I was invited to join a team of world-class skydivers as a newbie to sport jumping. Each of my soon-to-be teammates had logged thousands of jumps, and even held world records, making the difference in our experience level massive. This entry to the competitive arena required many leaps of skill (on my part) and faith (on theirs). These leaps were made possible by an agreement to invest in world-class coaching, and the willingness to fly across the country to get it.
I made my first jump while working on a television show. It was part of a “hurl the host out of plane” for fun. Admittedly, it was a great way for me to cross off a bucket list item, without opening my wallet. And since it was part of my job, I got a few bills in the process!
Before my feet hit the ground on that first jump, I knew I would do it again. In fact, it became an obsession. Soon I had 100 jumps, and it was then that I was asked to join a team.
Through these experiences I learned first hand about the importance of being a coachable team player. These skills permeate into all aspects of my life- at home, at work, and of course, in my current athletic endeavors.
1) Be coachable:
You hired a couch, so learn from him/her. Your coach probably knows you better than you know yourself. (S)he has a much better idea of your capabilities and what type of progression will help you reach your goals the fastest. Don’t go off-script because you think you know more or better.
2) Don’t Doubt: Trust your coach.
If your coach is asking something of you that you perceive to be simple or easy, your job is to prove that you can perform that one thing flawlessly. Don’t try to “get fancy” to impress him/her. There’s probably a good reason you need to focus on that simple task.
3) Be flexible:
Be open to deconstruct and reconstruct. For me, I was so new to skydiving, so I didn’t have a lot of bad habits to break. So in many ways, I had an advantage. I didn’t need to undo much as I was a blank slate. But if you have lots of experience at something, you need to be mentally ready to get back to basics and possible unlearn/relearn, if you want to see improvement. This was true for my world-class teammates.
4) Be a good teammate:
It’s not enough to show up- you need to show up prepared. That includes your personal prep time- those things your do in advance to practicing as a team; you did the walk-throughs and visualizations at home, stretching, strengthening. Or simply, you got a good night sleep, are well hydrated, etc. Simply put, you’ve done the homework to bring the best version of yourself to the team.
5) Be accountable:
If something unexpected happened in the air, the whole team would need to adjust and anticipate. Since the scoring in skydiving is based on how fast you build formations and how many formations you can do in 30 seconds, you don’t have the luxury of time to figure out why the execution was off. You need to fix it, and fast. There is no time for pointing fingers. Your job is to anticipate imperfection and plan for it. Doing your job includes not being caught off guard.
6) Debrief the effort, then push the reset button:
Some jumps will be amazing and feel perfect. Some will feel terrible. Don’t carry the baggage of your last jump into your next. Negative thoughts are distracting and possibly self-fulling, positive thoughts can breed over confidence or complacency.
7) Establish training systems
This is more than plan the work and work the plan. This means planning every aspect of your training day. For team jumping we planned not just the day’s jumps, we planned lunch/snacks, time to repack our parachutes, plus time to go through the debrief/reset cycle I mention above.
Following each jump, we would study the video we recorded and correlate it with what we experienced in the air. It always started with something good, using the phrase “I like that….”, plus indicating an opportunity for improvement “I’d like to work on…”. This allowed us to frame the conversation with YOU can do to improve the team (not pointing fingers at the mistakes of others). For example: “I like that I was able to anticipate the build happened on a unexpected angle” Rather than blaming your teammate for failing to complete a turn (being off axis or slightly out of position). During her debrief she can indicate she’d like to fix it (work on it).
8) Trust and enjoy your teammates
In the seven years that I competed, I learned about more than just flying my body. I experienced what it meant to be part of a team. We didn’t quit our day jobs, so our training days were nearly every weekend, Saturday and Sunday, from sunrise to sunset. Our vacation time was used for traveling to competitions or training. This kind of time (and financial) commitment means you really have to enjoy your teammates. And TRUST them, because in skydiving, you need to feel safe performing maneuvers at high rates of speed while flying in the sky (falling to earth) with them.
9) Train with people better than you
In any sport you currently do, or aspire to do, find the high performers. Surround yourself with the “best of the best” in your area. It never ceases to amaze me the generosity offered by true, confident rock stars. Because I surrounded myself with excellence, I was able to cultivate my own*. My world class team mates elevated my game. They didn’t doubt me, even if when I did.
10) Don’t take yourself too seriously.
Ever. Training is hard. Find a way to make it fun, or find something else.
*The highlight of my skydiving career was being on the 2005 Women’s World Record Team (151 all-woman formation). Not only did we break the previous record, we raised half a million dollars for City of Hope (breast cancer care facility)
record photo: Norman Kent