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Training on a Shoestring

Shell Meakins

Published in Skydive the Mag

So, you want to do 4-way but don't have much money? Do you bin the idea? Or do you train with the resources you have and have fun in the process?! Hell, yeah! Don't let money stop you. Michelle Meakins and friends did a scratch team at the 4-way Nationals, spent very little but still learned, progressed and had fun! Here she gives some tips to encourage people who fancy competing but feel held back due to lack of funds.

At this year’s Nationals 47 teams registered. How many spent BIG budgets on camps, tunnel, jumping and coaches? Don't get me wrong, having a big budget is a bonus – we’d all love to have one but the question is, should not having a huge budget deter you from competing? Hell, no!

Our Team

Block Party, a scratch team (admittedly with previous 4-way experience), decided to enter the Nationals in the AA category, yet without a training plan as we had no money to play with and were busy scuba diving, snow boarding, mountaineering, dancing and working! We just didn't have time to commit. We entered for the sheer enjoyment of competing and for the social part of the Nationals.

Our Budget

Brace yourselves, we spent a grand total of £111 each on our training (that even included a sandwich from Tescos), and still came away with an 8.5 average having done NO jumps beforehand. We proved it was possible. We were neck and neck all through the competition with two other teams who had spent a lot of money training. We were buzzing! In fact we only invested in 30 minutes tunnel time before the Nationals, to assess fall rates, mechanic some of the blocks and for me to try out a new slot (point). We had lots of fun at the tunnel and so looked forward to the Nationals, we were curious to see how we could do. We managed a scratch team personal best and were very happy! We proved that, even when you don't have much in the kitty, you can still compete, learn, progress and have fun!

Making a Low Cost Training Plan

Many excellent articles have been written about making a training plan (search ‘training plan’ at Here I've focused on areas to save money.

Tunnel time

This is a great tool. It doesn't require good weather and you don't have to pack but it can work out expensive. Bulk time is cheaper but you have to pay a lot of money up front. Bulk time can be shared with another team to make it even cheaper. Split the cost. It is divided by four anyway remember – or do 8-way, it’s cheaper! Booking off peak time is good budgeting. Don't go silly though; booking way too much can cost you a lot. Maximising prep time can be far more beneficial to your budget. Arriving at the tunnel earlier, prepared with a dive plan, getting a good coach, and plenty of briefing and debriefing time will make the absolute most of your money. Book less time but get more out of it. Most teams book far too much time to be effective, especially if not everyone's tunnel fit.

Weekend Jumps

Find a DZ that can offer you team rates, commit to a specific number of jumps on a weekend and agree a deal. Some centres offer a free camera slot, find out. If you don't ask, you won’t get! Once you find an exit you can do consistently, just use that one to help you keep the rhythm throughout the rest of the jumps. This will give you confidence, keep the dive flowing and prevents you losing time with poor exits. See Gary Beyer’s article Training Smart (Feb. 07) and prepare just two exits; a long one and a round one. Again, maximise briefing time and debriefs to make the most out of the air time.

Training Camp

If you can’t afford a full-on camp, book a long weekend to minimise holidays and travel costs but maximise jumps. Cost out the options of a few DZ's in the UK and abroad, including flights, car hire, accommodation (house share is cheapest) and jump tickets to see which is best for your team. If going overseas, book well in advance to get cheap flights. Check your tickets, avoid being stung by exorbitant extra baggage costs!

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They are invaluable, with years of experience and competitions behind them but they aren't cheap. Perhaps you could share a coach with another team? This halves the fee and expenses.

Doing 8-way has the same effect. Can you negotiate a cheaper day rate? Try the BPA roadshow's, they offer free coaching from National Champions. If there isn't one at your DZ, ask your CCI to contact the BPA and request one. Find out if any tunnels offer free coaching on specific nights.

In Summary

Block Party had a great time at the Nationals. We went into it with an open mind and only one expectation – to have fun! It was purely a bonus that we achieved a great scratch team average. Who knows how we'd have done if we'd have had more money?! Whether you are a seasoned competitor whose wallet is now empty or an FS newbie who wants to achieve a goal – give it a go. Find some teammates and get started, don't let a small budget put you off. You may surprise yourself with what you can achieve. Enjoy!

We asked top competitors Sparky (Bodyflight Storm) and Andy Scott (Connextion) for their thoughts on training on a budget:

What's more important – tunnel or jumping?

Both have their part to play in any training plan. Tunnel is a great tool for fast-tracking the muscle memory on blocks and helping build team communication and rhythm. However it isn't a complete substitute for jumping. You still have to train the exit and hill – many competitions are won or lost on the hill. Plus jumping is different from the tunnel in that you no longer have the walls to reference off. The ideal proportion of tunnel versus jumping will vary from team to team based on previous experiences. It will also vary depending on where the team are in their training plan. As you get comfortable with personal and team skills, the need to fly in the air will overtake the need to fly in the tunnel to learn – then you will use a tunnel more to keep ticking over or drill problem areas. In the beginning, Bodyflight Storm did a huge amount of tunnel. However as we got nearer to the Nationals, we didn't do any as we were really concentrating on the feeling of the jumps.

If your budget only allowed one, which would it be?

This would depend on the team. If it was a well established team who have done a fair amount of jumps together, you could maybe get away with just doing some tunnel. A less experienced team would need more air time, especially considering from a safety perspective. Remember you can always work on the team communication and rhythm through lots of creeping and walking of jumps. This is what we used to do before we had the tunnel!

How important are exits?

Exits and the hill moves are extremely important as they make up around 25% of your working time in 4-way and often set the mood of the jump. Get a good exit and the jump will get into gear much quicker than with a poor exit.

Would you recommend missing a year of competitions and saving up more for next year instead?

No. Competition experience is invaluable and plays a big part of any training plan. Just get everybody to buy into the same goals and expectations, and make them achievable with the limited resources you have. Competitions provide us with a measure of where we are in terms of our progress as well as give the opportunity to learn from other teams. If possible you should also incorporate competitions into your training plan, whether you turn up to compete at a Grand Prix or whether you do the same competition draw at your home DZ. And try sticking FUN as the number one reason to jump together and compete!

Any advice for people on a low budget?

Read up, loads of advice is available. Train your mind – get footage of competition rounds (loads of it free on line). See your slot – look at the mechanics of it round by round and see yourself in those moves. Don't underestimate the value of creeping. If you can't afford to make loads of jumps or spend lots of time in the tunnel, use the down-time to meet as a team and creep all the relevant random's and blocks (depending on category) so that you get a good idea of the different pictures and the role you play on the team. You will also be able to work on the team communication and rhythm, making sure that the keys come from the correct person. Creeping is something you can do during the winter as well as in season and will help to kick-start your progression as a team. Remember there is help from the BPA – coaching roadshow's are plentiful – use the free coaching to improve your skills.

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