Part One: Instructor vs. Coach
A tunnel coach and a tunnel instructor are different things. This can be confusing as they may look the same, sound the same, perhaps wear the same suit and even be the same person performing two different roles from one session to the next. They will all high-five you too many times.
What exactly does an instructor do? What exactly does a coach do? What are the differences between the two and how do they apply to me? Also, what is spotting and who does it? Do I need some? Also, how do I go about finding a good coach that is the correct fit for my personality and flying goals?
What does a tunnel instructor do?
An instructor is an human employed by the facility itself to oversee and conduct the tunnel sessions. This includes managing the time, keeping everyone safe and teaching students as and when it is required. Instructors are also responsible for taking turns controlling the tunnel and during downtime performing maintenance around the building.
Coaches provide tuition in different ways. Sometimes from outside the chamber...
...And sometimes from within. Instructors provide support where it is needed.
What does a tunnel coach do?
A tunnel coach is an accomplished flyer that buys time from the tunnel as a private individual and offers it as lessons to potential students. Coaches buy bulk time from the tunnel company to secure it at the cheapest available rate and sell it on to their students including a fee for their services.
Do I need to get a coach?
Yes, no, sometimes, maybe, yes.
At any given tunnel there is an instructor in the immediate vicinity of the action at all times (watching from the doorway or in the chamber itself). They are present for safety and are available to teach anyone in their session who requires help. You can go to the tunnel without booking a coach and have the instructor teach you, but there are a few things to consider:
1. Instructors learn on the job - they begin with a very basic amount of training and advance through levels of qualification while working at their tunnel. This means the instructor for your session can be a veteran of many years or a new employee conducting their very first class.
2. Instructors have other duties to perform. The busier the tunnel is the less time the instructor will have to talk to you before and after your session. If they have a birthday party of tiny children to fill with joy they will probably not have the time and energy to discuss your backfly position in any detail.
3. You will likely get a different instructor each time you visit. While there is something to be said for mixing up the sources of your learning, there are couple of things that are important to consider - An instructor you do not know might want a demonstration of your skills before they will teach you anything new, thus eating into your valuable time. Also, the more you fly and more skills you acquire, the higher the chances that an instructor will not be qualified to teach you anything new.
4. If you want to learn head down flying you need to have a coach to give you feedback from the front as the instructor will be holding on to (spotting) you from behind. (While it is possible to learn this from just one appropriately qualified person, it is a very inefficient and time consuming way to do it). Both instructors and coaches will tell you to get a good coach.
5. As you gather more experience and your skills grow, you will recognise the times when you might or might not want or need coaching for a particular session. There are times when you a required to have a coach in order to progress, and there are times when you can improve by practising alone or with a group of friends.
For learning head down you will need the help of both an instructor and coach.
The coach (left) is there to teach you what to do. The instructor (right) is there for your safety.
An instructors job is to spot transitions when required.
What is spotting?
Spotting is the term used to refer to the techniques used by by instructors to control and catch flyers in the flight chamber.
This term is commonly used in two ways:
1. As action. For example - A student flips onto their back and is caught by the instructor. This is a spot.
2. As method. For example - An instructor is teaching a student how to sitfly. The instructor is doing the teaching, but is also spotting the student should anything go wrong.
The duty of spotting falls to the instructor of the session. The flying activity that takes place will be equal to the level of qualification of the instructor. The exception to this is that if there is another person in the tunnel that has more advanced qualifications. An example of this might be another instructor doing some private coaching outside of his duties at the tunnel.
Tips for finding a good coach:
There is no enforced rating system for coaches. As a result of this there are many excellent ones and just as many terrible ones. Someone can easily be a very accomplished skydiver but have skills and methods that simply do not translate well to the tube, just as a tunnel coach might be the best flyer you have ever seen and have never set foot in a jump plane.
- Does your coach provide a proper briefing and de-briefing? It is very important to have the right information and suitable practice before your session begins. This can mean the difference between rewarding progress and frustrating failure. If your coach turns up at the last minute or books their sessions so they are back-to-back with another student and have no time to brief you then they are crappy - get someone else. Does your coach de-brief you properly with video after your session? Deconstructing and analysing your flying can often be the part of the process in which you learn the most. If your coach stays in the tunnel with another student or disappears without de-briefing you properly then they are crappy - get someone else.
- Always find out peoples experience level. Ask around, it doesn’t take much to find out if someone is full of shit.
- Does your coach have time to perform a backflip or some such each time you get in and out of the tunnel? If yes, you have a crappy coach who is more interested in their flying skills than yours. Get someone else.
- Does your coach perform moves or fly in a way that is beyond your current skill level while you are flying together? If yes, you have a crappy coach - visual feedback is an important tool for your progress. Your coach should be using their body position to teach you about yours. Get someone else.
Coaches will sometimes be qualified to spot transitions themselves.
Sometimes the instructor's help is not required.
Sometimes the instructor's help is mandatory.
Many tunnel instructors also offer their skills as coaches. As a general rule people who have honed their skills working as an instructor make the best coaches. However, there are a few things to consider:
Instructors make their bones by doing a lot of sessions with people of all levels of ability. This makes them very efficient at communicating ideas and techniques both in and out of the tube.
An instructor who offers coaching will likely be able to perform any spotting you require. This makes the logistics of booking sessions easier and the sessions themselves more efficient.
An instructor who offers coaching will be required to arrange their private sessions around their duties for the facility. This can affect their availability and make booking sessions more complicated.
An instructor might be broken. Tunnels work their employees hard and pay them very little - this can harm a worker’s attitude toward other humans. A broken instructor will likely be off to do something else soon, but until then they can be reckless and unprofessional.
Good coaching from an accomplished flyer is a worthy investment and an important part of speedy progress. Tunnel flying is expensive so everything you can do to aid the efficiency of your learning helps - a little leg work before your actual tunnel sessions can go a long way. Get involved involved in you local flying scene, either at your local tunnel or dropzone - there will be established individuals or teams that can help you directly or put you on the right path. If you are brand new then don’t be afraid to ask questions - everyone starts from the beginning and everybody knows how much there is to learn. Don’t be shy - good quality instructors and coaches value students that constantly enquire about the techniques and processes involved.