instantaneously rob you of your confidence and concentration, leaving you distracted and only operating at 90% instead of 100%. And not having your mojo is likely to be costing you points!
when something goes wrong, it can instantaneously rob you of your confidence and concentration
There’s one area, you really can’t train for and that is competition. It’s the sense of anxiety you feel knowing it’s round 1 and you must perform. The best way to train for that is simply to do lots of competitions, entering each one over many years into the bank of self-confidence.
If you’re a performer in the team, a freeflyer or any other type of skydiver, you can train for problems too. For example:
When I take part in a competition, I always take a load of spares with me. It’s more preparation than actual training exercises. These include: spare jumpsuit, goggles, backup video cameras, anti-fogging gel, memory sticks, camera shoe nuts, etc. I lent out 2 of my backup video cams when other cameramen had problems at the last world meet, it was good to help out.
You can train all the techniques and beautiful routines you like, but when the unexpected happens, that’s where you save a bunch of points. I’m constantly striving to think of more unusual situations, single point of failures and general hapless situations to knock on my door. The evidence suggests, it's going to happen again.
In the first paragraph of this article, I wrote “for when sh*t unexpectedly happens”. Perhaps it should say “for when sh*t inevitably happens”.