Team Training Tips

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Getting the most from your training camp

It’s a team thing 🙂
Photo: NFTO by Simon Brentford

We interview Anna Hicks, British National 4-way Champion and world silver medalist for some tips to make your training count…

Anna confesses she could probably have brought a small house with what she’s spent on team training over the last 15 years. But despite the cost, lack of sleep, miles driven, sweat, bruises and the occasional tear, she’s still pushing at it. 

The obvious question Anna is, why? 

Anna Hicks, Army doctor and skydiving champion

Well, apart from the love of competition, both nationally and internationally, the team training journey is simply amazing. The joy when you form a tightly-knit team that you trust, can rely on, who you can share the journey with – is immense. When you get that glorious combination of your whole team being dedicated to a shared goal, the world is your oyster. As a team you can share epic highs with excellent jumps, great results, and achieving your goals. 

Other teams also make the journey worthwhile – the people we share the plane, hangar, and some evenings with make a difference – the camaraderie and shared passion with other teams is a real delight, in training and in competition.

As a team you can share epic highs with excellent jumps, great results, and achieving your goals

Photo: NFTO, win the Britsh Nationals 2019, beating all other male, mixed and female teams
Photo by Martin Martinez

You said Epic Highs, how about the Painful Lows?

I remember the 2013 Nationals, and the absolute pain of my team not gaining the female team ticket to the 2014 World Championships. That shared pain rolled on for many days afterwards. However, one of the joys of a great team is that you pick yourselves back up, re-group, support each other, and if you all want it enough, you carry on that darn journey. 

Is that the secret of success – you all have to want it enough? How much is enough?

Wanting it enough may not be the overall secret, but it jolly well makes a difference. If you want to achieve your team goals, you all have to really want them and be willing to sacrifice things to get there. What people have to give up depends on their situation – whether it be less time with their partner, less earnings, less sleep, missing significant events of close friends, keeping a tighter rein on food and alcohol to keep lean and strong, missing a party the night before training – things have to give. How much is enough goes back to your shared goal; your sacrifices need to be proportional to your goals. 

I’ve shared a LOT of laughs with team mates over the years – you spend such a huge amount of time and money together you still need to get on and be able to have a laugh, even if you wouldn’t normally be best friends. 

Fitness gives the strength to execute exits and blocks to the best of your technical ability

How important is physical fitness?

Physically, it’s hard work: 12 jumps a day with back-to-back lifts is not easy on the body, no matter how fit you are. Fitness is important for NFTO – train hard, fight easy. Fitness gives the strength to execute exits and blocks to the best of your technical ability, and robustness for injury prevention. Being physically fit enough to cope with the rigours of team training means your brain will degrade less over the training day and thus your outputs and progress will be better. I usually do a 5k run before training most jumping days to loosen up and for some headspace, but I won’t do more than that otherwise end-of-day performance can be comprised on the final jumps. 

Train hard, fight easy

Sleep, nutrition, hydration help keep performance high all training day
Photo: NFTO by Simon Brentford

What else do you do to keep performance high through all 12 jumps?

Sleep is super important if you want to perform. Gone are my rookie-class days of being last in the bar on a training or competition weekend! Team training is the part of my life when I really prioritise sleep; I try to get into the habit of 8 hours sleep a night in for once – a rare treat for this workaholic doctor but it makes a difference. A slept brain is alert, which achieves the highest performance. 

Nutrition is also exceptionally important when training and competing. You want stable blood sugar levels during a long training day – think of it as an endurance sport day. As a team we tend to have a decent balanced breakfast together (usually eggs, yogurt, toast, tomatoes and fruit) and then we fuel as needed throughout the day. We snack little and often during the breaks on fruit, complex carbohydrates, chicken & vegetables, to maintain slow-release fuel. Simple carbs (chocolate, sweets) won’t do you many favours as you will get sharp peaks and troughs in your blood sugar levels, which is no use for body or brain on an endurance day. A big heavy lunch won’t help your agility either. 

Hydration is vital – a hydrated brain is a functioning brain – keep drinking water, and if you are training somewhere hot, I strongly recommend using electrolytes too (I like the SIS no added sugar electrolyte tablets – tasty and Informed Sport (anti-doping) approved). Caffeine can be useful for performance as it sharpens the brain and muscle function, but approach with caution – it’s a diuretic and thus dehydrates you, and also in competition, too much caffeine can put you “over the line” of effective performance when combined with adrenaline and nerves.

Minimising distractions is important too. We now don’t have mobile phones out during debrief with coach Roy, nor on the planes. Try also put aside other work unless you’re on a weather hold, you want to focus 100% on the work in hand – training and pushing for your common goals. 

Agreeing on your day’s plan in advance is vital so everyone knows where they need to be and when, and everyone is happy with the pace. 

Minimising distractions in training helps you focus 100% when you get to the meet
Photo: NFTO at the 2019 World Cup, Skydive Arizona

What factors are important when choosing a dropzone for team training?

It’s always a good idea to train at the site of your goal competition, the value of DZ and aircraft familiarisation before a meet is huge. Competing on home turf makes a difference to one’s ability to focus on the job in hand. That’s one of the many reasons we chose Skydive Hibaldstow. Other factors are quick lift time, efficient manifest, options of back to backs, ability to get the numbers in. Team rooms make a huge difference, to have space to prep, debrief, sort gear and generally have a bit of team space which is good for debriefing, communication and focus. Decent accommodation and showers on site save cash and energy. A café with healthy food is a bonus. Reasonably accessible for all team members and the coach. Other teams training at the same time add a great vibe and interaction. Everything we have at Hib! 

Should all teams with medal aspirations do 12 jumps a day?

That depends on many factors – how many rigs people have , if you have packers, people’s fitness, the budget, weather forecast, time available, how many days in a row you are jumping, and yet again – your team aim. If you only have one rig each and are packing for yourself then you’ll be lucky to get 10 a day in anywhere, if you want time to do decent prep, debrief, eat, so you need to agree as a team in advance what your aims are. Teams with medal aspirations don’t HAVE to do 12 a day – good training is about training smart. Sometimes if we as NFTO are feeling good we may push out to 13 but other times, if it’s the 5th day in a row or the weather is looking ropey, we may stop at 9 or 10, debrief, and re-set ready for being more productive next time.

During winter NFTO take advantage of the kind weather in Skydive Algarve, Portugal
Photo by Simon Brentford

What are the relative merits of 2 or 4 in a row? 

 2 in a row is easier for short stints on the body and more debrief time but you’ll have a longer day in your jumpsuits to get the same number of jumps in. 4 in a row is more time-efficient – you can do three sets of 4 and that’s your 12 jumps done, but you do need to be efficient and disciplined on the ground to ensure you prep and debrief properly, and you may have a longer debrief session at the end of the day. If you are fit enough 4 in a row is good. NFTO tend to prefer 4 in a row but if we are a few days before a competition, we often will just do doubles and do fewer jumps to conserve energy and enable more prep time.

Any tips for teams who are new to back to backs? 

Don’t compromise safety and be fit. Being fit so you can run back in after landing and still have a functioning brain and body is vital, but you need to stay safe. Speak to the DZO / CI about what they can offer, what they are happy with for your landing location , crossing points, and vitally still do your checks – just because you are on a quick turnaround, never skip giving your pins and handles a check as you put your kit on, still get your team mates to check your gear before you board, and still check yourself too. Don’t let jump numbers get in the way of safety. 

If you do back to backs don’t compromise safety and be fit

Remember to keep training fun 🙂
Photo: NFTO by Simon Brentford

How do you get the most out of every single jump, make every jump count? 

Preparation before the camp and on the camp. Visualising (both as homework and on the plane), nutrition and rest (pre-and during the camp), fitness (putting the hard work in between camps), and focus – minimise distractions.

What about when you’re just having a bad day, it feels like you can’t fly for toffee? 

Take a longer break, re-fuel, and talk to each other. Try and work out why you’re not feeling it – does someone need a longer break or a bit more food and drink? Does someone need 15 minutes on the phone to sort out a crisis? Or does someone just need a hug? Agree to do some simpler, random-heavy, morale-boosting dives, or even to make the training day shorter so you can re-set and hit the next day running. 

What would your ‘Golden Rule’ be for teams to get the most out of training?

Agree your aims, respect your team mates’ commitments to the team, do your prep at home, and enjoy.

Good vibes at the end of the 2019 British Nationals
Photo by Joe Mann

About Anna Hicks

Anna is captain of team NFTO, the current British National champions and World Female Silver Medalists in 4-way FS. She’s also an Army Doctor, and has been jumping for 17 years and competing for 15 years.

Read about the team in this NFTO interview!

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Meet: Lesley Gale

Lesley has been in love with skydiving for 35 years. She is a multiple world and national record holder and a coach on 20 successful record events worldwide. She has over 100 competition medals spanning more than 25 years and has been on the British 8-way National team at World events. She started Skydive Mag to spread knowledge, information and passion about our amazing sport.
Lesley is delighted to be sponsored by Performance Designs, Sun Path, Cypres, Cookie, Symbiosis suits and Larsen & Brusgaard

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