Phil Webley explains what to expect on an iFly Coach Rating course
Due to a number of safety incidents worldwide in wind tunnels involving outside coaches, the most extreme of which was seen in America, iFly took action.
At the time of writing, only a limited number of non-iFly instructors can coach in their tunnels. This has caused the skydiving community in the USA to flock to the few franchise tunnels not affected, causing a backlog in bookings and raised prices! In the UK, iFly took a different approach. You may coach once you have demonstrated your ability in the wind tunnel through an IBA Coach Rating/courses. There was a phasing-in period with ample warning this was coming in.
I have been freeflying for over 10 years in the sky and wind tunnels. Static flight has been my passion for most of that time. Starting with a VFS night organised by Paul Cooper, I saw the value in VFS as a platform for my ultimate goals of freefly bigway! In the world of freefly bigways it was exciting times and I was itching to get started. I competed for 2 seasons in VFS with Excite 96. My new team, Gravity VFS, will be competing for its second season in 2021. Our wind tunnel training takes place in Manchester as the middle ground for travelling by each of us. In 2019 I was fortunate to be part of the UK head-up record. I started coaching military colleagues while I was still serving budding freeflyers. From there it steadily developed until one day iFly announced that a new coach qualification was required by anyone wishing to teach skills in their tunnels.
I wanted to continue coaching both civilian and military clients, so I organised three days take the course, soon after lockdown opened up. One day for belly and FWE (flying with equipment) necessary when coaching military. This course can only be held by coaches who also hold a Military Jump Master qualification. The total flying time for me was about one and a half hours, but the IBA courses are based upon prior experience and can take up to 5 days for each one. A further two consecutive days with a total of four hours were required for the static freefly coach rating.
The courses are run based on an initial trainer assessment. Prior to the course, anyone wishing to attain the qualification is required to familiarise themselves with the IBA Coaching Manual relevant to the discipline they wish to coach. An online test must be successfully completed and logged on your IBA portal. The test is relatively short and shouldn’t be a problem for anyone serious about coaching in the wind tunnel, especially if they have prior experience.
The belly coaching course began with stability tests and generally proving that you are comfortable in the tunnel. Some exercises included: walking up the walls, necessary for remaining in a position where you can signal your student; remaining strong on your feet as a student is bumping into you; and my favourite, getting off the net when the speed is very low, this looks more like a breakdancing move than tunnel flying but good fun! It is required to be able to back fly and walk in the tunnel if you want to coach belly so you can control yourself when it doesn’t go too well. It was explained to us that as coaches we are not responsible for catching or spotting, in fact we are expressly required to leave that up to the on-duty instructor. Once we demonstrated that we could handle ourselves and would therefore not be an extra hindrance to the on-duty instructor when we had live students, it was time to go through the curriculum.
The format for all the courses was first to experience each skill as a student would, in case it’s been a while since trying these elements, sometimes on a very low speed. For example, the last time most people were head-down on the net was when they were first learning it. Then we would teach that skill back to our trainer, Zac, showing we could do so to the required standard. All the while managing wind speed, which is one of the most important tools a coach has, as well as positioning so the student can see the coach and not getting in the way of the tunnel instructor at any point. It should be mentioned that the on-duty instructor ultimately has the final say if you want to change the wind speed. Despite having coached belly flying a lot, there were some valuable points I picked up, which will stand me in good stead and ultimately get my students towards their goals more efficiently.
Static Belly Course
The two coach pathways from belly flying are static and dynamic. But before these two paths divide, the common root to both is back flying. With my background and the typical students I get who want to freefly in the sky, I went for the static rating. My two days began with another stability test session, this time on much higher speeds as, ultimately, I had to show I could coach head-down. It was thoroughly enjoyable and shouldn’t be an issue for anyone wishing to be a static freefly coach but limber up and make sure you’re hydrated!
Following that, Zac took me through the entire progression in the remaining time using the same format: experience the skill as a student, teach it back using correct demonstrations, wind speed selection and good positioning. The milestones throughout the static freefly progression are:
- Back flying
- back-to-belly and belly-to-back transitions
- sit-flying; back-to-sit transitions
- the head-down journey
- and finally, sit-head transitions.
Zac was great at divulging the common pitfalls and several ways of approaching and achieving the same objective for those students who struggle with one particular way of doing something. Despite coaching at Basingstoke for a number of years and never having an issue safety or otherwise, I am always willing to learn from anyone if they have a better or more efficient way of doing something. There were definitely a few tips and tricks which my students will benefit from for sure. Ultimately, in order to qualify, you must satisfy the trainer that you reach the minimum output standard in your coaching.
Micro and macro
As important as it is to teach skills in the correct way (the micro; what and how) it is just as important to teach skills in the correct order and at the right time (the macro; when). iFLY use the training programs developed by the IBA and they are structured in the same way as the AFF system or the Flight-1 curriculum. All these have been put together with a lot of thought and consideration, but above all, through a lot of in-field experience allowing them to be streamlined into maximum safe progression. As an example: if someone has some experience sit-flying in the sky and have rushed through the back-flying stages, this will always be apparent to the coach as they aren’t using their upper back to its full potential, if at all to support themselves. This can easily be fixed with a couple of drills which will pay off in the long run.
In a period where a lot of changes have happened in various areas of our sport, we probably don’t want to hear about more rules. However, iFly have legitimate reasons for standardising and regulating who coaches in their tunnels. Change will always take time to adapt to. Some jumpers in the UK will remember the tracking “TR” stickers when they came in, others have only been skydiving with those regulations in place. Looking back to my early tracking days, it was the Wild West and just as dangerous! I couldn’t imagine all the jumps we do now without those rules in place. I have always found the iFly staff extremely helpful and supportive whenever I have coached at their tunnels. This qualification shouldn’t be seen as an obstacle, rather as a way of maximising the interaction between you the coach, your students and the tunnel staff, who are ultimately responsible for your student’s and your safety.
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