Gaining Experience

Good judgment comes from experience, but for many, a lot of their experience comes from bad judgment. Regardless of whether you are just getting started in teaching skydiving by gaining a USPA Coach rating or have been at it for years and are receiving an Instructor Examiner rating, working toward a goal and earning a new rating is a challenging process that requires hard work and dedication. It is the end of one process (preparing and completing a certification course) and the beginning of another (the real-world environment). You have proven you deserve the rating with your knowledge and flying skills, but now is when learning really begins.

Some argue that new rating holders are at the tops of their games, having just come out of certification courses that tested knowledge and flying skills to a very high degree. And while that is true, there is nothing quite like learning and sharpening skills with real-world experience. As one very experienced examiner said, “Every time I started to think I was the best instructor in the country, a new student on his first jump would manage to show me just how wrong I was!”

There is a lot to be said for working and learning from someone with a great deal of experience. The airline industry has done this for decades: They pair seasoned captains in the left seat of an airliner with much less experienced but fully trained first officers in the right seat. The first officer benefits from continuing to learn while gaining experience under the watchful eye and guidance of the captain.

How does this work in skydiving given that skydiving instructors generally work one-on-one with students (except for the first few AFF jumps, which utilize two instructors)? Whether it is a coach, AFF, static-line, IAD or tandem jump, the student is usually in the air with just one rating holder. However, a new rating holder can still gain wisdom and experience by progressing carefully with help from seasoned staff.
Carefully pairing a student with the instructor is key to helping new instructors excel. Whenever possible, new rating holders should pair up with students of a similar size, which will help ensure that the fall rate is manageable and the rating holder can stay with the student. It’s also important that a new instructor’s first students have already demonstrated competency. A student who has already made a few jumps and has proven to be heads up will likely be easier to supervise than an unknown first-jump student or a student who is known to be a problem child.

New ratings are fun and exciting, and the challenge of something new pushes many of us to continue learning. Proceeding with caution and common sense helps ensure that you gain experience and wisdom in a safe and controlled manner. Now, that’s using good judgment.   

Jim Crouch | D-16979
USPA Director of Safety & Training  

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