Visualization with Pete Allum

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In this series, we share a few techniques to help you harness the power of your mind and body to perform at an optimal level – meditation, visualization, breathwork and more. These next two articles will be on visualization from very experienced athletes ….

Good visualization will improve your skills in freefall, and under canopy
Photo shows Pete Allum landing

If we’re to be great at something, truly great, we must be able to harness the ability of our body and also our mind

Visualization Techniques 

If we’re to be great at something, truly great, we must be able to harness the ability of our body and also our mind. In skydiving, we have a very small amount of time to perform, but typically we have expectations somewhere in our mind of what we wish to achieve in these mere moments in the sky and under canopy. Elite athletes of all kinds have been using visualization for years as an integral part of training. Olympic athletes swear by it as a key part of success. If we’re given the opportunity to be as skilled as possible in our sport – why not implement the most free and accessible training technique there is? This is part of a series where we explore training our mind and our body for high performance success.

It takes more than just physical preparation to do great things
Photo shows Pete Allum’s 16-way camp, by Bruno Brokken

How does it work?

Visualization works by activating the same neural pathways in the brain as actual experiences. With the right technique and consistent practice, we can reap the benefits of visualization in moments when we are not able to train, or in rest moments.

From a sports psychologist with the United States Olympic Team, Nicole Detling, “The more an athlete can imagine the entire package, the better it’s going to be.” 

In skydiving, we can expect the same benefits from visualization. My own performance and mental state stepping into high pressure skydives changed when I began a visualization practice. I fumbled my way through various attempts and efforts to visualize until I settled on my own way.

There are many different approaches to visualization. A few things must be included in order for the visualization to register as an actual experience – which is what we aim to do in true visualization.

Two leading athletes in our sport, Pete Allum and Benoit Lemay, have kindly shared their practices, tips and experiences in visualization. First up in this article, Pete Allum…

Pete Allum shares his experience of visualization

In a competition environment I would suffer from anxiety, second-guessing myself and doubting my ability

Pete Allum

Pete Allum 

Visualization has been a part of my preparation for skydiving ever since I first started. It just seemed such a logical thing to do when I was about to place myself in an environment that I had no experience of, just to survive at first but then to perform. 

“In the beginning it was guesswork and other people’s ideas that I was trying to see in my mind’s eye before I had the experience itself. But as soon as I had had that experience I could re-imagine it on the ground in order to prepare for the next jump. Those early attempts at visualization were heavy on the visuals but missing the mindset that I eventually realized had to go with it. 

This was OK for a while, but when I joined my first 4-way and 8-way FS teams in the mid 80s and needed to perform at a higher standard under the perceived pressure of competition, I was looking for something that would help me really see and feel how and what I wanted to be doing as I left the plane. I would find myself doing just fine during training but in a competition environment I would suffer from anxiety, second guessing myself and doubting my ability to do the simplest things that I had practiced hundreds if not thousands of times before. This anxiety led me to read the first of many books on the subject of sports psychology, including ‘The Inner Game of Tennis’ by Timothy Gallwey, ‘In Pursuit of Excellence’ by Terry Orlick and the early books by Dan Millman on the subject of ‘The Warrior Athlete’. 

These books were a treasure trove of information and ideas and we shared them amongst our team in the desire to find other ways to improve our game, alongside the hundreds of training jumps that we were doing each year. We had all realized that just jumping alone was a costly and wasteful way to make improvements in a sport that was starting to feel more and more driven by our state of mind when we were in that competition environment. The books lit a touchstone that pushed me to take a course on sports psychology in the 90s. I earned a diploma but the real prize was a growing toolbox that I could use for my own performance as well as coaching other teams and individuals.

“In 2000, we hired a performance coach, Dr John DeRosalia. He helped us create individual and team plans to deal with the stress and anxiety of competitions. Dr John schooled us on meditation, creative visualization and hypnosis and helped us create a healthier team environment. I have continued to compete in FS and other disciplines as well as start new sports and be a part of some pretty epic projects. I have worked on my process for visualizing and now find it a very solid and dependable tool in all environments.

I have worked on my process for visualizing and now find it a very solid and dependable tool in all environments

Pete Allum
Pete Allum has trained the power of visualization
Photo by Vit Kavan

“My process is as follows…

“Find somewhere quiet (or with my noise-canceling headphones on) and spend a few minutes checking in on my state of mind. If it’s a competition or potentially dangerous adventure, I remind myself that this is a game that I am playing and that I am not saving someone’s life or the planet. I find this helps put things into perspective. I notice my breathing and heart rate and if necessary calm myself down with some deep sighs and breathwork, or in the case of being too relaxed I may do some yoga or mobility exercises or faster breathing to liven myself up. Usually I need to calm myself down.

“Then I begin visualizing. I start from before the main activity starts. In the case of a tunnel competition this would be from the last walk-through with my team, seeing and feeling us walking through the sequence and noticing the environment as being slightly blurred in the background. I see us walking as a team into the tunnel antechamber and giving each other our last high fives. I clearly see the faces of my teammates in sharp focus but again, everything in the background is blurred. I see and feel myself checking if my suit and helmet is properly secured. I see the previous team leaving the chamber and give them a low key, eyes down ‘high-5’, not fully engaging. I now look for the tunnel speed setting and wait for the green light or thumbs up. During this part of the visualization, I am conscious of my calm breathing and sense of readiness. I really see and feel every part of the climb into the doorway, noting pressure on my hands and feet and the feeling of the air on my body as I launch into the tunnel and start ‘the jump’. 

During the visualization of the jump I am slightly moving my body to match what I am doing and keep a note of my breathing (as I will want to during the flight itself). Then as the clock reaches time and or the lights start flashing I feel that sense of relief from performing a good flight, as I see myself leaving the tunnel. I come back to my breathing for a few moments and then re-engage with the outside world. If I struggle to see a particular move or sequence I will spend extra time early on in my preparation, slowing that part down, or playing it forwards and backwards like a video editor until I can feel and see myself performing it well. 

“I have always seen visualization as a necessary and logical tool for what I do but the real benefit for me was adding the attention to my mindset and having a well tried and often updated process.

Thank you Pete Allum for sharing. 😃

Next week we’ll hear from Benoit Lemay about his visualization process.

Training Mind and Body Series

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Meet: Alethia Austin

Alethia is a passionate full time international angle and freefly coach. As the creator of LSD Bigway Camps and LSD Angle Camps, she's been running skills camps in skydiving for over 8 years around the world. Some of her coaching and LSD camps have taken her to Botswana, Egypt, Central America, North America, Europe and more. Alethia brings her years of yoga teaching, love of good health and healthy living into the way she coaches angle flying and vertical flying. Alethia was a regional captain for the Women's Vertical World Record and has two world records. Her sponsors include UPT, Tonfly, PD, Cypres and LB Altimeters.

You can find her on Instagram at Instagram.com/alethiaja

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