Competition Headspace

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Competition Day

The time has come to be tested, to step into the ring. The green light comes on. You click your visor down, slide open the aircraft door and take in a deep breath…

At this point you should have already clearly discerned who your enemy is. It’s not the team you’re tied with going into round 10; and the battlefield is not the time and space between the aircraft and the ground, it’s the space between your ears. Your thoughts will influence your attitude and emotions, and your emotions will lead you to act. Will those actions lead to success during the jump you’re about to make?

Thoughts of negativity and self-doubt have the tendency to rear their ugly heads from time to time during competition. It’s our job as athletes not to give those negative thoughts fuel to become emotive.  

Intense focus from all the Knights members, before a competition round
Intense focus from all the Knights members, before a competition round

Techniques to Stay on Top

To ensure the enemy within remains an ally, use these guidelines and techniques to help you.

The enemy is not the team you’re tied with going into round 10, it’s the space between your ears”


Successful athletes realize that attitude is a choice and they choose to have an attitude that is predominantly positive.

Positive Self-talk

During competition, maintain your self-confidence in times of difficulty and disappointment with realistic, positive self-talk.  Use it to regulate thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

Jesse Stahler, using visualisation as a tool
Jesse Stahler, using visualisation as a tool


Successful athletes prepare for competition by imagining themselves performing well with images that are specific, detailed and realistic.  In addition, using visualization and imagery to mentally prepare yourself for team errors such as busts can be effective in maintaining distraction control and avoiding additional errors.


Accept anxiety as part of our sport and realize that some degree of anxiety can help you perform well in competition.  It’s here to stay, so you might as well put it to good use.  


As part of competition, you’ll likely experience strong emotions such as excitement, anger and disappointment.  Use these emotions to improve, instead of interfere with high level performance.  


Maintain competition focus and resist distractions, whether they come from the environment or the enemy within.  Regain focus when it is lost during competition and stay in the, “here and now”, disregarding prior competition jumps, any irrelevant issues and anticipated future events.  

Golden Knights at WAG 2015
Golden Knights at WAG 2015


Ultimately, how you perform is the culmination of how you prepared in the years, months, days and hours leading up to competition. Increasing your awareness and understanding of these topics and integrating these techniques into your program and training routine will help increase your chances of having a successful and enjoyable competition experience.  

Good luck!

8-way Series

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

Previous article: Grip management

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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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