Imagine yourself being a world-class skydiver during a World Meet, fighting a fierce battle for the gold medals.
On your ride to altitude in round ten, looking into the eyes of your teammates, seeing their confidence, you just know it’s going to be all right. You have trained so hard during all those years and now it’s the moment of truth…
You exit the plane and the team goes flat out! From the beginning till the end, just a perfect jump and you just know that you won this World Championships before opening your canopy! Emotions run high through your veins. Sharing the joy with your teammates and fans when you land, seeing the official score being posted by the judges. Everyone cheering, clapping and whooping. You are a World Champion!
If you’re reading this with a grin on your face and you can feel the weight of the gold medal hanging around your neck, well, this might be an interesting start to become a Champion yourself. Because first it all starts with being able to see yourself as one of them!
This article is for the recreational skydiver, who feels they have star quality and is willing to make the necessary sacrifices to live the dream. It gives some advice about individual achievement, teamwork and how to get the best out of yourself in an efficient way. Also, it tells you about the possible obstacles on your way to success.
Ask people around you if they want to be a Champion and they probably will all say ‘yes’. Ask them if they want to give up their social life, luxury, and spend years of focusing on one thing with no guarantee of success, and they will likely start to doubt. Let’s be honest, to become a Champion isn’t easy and the way to glory is hard and long. It will constantly require the very best from yourself and your teammates. You will have to put a tremendous effort into it for many years. But you know what, ask any World Champion if he or she thinks it was worth it and they will all say – ‘Yes!’
INGREDIENTS OF A CHAMPION
Talent is, of course, very important to be able to achieve the top level in any kind of sport. Talent is just one simple word that contains many different aspects. To be remarkable in your specialty alone is simply to be a skilled practitioner. But a true Champion continually embraces every opportunity to learn. He or she is often humble, joyful and driven by a child-like curiosity. Some people talk about talent and just mean the physical part of it; the mental ability is often forgotten. One doesn’t go without the other. I have met some super-talented people, flying-wise, but who had trouble with mental skills or had performance anxiety. I also met hard-workers, people with a great mental ability, who were willing to sacrifice it all but they just didn’t have the flying skills. We have to understand that we need to learn and train them both, to become a great competitor.
Without investing enough time into your training, you can’t reach the physical and mental level that it requires to get on top of the game. If we want to compete against the very best, we must get that necessary experience under our belt. It’s not only spending time on the jumps; if you take it seriously, you’ll have some homework to do as well. Analysing your jumps again, visualising the jumps for the next day and gathering data from other teams are just some examples. Also, keeping your body fit is important. For peak performance we don’t need to be able to run a marathon or climb Mount Everest, but we do need a good basic condition. Doing twelve jumps a day for a long period in a row is mentally and physically exhausting. The better shape you’re in, the easier it will be to perform well during the training camps. Plus the chance of getting little injuries is significantly smaller when you work out regularly.
Unfortunately skydiving is an expensive sport. After a weekend of blue skies it seems that maybe you had a robbery on your bank account! We need to have enough money to pay for our jumps and tunnel time. In our sport winning doesn’t carry a big cash prize to pay off your investments, even if you are a World Champion. We must find a way to finance our training to be able to achieve our goals. Without the required amount of money we simply can’t train enough.
It will be clear that if you are lacking in one or more of these three requirements, you need to set new, realistic goals. For now let’s pretend that you have the necessary talent, time and money, but that you don’t have a clue how to organise your training in a smart and efficient way.
You have the necessary talent, time and money… now what?
Step 1 – Technical Training
If we start talking about flying your body itself, I can’t emphasise enough that you need to start with all the fundamentals! The better your basic skills are, the better your foundation for your future. People have a tendency to rush these basic skills and go on only focusing on 4-way. During 4-way they run into moves they find hard to fly. They can’t concentrate on making a specific move and remember their points and look for the keys at the same time. Flying your body should become second nature, without thinking of how to steer it. I strongly suggest to find a quality, top rate coach and start learning your skills in the wind tunnel. This is the ideal place to improve your skills.
I know that one-on-one coaching costs much more than dividing tunnel time by four people, but you need to invest in a long-term plan. If not, you will get stuck at a certain level and then you will need to go back to the 1:1 sessions anyway. It’s no shame to keep investing in basic skill techniques. With Hayabusa we still try to find room for improvements in this area. We know that this is helping us to become better individual flyers and thus we perform better as a team. Choose a coach who also teaches you in freefall. Some techniques you simply can’t train in the wind tunnel such as exits, sub-terminal moves, tracking and so on. If you are new into our sport, your coach can teach you also things that are not technique-related, such as safety matters or how to fly and land your canopy.
Once you trained your basic skills to a decent level, it’s time to move up. The next logical step is to do two-on-two coaching. Continue this until you both have a good level and you have a good understanding of how to prepare the jumps. The following step is to train with the whole team together. Same goes here, have a coach to guide you through the first period. Make sure that you don’t waste a lot of time and money by trying to figure it out by yourself. I see too many times that people try to save money by not taking a decent coach, but, if you learn bad habits, how much did you really save in the end?
After a while, when you get more grown-up in briefing, engineering, flying and debriefing, it’s good to spend time on your own. By not having your coach around, the team will be forced to think more independently. Here is a big opportunity to become a mature team. The team must find a good balance between working with a coach and having time on its own. This can vary depending on the kind of phase that you are at that time. Just avoid that your team gets insecure if the coach isn’t around. Normally the more you have worked together, the more confident you will be when you’re on your own. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, you only will learn from them.
Step 2 – Mental Training
Mental training is just as important as the technical. I notice the absence of mental training in our sport, even though more people start to recognise the benefit of it. For example, visualising is a great tool that can give us great progress without paying for it. If you would spend every day just 15 minutes going through your dive pool (exits – blocks – randoms) you’ll be surprised how much this helps. You will have less brainlocks and the moves will be better, simply because you did them over and over again.
Even on the streets you can train your engineering skills. Take a licence plate in front of you, and work with the numbers/letters until you have five or six points and start engineering the jump. If you are more experienced with it, take your B-slot as well. Actually there are so many aspects of mental training, and so many ways of how to do it, it is impossible for me to write it down. I recommend to find books about sport psychology or see a mental coach for more information.
Step 3 – Go Out and Compete!
The competition zone must become your new playground. It’s here where all the action is. During competitions you will be confronted with many factors that you don’t find in training. Stuff like competition anxiety, stress and distraction are just some examples of things that we need to learn how to deal with. Some competitions are not won by the best flyers, but by the team that is mentally the strongest. We all have been in a situation during an important meet where we say to ourselves, ‘What am I doing here? I’m full of stress and can hardly enjoy this competition’. This is because at that time we didn’t train ourselves well enough in these conditions.
By competing a lot, you’ll have the chance to find out your weak and strong points. Analyse why you feel good or bad in specific circumstances. The more you find out about yourself, the stronger you’ll get and the better you’ll do during competitions. It’s like holding a mirror in front of you; it takes a lot of honesty to find the right answers. A mental coach can be helpful with finding these answers as well. The ideal is to be really focused on your jump but still remain calm. Generally this kind of mental state allows you to perform at your very best. You’ll find yourself making the best jumps ever!
As Craig Girard once told me, “you have to learn to love the fight more than the win”. This is something I absolutely agree with. But it took me some time to be able to do it. I had to calm myself down to a level where I could enjoy a fight. Actually the fierce battles with your opponents are the most memorable jumps you’ll do during competitions. And you know what, even if you lose the battle you still had a good time, because you enjoyed the fight. Instead of just feeling bad that you lost, you get something positive in return. In competitions you will be confronted with yourself, and this is an important area where you can find big personal improvements.
Step 4 – Work Hard
So let’s say you have the talent, time and money – is this a guarantee of success? No, for sure it’s not but it is a good start. Just as with all other sports it will demand the very best of you for probably many years. Even if you are a born competitor, are you a team player as well? How do you react when things aren’t going that smoothly inside your team? How much can you take and are willing to sacrifice? There will be days that you’re cold or sick, tired or angry, but still you have to train. The team is relying on you and you can’t let them down. Being away from home for a big amount of time, living out of a suitcase, sharing the kitchen, toilet, shower, living and bedroom with your teammates for many months – these are very normal situations for many professional skydiving teams.
There is one factor that I didn’t talk about and that’s ‘luck’. We all need to be a bit lucky to be able to live our dreams. Meet the right people at the right place at the right time. To find a group of people who have the same goals and are willing to work as hard as you might be difficult. But they are there! The same goes for finding sponsors or a dropzone that is willing to invest in a team. We all need to have our share of luck. But if you are really passionate about this sport and persistent about keeping your dreams alive, you will succeed! Because many teams showed already that they could do it, so why can’t you? Just keep believing in yourself and in your team, and never give up.
Apply it Now
Even though this article is providing information for people who really want to bring out their star quality and maybe try to become professional skydivers, you can apply it to all levels and in every discipline. Even if you are jumping in Rookie or A class! It’s just a matter of how much time and money you can and want to invest, and the amount of talent you’ve got. The principles of how to improve your skills are the same. I hope this article can be an inspiration to those who want to shine their star quality! Good luck – and go out and compete!