What You’re Doing Wrong As A Skydiving Student
And What You Can Do To Fix It
I’m not a teacher.
I’m forehead-slappingly, eyes-avertingly, hide-your-facingly terrible at it, actually.
Luckily, I’m lucky enough to count as friends some of the best airsports teachers in the world. (Whew.)
This article is a collection of short answers from several of these. They’re top-level coaches/instructors/examiners, and their experience spans in several disciplines. They’re also incredibly wise, beautiful souls. I went to them with this question, so important for all of us students on the edge of the world:
If you could cure all your students of one thing they do that gets in their own way, what would it be?
Here’s what they had to say.
“Rushing. I see a lot of students that are determined to pack too many things into one jump. Then they end up flailing; when they don't nail the first part, they're confused as to whether to go back and work on the first part or move on to the next part anyway. They lose a lot of time, and they get very frustrated. Pick one thing. Do it perfectly. Stop. Then move on to the next thing.”
- Joel Strickland: Freefly & Tunnel Coach; Double British National Champion, Freefly & Freestyle
“If I could cure all my students of one thing, it would be to erase the idea that everything about them is static and unchangeable. Once a student believes in their own self-efficacy -- believes in the idea that all that they are is changeable in a positive direction -- believes that everything from their physical reactions to their fears can be modified and updated -- anything is possible for them to learn.
- Matt Blank: Wingsuit Skydiving Coach, Lightning Flight Wingsuit & Freefly School
“I’d get them to stop watching YouTube. That creates pre-conceived notions of what they should be doing. Either that, or I’d encourage them not to freefly from jump 26 to jump 199 -- when they do, their belly skills suck dust when it comes to their FFC.”
- Douglas Spotted Eagle, Wingsuit Skydiving Instructor
“Often, they don’t respect the progression and embrace their inexperience. You must do both.
It makes sense to one day aspire to wingsuit BASE jump from a cliff, but it can be difficult to focus your efforts where they are the most effective if you’re fast-forwarding years into your career. Your instructor, who you possibly selected because he or she wingsuit BASE jumps, wants you to focus more on finding the range of your beginner or intermediate wingsuit -- and recovering from instability in it -- before talking about how the wingsuit BASE start works. I find that many students seem to want faster returns for their efforts, and they seem to get frustrated with their own learning process.
I can appreciate the way that we latch onto that dream of human flight, but i want to pass on an outlook where each individual skill is a whole and complete activity by itself that takes time and effort to master before being combined with other skills. So when you combine a set of skills (for example: rigging, canopy control, site selection, weather, bodyflight, wingsuiting and experience in the subterminal base environment), then you can make smart decisions. When you lack experience or skills in a certain area, you begin to lose the full picture.”
- David Covel: Wingsuit Coach, BASE FJC Instructor, AFF Instructor, TI
“I would cure them of self-doubt. It takes courage and confidence to challenge yourself to change your behavior and improve your skill in any area of your life. It's amplified when applied to an extreme sport.
A lack of belief in your own potential can manifest itself in many ways: fear, nervousness, indifference even laziness. Understanding that you have the control and ability to consciously change your own actions is a very empowering fact that can unlock all levels of improvement. You have to commit to change.”
-Maxine Tate: Canopy Piloting Instructor, Flight-1; US & UK National Champion; Coach Examiner; AFFI/Evaluator
“I would cure this one thing that gets in students’ way: hubris. Assume you know nothing about the sport you are learning. No one assumes that they know everything about the sport they are learning, but the worst students just aren't really listening when the instructor is talking.
In general, girls are better at listening than the boys. I think with the boys, especially with really good skydivers, there is a certain amount of ego that prevents accepting that there are things in BASE that they know nothing about. Think about this: almost EVERY BASE course that my partner Marta [Empinotti] and I teach, we learn something. This is because we know we don't know everything, so we keep our eyes and ears open, hoping to learn something new that we can analyze, assimilate and share with others in our beloved sport.”
- Jimmy Pouchert: Co-Founder & Chief Instructor, APEX BASE; Freefly Coach
“Over-amping. The ability to breathe even (especially) when scared, and to get into a focused zone before a jump, makes the biggest difference between a skydive that feels rushed and out of control and one in which a lot of learning and growth takes place. Even very experienced skydivers often feel nervous before their first wingsuit jump or when trying something new. The key is to trust that your ground preparation will serve you in the air, and to focus on one thing at a time starting with deep breaths, releasing tension, and visualizing the perfect exit.”
- Taya Weiss, Owner/Head Instructor at Lightning Flight
"We all have a tendency to look at the negative first, so I would remind all my students to start by pointing out three positive aspects about their previous skydive and then focus on one or two -- maximum, two -- areas of improvement. Positive reinforcement, combined with constructive criticism, goes a long way towards improving performance and attitude."
- Lawrence de Laubadere: Freefly Coordinator, Lightning Flight Wingsuit & Freefly School
“If I could cure all my students of one thing, it'd be expectation. As I tell them all, “If it's not fun, it's not worth it!” Learning to fly is not unlike so many other things in life: sex, making friends, etc. The harder you try, the harder it is.
When I try to teach someone something in the tunnel, they often feel (natural) disappointment if they can't do it how they see others doing it. But it's not my goal to get you doing perfect layouts from the start. I'm looking for the components from my students: staying relaxed, looking where they should be, keeping the legs straight, etc. All I need them to do is smile, have fun, and keep making those baby steps. No expectations, no disappointment. In the end, I think attitude is one of the trickiest skills in progression.”
-Dave Rhea: Instructor, Bodyflight Stockholm
More articles in this category:
- How To Be A Better Wingsuit Student - by Annette O'Neil (Posted: 2017-03-31)
- What You’re Doing Wrong As A Skydiving Student - by Annette O'Neil (Posted: 2015-10-08)
- 10 Things to ask your potential Tandem or AFF student - by TK Hayes (Posted: 2010-07-27)
- Belly Fly 101 - by Steven Blincoe (Posted: 2006-06-13)
- Leaving The Nest - by Karen Hawes (Posted: 2004-06-19)
- Skydiving Glossary - by Bryan Burke (Posted: 2003-08-22)