On the Line: Succeeding in 4-Way
Part 5 of 6—Jump Preparation (Dirt Diving) and Debriefing
During jump preparation, a team should repeatedly practice team communication skills and personal flying skills, habits and discipline. It is during this process that a team has the best opportunity to develop and train the correct behavior so that it becomes almost instinctual. For this reason, it is crucial for the team to perform each skill correctly every time. If the members are complacent about this, the team will inevitably perform the skills incorrectly as many times as it does correctly and will have ingrained the wrong behaviors. The team will be repeating the exercises either way, so be sure to do them right.
Every dirt dive should:
- Reinforce personal and team skills, habits and disciplines, including sharp moves, full stops, eye contact, communication, awareness, anticipation, solid grips, synchronicity, key discipline, correct responses to errors and decision making.
- Simulate the feeling, pace and attitude of the jump the team wants to have.
- Create the correct pictures on the creepers.
- Build confidence in how the jump will go and the team’s ability to make it happen.
- Be efficient with no waste of time.
- Initial walk-through
- Random angles
- Random series
- Entire sequence
- Exit line-up
- Final extended walk-through
1) Initial Walk-Through
The initial walk-through sets the tone for the prep and, in turn, the jump itself. Yet, during this first part of the dirt dive, most team members focus only on trying to remember the next point while fumbling through the sequence with their eyes staring at the ground. They waste the opportunity to work on the basics. The dirt dive usually feels nothing like the way the team wants the jump to feel, so not only will the team not meet the goals of the dirt dive, it will have practiced all the wrong things and invested quite a bit of time doing so.
During the first walk-through, the team will have not yet memorized the sequence of the jump, but it must still move sharply, stop hard, stay together, maintain good eye contact, pick up solid grips and practice good key discipline. The key person needs to slow down the keys and allow time for the team to anticipate the next point. With good anticipation, the team members can sharpen all their basics from the beginning.
After walking through the formation sequence a few times, the team will start to learn the jump and will be ready for the keys sooner. Since the team’s level of anticipation changes throughout this process, it is a unique opportunity for the key person to practice the important skill of being able to read the readiness of the team and change the key speed accordingly.
The entire dirt dive should feel strong, sharp and together. The team members should see the stages of the blocks and the midpoint pictures, and they should produce the pace of the particular category the jump falls into (see “Different Types of Jumps” in part four of “On the Line” in the September issue of Parachutist). The team should finish the first walk-through with confidence, and the entire process should only take a minute.
The first walk-though also allows the team to practice how it will respond to brain locks and other glitches. Since the team is not yet familiar with the jump, it’s likely to encounter a few brain locks. Take advantage of this, and train the team to respond the way it should if the same error happens in the air (see “Recovering From Mistakes and Brain Locks” in part four of “On the Line”). The best skydivers in the world make mistakes, but they have practiced how to recover from them. The first walk-through gives the team this opportunity.
Perform these steps during the first walk-through process:
- Before beginning the walk-through, take a few seconds to get the sequence in your heads.
- Begin from the exit. Don’t talk.
- The key person should break the formation when he sees the team is ready and anticipating the next point.
- Expect to hold each formation longer than normal while the team learns the jump.
- Move sharply.
- Maintain good eye contact through the entire transition.
- Stop completely. Practice anticipating the next point before taking grips.
- Make solid contact when picking up grips. It is not important to use grippers (for instance, on a caterpillar, you could pick up solid grips on your teammate’s hips instead of bending over for leg grips).
- Move in sync at all times, making sure grips are on and off simultaneously.
- There will almost always be glitches during the first walk-through. Use this opportunity to practice how you want to respond when the same error happens in the air.
2) Random Angles
Now, move to the creepers. The first thing to do is define the exact geometric choreography the sequence calls for. It is the most visually accurate way to rehearse how the random formations and transitions will look in the air. To get the most out of this process, creep each random move exactly like a stop drill:
- Always let the key person key the point.
- Move sharply to your next position.
- Maintain eye contact throughout the entire move.
- Stop and anticipate the next point.
- Match the center flyers as they pick up grips.
- Look directly at the grippers and practice picking up solid grips that you could fly a piece with.
- Return to the previous formation and repeat the move. (Repeat the move three times, or more if anyone on the team requests it.)
- When moving back to the previous formation, continue to perform each part of the move correctly. Move sharply, maintain good eye contact, stop completely, pick up good grips and follow good key discipline.
Most teams creep each random angle three times in their dive preparations. However, many reinforce as many bad habits as good ones by letting the key person key the first point, moving sharply to the first point and then letting anyone key the second point, moseying back to the previous point and starting again. In essence, they rehearse an equal number of sharp and weak moves. They practice incorrect key discipline on as many formations as they practice correct key discipline. Make sure to avoid this mistake, and perform every part of the move correctly every time.
Creeping the blocks is a skill in itself, and one well worth practicing. With enough repetition, the team can do it in a way that comes close to simulating the proper technique and creates the correct pictures. But even then, many blocks won’t have an accurate feel to them, and creeping them too much can have a negative effect. But at minimum, the team should creep each block once while practicing the angles. The purpose is to remind the team of the technically perfect move and to see the pictures created in that move. Stop the block completely at the midpoint picture. See the closing point and finish it.
4) Random Series
Creep each random series three times, always performing it like a stop drill. Practice anticipating the next move at the pre-finished picture (what the formation will look like just before it is complete). Start from the close of the block, go through the random series and stop at the top of the next block. This will help the team prepare to shift gears on the jump.
5) Entire Sequence
If the jump includes blocks that the team can creep well and the sequence feels fairly realistic, then creep it three times. If creeping does not give a fairly realistic simulation of the jump, then it is OK to skip it.
Get off the creepers and perform a good walk-through that lasts at least 35 seconds to create the feeling and pace that the jump should have. Before starting the walk-through, take 30 seconds to get the sequence in your heads. Then begin from the exit count.
On a walk-through, it is important for the team to pick up and release grips together. Take solid grips, but don’t be concerned with picking up grippers, since that can be awkward.
7 and 8) Exit Line-Up and Final Extended Walk-Through
On a five-minute call, go to the aircraft mock-up and do an exit line-up in full gear. Launch the exit, stop it right outside the door and transition to the second point.
Step away from the mock-up, and perform another walk-through that lasts at least one full minute. Someone may get distracted and make a mistake, but you should not stop, talk or quit when there is a glitch. You have to recover from it and get back on your game. By maintaining a steady, strong team pace during the walk-through and holding it together for a full minute, the team will discover a new level of calm, intense focus. It’s easy to dirt dive for 20 or 30 seconds; it requires a much higher degree of discipline and focus to hold it together for a minute or more.
It is important to be very regimented as you go through the dive-preparation process. Your team can finish in a few minutes. There is no advantage to lengthening the dirt dive by talking too much or joking around. Get serious, get the job done, and then relax and take it easy.
In this dive-preparation plan, only make moves that are sharp. Always maintain good eye contact through every transition. Always come to a complete stop at the end of every move. Constantly work on anticipation. Always pick up solid grips. Always practice good key discipline. Always move in sync. Always stay on the line.
By practicing skills correctly and repeating them, they will become habitual. If your team prepares well, the members will walk away from the dirt dive ready to go and confident that they are going to have a great jump.
Visualization is the ability to create clear, detailed and accurate mental images of events that you want to recreate as physical reality. Positive visualization is immensely important. Every sports psychology and peak-performance book contains extensive chapters on its benefits and value (and its worth holds true in areas of life far beyond sports).
Visualization is extremely important when training for competitive skydiving because of the minimal time teams have on the actual playing field: the air. In nearly all other sports, someone can realistically rehearse for hours. Even when making 1,200 training jumps a year, a team will only spend 15 hours actually skydiving. Compare that to other sports, in which athletes can practice 15 hours or more a week. The introduction of wind tunnels has helped, but it's not a completely accurate playing field, and in no way does it replace the need to practice visualization skills.
Regardless of your skill level, if you can create a clear, detailed and accurate mental image of you and your team performing well, it will often become reality—that’s why visualizing a good jump on the way to altitude is so important. Quality visualization has the same effect on your consciousness as actual experience, but so does poor visualization. You need to see it right so you can do it right.
Visualizing, like any other skill, takes time and practice. When you visualize, start from the beginning of the jump: See the door open; see the entire climb out; see the exit count; see the exit and see the first point. Continue all the way through breakoff.
Learn to visualize from two angles. The first is the camera flyer's angle. Watch the whole team working together as four parts of one machine. Watch yourself within the team. To help you create an accurate image from this angle, you should spend a lot of time watching a best-of DVD of your team’s jumps. The second angle is your own point of view. Take the time to see everything just as you will on the actual jump.
Visualize at a speed that allows you time to see it all. The true speed always feels slower when you visualize. Feel the power in your moves, the strong and controlled stops, the calm mind. See the sharp eyes of your teammates as you communicate during the jump. Feel how much fun it is when you and your team are at your best.
The ability to create full sensory images of yourself and your team, complete with the confidence and attitude your best performances engender, is a skill that will take more time to learn than the ride to altitude provides. On top of your jumping and physical training, you should visualize a minimum of 20 minutes a day. You don’t have to do this all at once; it can be two 10-minute sessions. Try to find a quiet place where you can be alone, where it’s easiest to create the most detailed images. Slow down, calm your mind and relax into an almost meditative state.
There are 22 block moves and 11 or 12 jumps if you perform a draw of the entire dive pool. Visualize one-third of these each day—seven or eight blocks and four of the 12 jumps. Visualize each block individually. Perform the single block transition in all its detail:
- Begin from the build of the first point of the block.
- See the key and the first stage of the block move.
- Recognize the midpoint picture and where the finished formation will be.
- Work the second stage of the block through to the final close.
Do it perfectly, again and again. Work the exit move of that block, as well as the freefall move. See it from your slot and your piece partner's slot.
When visualizing a complete jump, minimize the technical details of each move. Slow it down so that you can see everything happening as it should but without having to give it too much thought.
Visualizing an entire jump is the ideal time to practice the pace of the jump and your anticipation. Become familiar with the pre-finished picture (for example, what a compressed accordion will look like right before it completes). Practice visualizing at a speed that allows you to anticipate the next point at the moment you are sure the formation will build but before it is actually complete. This technique is very effective in minimizing brain locks.
In addition to your scheduled 20 minutes, it is also very useful to visualize spontaneously. When you are in the middle of doing something completely unrelated to jumping, stop and go through a jump. Force yourself to instantly create the correct pictures and feeling. This is much more difficult than when you visualize in a quiet place, but it teaches you to instantly call on this skill anytime, anywhere, even while distracted.
Jump-by-Jump Visualization Plan
Developing a visualization method that you use for every jump will be important in the heat of competition. Here is a method that many competitors have found successful:
- Calm down. As soon as you sit down on the aircraft and buckle your seat belt, take a moment to relax and calm yourself. Your visualization will be more accurate and under control when your mind is calm.
- Use two angles. Visualize the jump from both angles: the camera flyer’s view from above and what it will look like from your own eyes.
- Minimize the technical details. See them happening correctly but don’t devote much of your thought process to it. Instead, visualize that calm, strong, confident, on-the-line attitude you want the jump to have. With the right attitude, the technical details will work themselves out.
- Visualize at the real speed, but remember that it will seem slow.
- Then, visualize at twice the speed you plan to go. This is a great exercise in anticipation. You will find you actually have to calm down even more for your mind to keep up. Realize that this is an anticipation exercise and not the speed you are aiming for. Don’t visualize at double speed when you are getting close to exiting; try it during the middle of the plane ride and return to real speed in the last minutes of preparing for the real thing.
- Try saying the names or numbers of the formations in the sequence in your head like a mantra.
- Stay positive. Anxieties and fears have an amazing ability to produce pictures that you don’t intend. Realize that this is your mind messing with you, and get a little laugh out of it. Relax, and remember the attitude you want to fly with. Let all details go, and visualize only the attitude you are going to play with.
Once you figure out a jump-by-jump visualization process that works for you, be disciplined about using the same process each time. Don’t have one plan for a jump you think is easy and a different plan for a jump you think is difficult. They are all easy if you are capable of visualizing them well.
You will want to experiment to discover the system you prefer. It is also worth speaking with your teammates, coaches and other competitors. Be fairly scientific when you experiment. Spend a day of training when you visualize constantly all the way to altitude. On another day, try visualizing at 2,000, 5,000 and 8,000 feet. Be aware of what you tried and what worked for you. It won’t take long before you customize a system for yourself that you enjoy and are confident in.
Reviewing or Debriefing Jumps
The video debrief is a team’s primary opportunity to learn. When reviewing the jumps, the team should discuss each other’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as talk about technical flying skills. How a team chooses to communicate will have a great impact on its mood, attitude and character. It can make the difference between building confidence and increasing fear. How team members speak to each other during the debrief can determine whether they maintain their senses of humor and enjoy the challenge of training or lose perspective and increase their performance anxiety by taking themselves too seriously.
It’s your team’s choice as to whether each member will take personal responsibility and choose to demonstrate a confident make-it-happen attitude or will search for somewhere else to point the blame. Will everyone take responsibility for their own and each other’s learning, or will they leave each other to fend for themselves? How the team members choose to respond will have a great impact on the personality and winning spirit of the team.
To gain all the benefits from the debrief, the team must be able to clearly and efficiently share ideas, opinions, criticism and compliments. With a smart plan and clear rules, the debriefs can improve the team’s skydiving, build its confidence, provide fun and entertainment, and strengthen the team’s bond. Otherwise, the debriefs can be poison.
This debriefing plan sets the stage for a team to have positive, productive and enjoyable communications:
- dentify positive aspects of the jump and how to repeat them.
- Identify errors and decide on specific plans that will lead to solutions.
- Take responsibility for your own errors.
- Recognize what you could have done to help the team recover from mistakes that weren’t necessarily yours.
- Be responsible for your own and each other’s learning.
- Be concise.
- Maintain a positive attitude.
- Maintain an open and honest line of communication and your sense of humor.
Watch the jump twice before commenting. Never miss out on an opportunity to laugh at yourself and each other. If there are any exceptionally bad moments, pause the video at the craziest point and enjoy the humor in it. It is better to freeze frame the video, slightly embarrass the person who is in the compromising position and laugh about it than it is to hide from it and pretend it didn’t happen.
During the debrief, one person speaks at a time. Start by stating any positive things you see in yourself, your teammates or the team as a whole. Then debrief yourself by recognizing only your own errors and state what you plan to do to correct them.
If you see a problem the team is having but don’t think that you contributed to it, identify what more you could have done to contribute to fixing it. (For instance, say you are the rear floater, and the front floater didn’t get a good launch on exit. He came under the formation and it funneled. You may not have caused the funnel, but had you been aware sooner that the front floater had a bad exit, you could have responded by pulling your end of the formation down the hill, and you may have been able to prevent the funnel.) There will always be mistakes: Don’t be a victim; make it happen.
The discussion is now open for input from teammates. If the individual has recognized his errors and made a good plan to fix them, there is nothing more that needs to be said. If there are errors that the individual made but didn’t recognize or recognized but didn’t know how to fix, then it is the other teammates’ responsibilities to speak up. Don’t search for and point out every little error that otherwise would have gone unnoticed. There are simply too many, and you can’t focus on every minor detail. But if the mistakes are significant or repetitive, you need to point them out. The team can’t fix something if it doesn’t know it’s broken.
Only give input to a teammate if you are certain that the information you are offering will be valuable. This is essential. If different teammates start throwing in every idea that crosses their minds, the person being debriefed won’t stand a chance of filtering through it all. The filter gets clogged, and the receptors shut down. But if he knows that only well-thought-out input is allowed, then he will consider the information carefully. Save the loose, untested ideas for a brainstorming session.
When receiving input from a teammate, don’t allow yourself to operate from the defensive feelings that you are likely experiencing. Listen. Remember that he is your teammate and is trying to help you—and the team—achieve. He wouldn’t be offering this information unless he had thought it out and was sure of what he was saying.
Accept input without discussion or debate. It doesn’t matter if the person is right; it matters that he might be. Be sure that you clearly understand what he is saying, but don’t argue its worth. Doing so is a defensive response that, at best, takes too much time and, at worst, deteriorates the team’s ability to constructively debate issues.
It is up to the individual being debriefed to decide if the input is worth applying. If you think that the information a team member was offering is not applicable, carry on as you had planned. If the errors continue to resurface, you should consider his input again.
Not Allowed in Debriefs:
- Defensive responses.
- Saying, “It’s not my fault,” or, “I couldn’t do anything about it.”
If your team uses this plan, it will meet all the goals of a debrief. Stay disciplined as you first start working with this process. Before you know it, your video reviews will be productive, efficient and often quite entertaining.
Next month: “Putting It Together,” the conclusion 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.