Coping with Competition
Using competition butterflies to make your performance better, not worse...
The nerves have already set in. It’s Day 1 of the Power Play – 7:30am – and I'm looking for a place to set down my rig and gear bag before we meet to start the long weekend. The sun above Skydive Perris, California, has graced us with decent temperatures (at least for now). Around me are some of the most talented skydivers in the sport, here from all over the U.S. and the world to complete some of the most challenging big-way formations of the year.
It is my first time at the Power Play. I’m no stranger to Skydive Perris (my all-female 8-way team, Blocksmiths, has trained here before), and I have experience doing smaller big-ways – but the Power Play is completely different. I feel like I’ve jumped from varsity baseball straight into the major leagues. While I’ve flown with incredible flyers before, I’ve never experienced something like this event. I check my gear and get ready.
Dan B.C. summons our group together and introduces everyone to the other top-notch organizers: Doug Forth, Martial Ferré, and Tom Jenkins. He lays out the framework for the weekend: 20-ways for the first 3 days, followed by a grand finale 80-way on the last day. He breaks us up into our groups for the first day and away we go… Each person who walks pasts me here has a stacked resume. It’s a bit intimidating. It seems a full third of the participants speak another language. We have multiple world champion competitors, international - and national - big-way record holders, pilots, doctors, an astronaut (!!), college professors, many with tens of thousands of skydives – the impressive list goes on for a while.
And then there’s me. I’ve put in TONS of hours training at the Paraclete XP wind tunnel and trained with some of the best, but my logbook gives me away: this next load will be Jump #562. I play it cool; I hope that years of Army training will conceal my jitters from those around me. I haven’t been this nervous since the USPA Nationals last fall. Doug Forth is talking about the exit order. My racing thoughts are competing with him for my attention - I force myself to focus. On everything. Grip sequences, where I’m cross-referencing, jumpsuit colors. It's an uphill battle: Oh man I don’t belong here – I’m way in over my head – how long until they quit answering my questions and tell me to leave?!
I am confident that this first jump will be my last jump for the weekend, that they’ll realize their mistake and I’ll be finding things to do in L.A. for 3 days before my flight back to Raleigh.
Someone is watching; apparently my tough guy façade has betrayed me. Dan B.C. finds me as I’m putting on my gear and puts his hand on my shoulder. He looks me in the face. “Try to enjoy this weekend, okay?” He walks away. I hope I don’t let him down.
Thirty minutes later I check my handles one last time and stand up. Our Twin Otter has evened out at 13,000 feet and the pilot is ready to dump us into the sky. The green light blinks on and I’m leaning into the pack tray of the guy ahead of me as we scramble out into glorious freefall. In an instant my mind snaps into the game – I am focused and on fire and the only thing that matters is the split second in front of me…
…Green helmet – DON’T LOSE HIM!! Follow – go go go! Where’s the white jumpsuit? … there it is – okay I’m level with the formation… wait for the center to build – take grips – watch for the key… wow, we’ve already built the first point! … I don’t get lost. I don’t go low. We turn 3 points. I track away from the formation, tension melting off my shoulders. Finally, peace…
I’ve stowed my brakes, collected my canopy, and I’m walking back in from the landing area. I’m dripping sweat, but I don’t care. Dan B.C. trots up besides me, his canopy slung over the shoulder of his blue jumpsuit. We are crossing the runway back toward the packing pavilion. “How did it go?” “Good,” I answer. “I’m glad the first one is over!” He laughs easily, the way all the greats do. “I wouldn’t have invited you if I didn’t know you could do this.” He smiles at me and he’s off again to the next thing. I am floored by how only a few words make such an impact.
The rest of the weekend flies by. Our organizers keep us on our toes, the pace of the jumps is perfectly synchronized, and we beat the sun at the end of each day with dips in the pool and cold beer. We complete 18 challenging skydives by Saturday, and we culminate on Sunday with attempts to create an intricate 78-way formation. I talk with incredible people from around the world and learn a lot about this sport.
But most important to me, I have dominated the Mental Game. It is an all-familiar foe, now slightly less formidable. I never enjoy being nervous about anything, but I respect apprehension because it forces me to parse away distractions and focus. I broke the mental barrier – I can relax a bit and focus on the skydive. If I can do it at the Power Play, I can do it anywhere - once is all it takes!