Working with your Clone & Piece Partner

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Donut - 540 - donut needs aggressive cross referencing to be successful

Working with your Teammates

8-way skydiving can be compared to a complicated dance routine. Every flyer spends most of his time looking through the center at his opposite (clone) and making shapes together – whilst at the same time spinning pieces with his partner, whom he will never look at but must fly with as one unit.

It’s vital to work together (not fight each other), and to trust your piece partner to do his move correctly. The moves become most efficient if each person only does his job, and shuts down when it is time for the other one to input. Much of block technique is about making the shortest distance for the desired positioning, for example spinning a 2-way piece 360 degrees may be effectively shortened by the individuals moving in straight lines. Equal balance of power between piece partners is important.

Everyone's eyes are on their clones to keep the formation's shape and integrity

Working with your Piece Partner

As in any relationship, communication and trust between piece partners is paramount.  Each person should be openminded to suggestions and constructive criticism from the other.  


Both verbal and non-verbal communication should be practiced with your piece partner.  Verbal communication takes place during the planning and preparation phase before each jump.  Talk about any issues that arise during a dirt-dive or creeping session.  Clearly communicating potential problems with each other prior to the jump will prevent frustration and save time during debrief discussing an avoidable mistake.  

Deliver criticism with a direct but emotionally even demeanor, and offer solutions when possible

As your relationship evolves, you’ll notice that non-verbal communication will become more and more prevalent.  The simple act of squeezing a grip tighter than usual can be enough to communicate to your out-facing piece partner that there has been a problem in the formation and indicates the tempo of the jump will be interrupted.  Another example is direct positioning.  Direct positioning is the act of physically positioning your piece partner to the correct heading or location.  Use this technique sparingly, only if the problem has persisted for a couple of pages of the dive flow, as it has the potential to create additional problems.  However, If you’re both situationally aware, this method can be very effective. Be sure to discuss using these techniques prior to jumping.  

Practicing these and other types of verbal and non verbal communication with your piece partner will result in a rewarding and synergistic relationship.

Observe how everyone in this dirt dive is looking intently at his cross partner

Taking and Giving Constructive Criticism

Have you ever watched the video during debrief and been so emotionally attached to your performance that you didn’t fully listen to or accept criticism from other teammates?  We all try our best when it comes to our performance in training and competition.  It can be very frustrating when we don’t live up to our expectations.

When we become too emotionally attached to our performance, we lose the ability to see things objectively.  Habitually allowing ourselves to fall into this trap will only inhibit team and personal progression.  Whether you have 100 jumps or 10,000 jumps, you can always improve and learn from each other.  Approaching debrief from a mindset of constant self improvement will pay dividends in your team’s progression.

Conversely, deliver criticism with a direct but emotionally even demeanor and offer solutions when possible and appropriate.    

Everyone focusses on set-up with his clone to keep these two 4-way formations tight

Cross referencing and working with your Clone

The importance of cross referencing and communicating with your clone (cross partner, your mirror image) cannot be over emphasized.  It is especially important for the center four flyers in 8-way FS.  Generally, center flyers provide the foundation and help maintain formation integrity.  

Only once sufficient set-up has been achieved should you then start executing your grip plan

Prioritizing fall rate and set up/cross referencing with your clone is key to team success.  Only once sufficient set-up has been achieved should you then start executing your grip plan.  It is common for beginner and intermediate jumpers to prioritize grips first.  During these early stages of development, the process of setting up and cross referencing with your clone before taking grips will seem to take more time.  “Take a second to save three,” is a mantra we use when reminding ourselves to practice this discipline.

With repetition, this process will become more efficient and the center will be more consistent which will breed team confidence and yield higher scores.   

All eyes are on their clones, the only way to fly at full speed successfully
Golden Knights over Dubai, photo by Bruno Brokken

Photos show the World Champion Golden Knights 8-way team 

8-way Series

This is the first in a series of five articles about 8-way, by multiple World Champion Matt Davidson.

Next article: Controlling your Breathing

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Meet: Matthew Davidson

Matt Davidson served for 24 years on the Golden Knights 8-way team and played an important part in their finest achievements, three world records in 1997 and 2015. At 45, he retired from the Army after 27 years and did a season on Arizona Airspeed 4way team.

Acceptance to the US Army Parachute Team (1993)
Multiple National Medals/Titles (Gold, Silver, Bronze Medals), 4, 8, 10 and 16-way (1996-2019)
 3 x World Cup Champion, 8-way (1998, 2011, 2017)
 5 x World Champion, 8-way (1997, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018)
 2 x World Air Games Champion (1997, 2015)
 3 x World Records, 8-way (1997 as alternate – 31 points, 2015 US Nationals – 32 points, 2015 World Air Games – 33 points)
 2 x World Meet 8-way Silver Medals (2008, 2010)
 1 x CISM Military 4-way World Record (2006)
 1 x CISM Military 4-way World Champion (2006)
 1 x CISM Military 4-way Silver Medal (2007)
 1 x CISM Military 4-way Bronze Medal (2011)

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