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Mental Floss

Emma Beyer  

Published in Skydive the Mag

Most skydivers already know about the benefits of ‘mental training’. But there is more to it than visualising. On Team Airkix, our two year plan used specific mental training techniques which we feel gave us an edge at the World Championships in Gera. They work for the static line student, the fun jumper and the 4-way competitor. And, unlike jumps, they're free!

Know Yourself

Whether it’s a 4-way flat or a 2-way head-down, the first step in knowing how your own mind works and impacts your jumps, is to study it. When you review your skydives at the end of the day, it can seem there's no real reason behind why some of them rocked and others sucked! But this isn't really true. As our coach Dan BC showed us (Performing at Your Best, Aug 05) good jumps happen for a reason. In fact, if you monitor your mind as much as your moves, you'll soon find patterns you can use to your benefit. We built into our training plan a simple process for evaluating the effect of our minds on our skydiving. Start every debrief by discussing how you feel the jump went. Forget the technical details for a moment – you can come back to them afterwards. Was it confident? Smooth and calm? Or frantic, jerky and out of control? Did you feel stuck in the mud? Frustrated? Powerful and energised?

There are infinite ways to describe how a jump felt to you, and your experience won’t necessarily be the same as others. What matters is gaining an understanding of what a good jump feels like to you. Next, discuss what you were thinking and how you felt right before the best jumps of the day. What were your last thoughts in the plane, especially in the door? If your last thought before exit on a great jump was ‘Calm!’, then say so. Perhaps you were solely focused on your opposite (clone), or just repeating the dive in your head like a mantra. There is no ‘right’ answer and everyone is different. If you have your best jumps when your mind was wandering to what to have for dinner, then maybe you just need to take your mind off the skydive! Ask yourself the same questions when you have a bad jump. Knowing why it was bad is the key to avoiding more of the same. On Team Airkix, Julia finds she has her best jumps when she tells herself she has control and won’t let the jump get away from her. Sparky focuses on being very calm, and Amanda thinks of being strong. I try to let go of the jump’s outcome by thinking ‘**ck it!’ It might take tens or hundreds of jumps to understand what mental state you need to be in, but only you can discover the answer.

Train to be Confident

If you're training towards a meet, one goal should be to feel confident in the door on every single jump.

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That means knowing in advance how your jumps are going to go, not praying for a ‘lucky’ one! Even if you're only doing a few jumps, you can train towards being confident. Recognise what you're capable of and have a plan for: • how the team will handle mistakes during the dive (they will happen); • making sure all your blocks will close (even if that means you do them flat); • how you are going to launch every exit as solid as a rock. Being confident is not the same as just ‘being

positive’ – you earn confidence. There's no point standing in the door telling yourself you're going to rock this C exit if you're funnelling 50% of them – you're just lying to yourself. If you're still funnelling a particular exit a month before Nationals, then don't launch it! Feeling confident and grip switching a dodgy exit is worth much more than the few seconds you could save by attempting one with a low success rate. Even if the dodgy exit flies, chances are the team will be so ‘over the line’ that the dive won’t be your best anyway. We would much rather have grip switched at the World Meet than stood in the door on Round 1 hoping for the best!

Take Responsibility

Once you understand the effect of your thoughts on your jumps, commit to getting yourself in that place every time. Ignore distractions in the plane and focus on whatever you need to think of to be your best. If negative thoughts enter your mind, push them out. It might sound impossible but, if you have trained to make your jumps predictable, you have every right to replace fearful thoughts with confident ones. It gets easier with practice. When you have a jump that's not your best, ask yourself why, and what you allowed yourself to think that contributed to that. Did you let bad weather put you off? Was physical tiredness a factor you allowed to take precedence? Whatever happens in the plane, accept that ultimately, you have control over what you let flow through your mind, even if you think you don't. In skydiving it’s easy to get caught up in technical details. You can spend a whole plane ride over analysing a block or random build. But if your last thoughts in the door are technical ones, you'll be so caught up in the nitty-gritty you can’t let your training kick in. There is a big place for technical training – it’s just not in the door at 10,500 feet! If you train for confidence, every exit or block should be fairly predictable – even if it’s not super-fast. Speed will come naturally from confidence, not the other way round, so focusing on the right state of mind just before you jump will help more than technicalities. Picking things to pieces in the plane is really too late; do it on the ground during your debrief instead. In the plane, trust your prep – dirt diving and visualising – and give the dive a chance to flow.

Focus Inside not Outside

It’s common before and during meets to hear some ‘noise’ about yourselves and other teams. Competitors are only human and many love to comment on scores, training and placements, both their own and yours! Expect this, and don't take it to heart; try to ignore rumours before the meet – listening won’t help your performance and may make you even more nervous! At the meet, your focus should be on doing your best; if you know what that means in advance, it should be your only measure. If someone well-meaning tells you how fantastic your jump was, that doesn't make it so. Don't let yourself get complacent because of flattery; consider if it was really your best or not – only you and your coach know that. Equally, losing a couple of points to another team doesn't make your jump worse than it was before their score was posted! If it was your best and you scored below another team, that's the way it is – let it go. As Dan says: ‘You can’t expect more than your best, but don't accept anything less.’

Be Fearless

A big distraction to doing your best can be caring too much about a jump, especially at a meet. Ironically, this in itself will have a negative impact on the outcome. It’s easy to start worrying about others’ opinions of you and getting too concerned about scores; fear of making mistakes can creep in and replace the thoughts you need. But ‘skydiving scared’ is unfamiliar territory and not how you've trained; it can stiffen up your body, prevent focus and has lost many teams a meet. Conversely, teams who really have nothing to lose because they aren't expected to win, often pull out their best performances. During training, simulate pressure with mock meets and experiment with it. This is also an opportunity to play with knowing or not knowing scores – use another team’s results and see if it makes a difference. You should feel nervous but don't let it control you; instead, say this gives you an edge. Remember it’s okay to make a mistake. You made mistakes during training and you will at the meet; your best does not mean perfect. Even teams doing a 23 average make mistakes – what's important is how you handle them and, if you've trained for confidence, you have a plan. Dan always reminded us how relatively unimportant each jump and meet is. It can help to remember we’re not saving lives here – it’s just skydiving! The point is to have fun. No-one cares as much as you about how your meet goes – any pressure is really from yourself. In the plane, when negative memories of the single Chinese Tee you funneled during training sneak in, remind yourself of the twenty you closed perfectly! Be firm with yourself and don't let fear hijack your logic. You deserve to be confident in yourself and your team because that's what you trained. Techniques that work for you might not suit others but finding out how to skydive your best irrespective of underlying emotions, especially fear, is vital. Even if deep down you really do care, you won’t do your best jumps unless you can skydive like you don't. This is one of the most difficult and crucial aspects of competitive training; it took Team Airkix two years to gain an understanding, and we’re still learning. Use whatever tools you have for getting yourself in the mental state you need for your best jumps. With practice, you'll be able to do this when it really counts.

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