On the Line: Succeeding in 4-Way
Part 4 of 6—Block Training with Stage Drills
When training to improve your team’s block formations, it’s important for the members to understand what the technically perfect move is for each. Understanding it is fairly simple. However, even the best teams whose members have thousands of jumps together don’t perform the blocks perfectly every time. But by understanding the blocks, your team can execute them well, even if they are less than technically perfect.
While training, teams can make even their worst blocks good by establishing a midpoint picture in the block that defines where the block is actually going to close and what they need to do to make it close there. By recognizing this picture, teams are able to make any adjustments necessary to compensate for a less-than-perfect block execution.
All teams know the technically correct move. This information is readily available through coaches and published works. All teams plan for—and usually think they perform—the technically correct move every time. But if sometimes they close the block and miss the close but don’t know what they did differently, it may be because they don’t understand how to use the midpoint picture. They’re flying through it when they execute the block, but they don’t recognize it or use it to define the closing spot.
Using midpoint pictures will not necessarily make a team’s best block times any faster, but it will absolutely make its worst blocks much better. A team simply won’t have bad blocks—ones that completely get away from them—anymore. A technically incorrect block will still be good, and a technically correct one will be even better.
For example, on Block 21, ZigZag-Marquis, the technically correct move is to spin the pieces (consisting of a center and an outside flyer) in place. The center flyers drive out and the outside flyers drive in, they spin the pieces and close them. That sounds simple, but if a piece is a foot off, it may go right past, land on top of or slam directly into the other piece.
The midpoint picture of Block 21 is when one outside flyer’s legs cross over the other outside flyer’s legs. The center point between them defines the spot where the pieces need to close. This holds true whether they are technically perfect or make errors. Consider how knowing the midpoint affects these two situations caused by different technical errors:
- Too Far Apart. If the outside flyers are 10 feet apart when they cross, they will see the spot between them and know that they both need to pull their pieces back five feet to meet at the closing spot.
- Too Close. If they are in a deep vertical cross (directly on top of one another), they will see that to meet at the closing spot, they will need to pull the pieces away from each other.
These errors could occur for a number of reasons, but regardless, the team will be aware of the situation at the midpoint picture. They’ll have it totally under control, and there won’t be a doubt as to whether the block is going to close. It will, because they have seen what they have to do to make it close.
The best way to train for most of the blocks is in two stages. In the first stage, the team performs the first half of the move aggressively and stops dead in its tracks at the midpoint picture. The team needs to stop long enough for each of the members to get a mental photograph of it. Everyone needs to envision exactly where the block is going to close. The correct time to start the second stage of the move is when everyone can see this spot. Completely stopping at the midpoint picture gives the team this opportunity.
Then the team keys the start of the second stage of the move, flying aggressively straight to the defined closing spot. The team should always start and stop both stages with on-the-line power. The more familiar the team becomes with the midpoint picture, the easier it will be to identify it. Soon, the team will be able to more quickly move to the second stage because its members are recognizing the closing spot sooner.
It won’t take long for a team to start seeing the closing spot as it continues through the midpoint, so it will no longer have to actually stop there. With enough repetition, the team moves to the second stage so quickly that it appears on video as one continuous movement.
Building the First Point of a Block
How a team builds the first point of a block will often have a significant impact on how well the block goes. Unlike when forming most randoms, the team needs to shape the first point of a block in a particular way so that the rest of the block move will be more efficient. For instance, on blocks that the team performs vertically, it usually builds some of that vertical difference into the first point. Other blocks may require the team to perform either straight cats or cheated cats to move most efficiently to the second half.
It is also very important that the grips within pieces are solid and that everyone clearly sees the key. This way, the pieces move perfectly in sync and at full power right at the start of the block. This requires a heightened degree of readiness from each team member.
The shape of the first point of the block and the readiness of the team are critical. A more stop-drill-like build (see “On the Line” in August’s Parachutist for details) with extra emphasis on looking for a longer time, stopping perfectly in position and clearly communicating the key will help guarantee a correctly executed block. Initially, it will feel like there is almost a slight pause before the key to begin the block move. Investing that fraction of a second at the top of the block to guarantee a perfect build will benefit the team in two ways: First, the team is much more likely to execute the block correctly and at its fastest block time. Second, the block will feel under control and predictable, and the team will be more confident and ready to transition at the close.
Stopping the Finished Block Moves
A team also needs to pay close attention to completely stopping the block move at the finish. Of course, teams intend to stop at the close, but if they’re moving at full power, stopping completely requires slowing down the move. So sometimes teams will still have a little (or occasionally, a lot of) momentum at the close.
So as a team sees the block getting ready to close, it should be prepared to physically “lock it down” (stop each other’s movements) on the finish. This lockdown doesn’t necessarily require additional time. If the team executed the block well and is physically prepared, it will happen on contact. If the team has a lot of momentum or is not physically ready, it may have to “squeeze it” (temporarily slow down the pace) to shut it down. Therefore, teams should anticipate the possibility of a short pause and a slightly slower key at the close of blocks.
If there’s still momentum, squeezing a block on the close is time well spent. It will usually take less time than the transition out of a block that’s still moving. With experience, a team will always build the top of the block correctly and its closes will become more predictable. The time it takes to get ready at the start of a block and the squeeze on the finish will nearly vanish.
Different Types of Jumps
Think of competition-type jumps as being in different categories. These include:
- five-point randoms
- one block and three or four randoms
- two blocks and two randoms
- two blocks and one random
- three blocks
- mirror image/slot switchers
Each of these types of jumps has a different feel to it. In essence, a team shifts gears when transitioning from a finished block into a random series or from a random series into the first point of a block. By melding together the team’s random pace (as determined in level three of the random training) with the more stop-drill-style build pace at the top of the blocks and the short squeezes or pauses at the end, a rhythm forms.
The five-point randoms are at one end of the spectrum. These jumps have a nice steady pace as practiced in the random training. On the other end are the three-block jumps. The team builds the top of each block as if it were a stop drill and locks down the finish to stop momentum. A three-block jump never develops a pace like an all-random jump. It will feel more like one point at a time than it will like a sequence, because the team has to give each point extra attention.
On the jumps that contain both blocks and randoms, the team will need to shift gears. It executes a strong block and locks it down on the close. Then, a member keys it, and the team immediately shifts gears into the random pace (whether it is one random or four). Then, it finishes the random series and shifts back to a stop-drill-style build at the top of the block.
Recognizing these unique qualities and emphasizing them in the jump preparation gives a team a great advantage. Soon, all the jumps in a particular category will start to feel the same. The team will know exactly how every jump will feel as soon as its starts its dive preparation. In competition, a team can receive the draw and immediately predict the flow of the jump based on its category.
When a team first starts practicing using full competition draws, it should separate the jumps into the categories. Practice the random-heavy jumps first and the three-block jumps last. By doing them in this order, a team can re-establish the random pace during the first jumps. It is then fresh in the team’s heads, and they can easily apply the pace to other categories.
When reviewing the jumps after completing a series of draws, a team is likely to find itself stronger in some categories than others. It can then adjust its training jumps to build up weaker areas. To benefit the most, a team should devote a full day of training to the type of jumps that it needs the most work on.
Slot-switcher and mirror-image jumps (those in which the jumpers change slots during the course of the dive for maximum efficiency of movement) add another element, as well. These occur on only a small percentage of jumps, and because of their relative rarity, they are often a team’s nemesis. To get over this barrier, a team should dedicate an entire day or two to nothing but practicing these more-complicated jumps. It may seem like torture at the time, but a team will come out of a slot-switcher/mirror-image camp with much more experience and confidence with these jumps and will never fear them again. At that point, the team can mentally place any jump that has a slot-switcher/mirror-image aspect to it within one of the other categories since it no longer is intimidating.
Next month: “Jump Preparation (Dirt Diving) and Debriefing,” part five of “On the Line: Succeeding in 4-Way.”
About the Author
Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld, D-8424, is a founding member of Arizona Airspeed and has earned many U.S. and world 4- and 8-way formation skydiving championships. He has used the coaching strategies he shares in this series to lead many teams to achieve the same success. Brodsky-Chenfeld currently manages Skydive Perris in California and is a member of the P3 organizing team. His critically acclaimed book, “Above All Else,” is available at aboveallelsethebook.com and at major book retailers.
Recovering From Mistakes and Brain Locks
No team or person is perfect. On any jump, it is possible that someone will make some sort of mistake. Too frequently, teams have major meltdowns after someone makes the smallest mistake. Sometimes the entire jump is lost, although the mistake itself took less than a second.
Your team needs to have a plan for how to respond to errors so that the damage to your performance only lasts as long as the mistake itself and doesn’t have a snowball effect on the rest of the jump. The correct response comes in two parts:
- Stay cool and control your emotions.
- Key when everyone is ready to go.
Formation skydiving is a race against the clock. There is no time for emotional outbursts during the jump. Exaggerated feelings of anger, fear or panic will only intensify problems.
A brain lock is a mistake that seems to result in individuals and teams having particularly emotional responses. For some reason, many FS competitors look upon this mental error as a much greater crime than a physical flying error, although it doesn’t have a greater effect on the jump or take any longer. But jumpers sometimes let an entire jump come apart because of this one error. It’s not right. The punishment doesn’t fit the crime.
Consequently, jumpers fear having brain locks because they know how much damage they can cause, and the fear leads to having more of them. But the brain lock doesn't cause the damage; the team’s incorrect response to the brain lock is what causes the damage.
When someone has a brain lock, he is momentarily behind. If the team rushes the key and breaks the formation the instant the brain-locked jumper’s fingers touch a grip, the team may have a legal point, but the jumper may not have started his anticipation of the next move. If he hasn’t, he’ll still be behind and won’t be ready to go. The team won't return to its sharp pace, and it is likely that it will face more glitches. Consequently, the team has let what should have been a single, brief error become a breakdown of the entire jump.
When someone has a brain lock, the team needs to take a breath and pause. Let the person figure it out, build the formation and restart his anticipation. Then key it. In freefall, it may seem like an eternity, but in reality, it only takes a fraction of a second. By investing that second, the team will quickly recover and immediately return to its sharp team pace.
If you do brain lock, calm down, take a breath and don't panic. The team is going to pause and give you a chance to get back in the game. Pick up your head, look into the center and open your eyes. The answer is right in front of you. If you stay calm, you will recover quickly and be ready to go.
If everyone on the team can trust that this is the plan, they will no longer fear having brain locks because they know there will be no chance of a major breakdown. In the case of a brain lock, there will be no reason or excuse for panicking. This planned response alone will reduce the frequency of brain locks and minimize the time lost in recovering from them.
Your team needs to train for this response when dirt diving. Practice it in the first walk-through and the last. Practice it on the creepers. And use every brain lock that occurs while dirt diving as an opportunity to practice the correct response.
Follow this plan and your team should never have a major breakdown. It will still have some brain locks and other mistakes—all teams do—but it will quickly return to a solid team pace and will lose minimal time. Actually, it may go even faster. We have all seen jumps on which the team made an error but stayed cool, responded properly and came back blazing for the rest of the jump.