Maja Kuczynska – Bigger than the Sky
Stunning routine by Maja Kuczyńska
What I love about skydiving is that there is something for everyone. The sport is what you want it to be, whether you choose to make a couple of jumps a month, a day or an hour. Some just want some no-pressure jumps with friends followed by a few beers, others want to progress so they can skydive at events worldwide and some, like myself, want to compete.
For some of us the pressure of jumping out of a plane just isn't enough. We want the added pressure of the thrill of ‘round one’, pushing ourselves up against other teams and enjoying the camaraderie of a meet. Sometimes I wonder if we compete to get back that ‘first jump’ feeling.
The buzz of a competition and being part of such a great social event is totally unlike a normal weekend of skydiving at your local dropzone. People turn up from all over the country to be part of the meet. It's great to see teams of all levels dirtdiving and planning the same jumps as each other. We are all instant friends, helping each other engineer the skydives, encouraging each other to do well – but not too well!
There is nothing more electrifying than watching the judging on screen, with the clock counting down, screaming at the TV for the team to squeeze in another few more points before working time is up… and then screaming at the screen even louder when there are busts put up on the scoreboard! Personally I find it far more nerve-wracking watching the judges score the rounds than the skydive itself – I tend to watch through my fingers half-shielding my eyes! As the competition gets under way and a pattern begins forming on the scoreboard, it is so exciting to see the story unfold between the teams – and there’s always a twist to the tale!
A lot of us feel that we work best when under pressure – we may perform well during training but crave that added charge of energy that runs through our veins at competition; it is only then that we get the best out of ourselves. We find that we can see a little bit more, we give more attention to detail, and we are just that slightly bit sharper. Although we are not all of this mould, this added edge is highly addictive, as we watch ourselves and others achieving scores that never happened in training, we just want more and more!
Regardless of whether you’re setting your sights on a gold medal, a certain average or just some fun and learning, everyone has those extra competition butterflies in their stomach. This jump, right here, right now, matters. It is so exciting to sense the bags of nerves floating in the air from everyone, suddenly the entire dropzone has something electrifying in common, and this charged, exhilarating atmosphere tends to linger until the meet is over.
Being in a team is a great way to progress quickly and cost effectively, as jumping with the same people means it is easier to improve. You sort out a compatible fall rate, place people in ideal slots and learn to fly with the same piece partner. It is easier to measure progression and success. You will probably hire a coach, get the jumps videoed and spend time in a wind tunnel. As the cost is generally shared, you tend to get good value for money out of your jumps as they will be of a high learning curve.
Although skydiving competition is generally completely abstract from the other parts of our lives, we can use so much of what we learn through competing and apply it to all aspects of our lives. Competition is such a psychological game, and teaches us about who we are as a person – we can take this learning and use it to our advantage in our working and personal lives.
Competitions force you out of your comfort zone, and tend to raise your game
When we are training to compete, we need to almost brainwash ourselves into believing we are winners. If you tell yourself something enough, it often becomes true, this works both negatively and positively. By training this approach in our skydiving and seeing the results, we then start using this method in all areas of our lives. Before you know it, the confidence, determination and hunger that we thrive on in our sport can become the norm in everyday life.
Competing means that you are totally reliant on your teammates as they are totally reliant on you. Without each other you don't have a team so it’s vital to be the best teammate you can be. When you make a commitment to your teammates it’s important to do your best to honour it. This could be about homework you commit to such as visualising and watching your ‘best of’ DVD, time in the gym or the dates you have agreed to train. As most of us are only competing part time, we are all extremely busy juggling our work and personal lives as well as our team. It's important to do your bit to strive to keep the team fun, push the learning curve, and keep progression high, as this will help everyone to stay motivated.
It is great fun to have a common goal and watch your teammates doing their best to help the team achieve it. I have seen many of my teammates grow in terms of skydiving skills, competition headspace and as team players – it has made me feel immensely proud, and encouraged me to be a better team player myself.
By working on being the best teammate you possibly can be, you really learn about yourself – what you are good at, and which parts of you need improvement. By having an open and honest relationship with your teammates you can help each other grow as people. This can then improve all your relationships in each aspect of your life.
We tend to look at the top teams and only ever see them winning meets and being successful. If you talk to the individuals on these teams and ask them if they’ve had any knocks along the way most will have an abundance of stories to tell you.
It is often the times when we have lost a meet, funnelled an exit or messed up in some way that teach us the biggest lessons. We can be so scared of screwing up and 'letting our teammates and ourselves down' that we put added pressure on ourselves, actually causing us to make mistakes. However, this can be beneficial as we find that the world has not come to an end, our friends and teammates still think the same about us and life has not fundamentally changed. When we realise this we tend to have a more relaxed approach to competition. Although we do still care, we are not so concerned so much it’s counterproductive. By not taking ourselves and the situation too seriously we tend to perform at our best.
If we put ourselves in new experiences or give ourselves different challenges, this helps us grow in confidence regardless of the outcome. This then tends to have a springboard effect as we then encourage ourselves to attempt even bigger challenges next time – both inside and outside the sport.
The simple answer, is that you never feel completely ready. A lot of teams or people think that they need to be at a certain level before competing. They are worried they will make a show of themselves, or that people will judge them based on their performance.
In fact, at a meet, people are so wrapped up in themselves and their own team’s performance, you are the last person on their mind. If you make a mistake in competition, you always feel it is catastrophic, but actually if another person experiences what just happened to you, it is hugely likely you’d think nothing of it – if you even noticed!
What I love about competition is that it is suitable for all levels of experience. If you want to progress the best place to do this is at a meet. You are often forced to do exits and types of jumps that you wouldn't dream of doing at your own dropzone – we tend to make jumps easy and tend to not push ourselves beyond what we believe are our limits. Competitions force you out of your comfort zone, and tend to raise your game.
So, regardless of your discipline and your jump numbers, why not give competition a go? If nothing else you will meet new friends, gain new experiences and have lots of fun with like-minded people. I can also promise you a journey of self-discovery and learning, with milestones of confidence, teamwork and joy.