Many formation skydivers cannot afford a thousand training jumps a year. Some can't jump every weekend. Some are married with children. Some are students. Some live in the cooler climates and can only jump six months out of the year. Yet they dream about jumping on a 4-way team. They try not to get their hopes up though. They figure that only single people or those born with silver spoons in their mouths can afford it.
But that way of thinking is changing. More and more, jumpers on shoestring budgets are finding ways to compete on a recreational basis. They are starting to realize that they don't have to spend a lot of money to learn 4-way. Granted, they probably won't compete with Airspeed or the Golden Knights, but they can still challenge themselves and have a lot of fun in the process.
So for jumpers who want to jump on a fun team, here are some suggestions for getting started:
Do you have the time?
Are you willing to commit the necessary time to the team? Things like work, family commitments, and other hobbies have to be taken into account. You might have money to burn, but it won't matter if you're a Boy Scout troop leader most weekends. If you have a spouse or significant other, will they agree to your being gone on weekends?
But don't let the term "fun team" fool you. It can actually be more challenging to coordinate schedules for a fun team than for a serious team. With a serious team, members are usually committed to practicing every day of every weekend. With a fun team, however, members must determine which days on which weekends they're going to practice. It takes a little more juggling.
Do you have the money?
Time and money are the big commitments. Even if you can spare the time, can you spare the dime? Okay, corny rhyme but you get the point. Don't get your teammates' hopes up if you know you won't have the money. Also make sure your spouse or significant other knows how much money will be involved.
Can you take criticism?
Some jumpers don't like the pressure of competing but perform admirably on recreational jumps. On a team, both your RW and interpersonal skills are constantly under scrutiny. Your every move is going to be caught on video. As coach and friend, Woody (John Woode) always says: "The video doesn't lie." Jumpers who don't like to be under the microscope might want to think twice about signing up for a team.
Find jumpers who can agree on common goals
Once you decide you have the time, money, and tough skin, look for other jumpers who can agree on common goals for the team. Your personalities can be as different as night and day, but you can still jump together if you agree on common goals for the team. For example, if two team members want to practice full-time, buy team jumpsuits and go to the Nationals, while other members only want to practice two days a month and forget the Nationals, compromise might be difficult to reach. Teams in this situation might want to think about forming two teams, one serious and one just for fun.
Ask around and you will find that you have more in common with other jumpers than you think. Most jumpers have jobs, families, and hectic schedules. But that's the beauty of a fun team - it lets you schedule training around everybody's life, not the opposite.
Tip: Find a couple alternates who can fill in when regular members can't practice.
Set team goals
Once you find jumpers with compatible goals, schedule your first meeting. Find a setting for the meeting where everybody can relax and take as much time as they need. Agree to meet as a team at least twice a month.
At this first meeting, agree upon basic goals for the team, such as showing up for practice on time and notifying the team if you have to miss a practice. Elect a team captain and somebody to create a team-training schedule. Ask team members to provide a calendar of their availability for the entire season, along with contact information (phone numbers and email addresses). Schedule another meeting to distribute the schedule and clear up any discrepancies.
Determine the cost
In one of your first meetings, map out a team budget and agree upon how each team member will pay. Let's say you want to make 100 training jumps, attend four meets, and go to the Nationals. Here is an estimate of what it might cost (per person) based on figures from the 2003 jump year in the US.
|100 Training Jumps @ $17/jump (including video)||$1700|
|4 Regional 4-Way Meets (6 jumps each @ $21/jump)||$504|
|Team Jumpsuits (optional)||$325|
|Registration for the 4 Regional Meet||$100|
|U.S. Nationals (10 jumps @17/jump)||$170|
|Registration for U.S. Nationals (per person)||$60|
|Transportation and Food||$500|
Competition is not for the feint-hearted, even when it comes to money. But most DZO's give teams a discount on ticket prices if the team trains at that drop zone and buys tickets in bulk. If each team member purchases just 50 tickets to start the season, the DZO collects $3400 up front (at $17 a ticket). It's money in the bank for the DZO and a commitment to the team from each jumper.
Tip: Set a deadline for collecting money for jump tickets from team members.
Get good coaching
Many DZ's have an RW organizer or coach who is willing to offer advice to new teams. Normally, this kind of advice is free. Even if the coach charges a small fee, it is worth it because it will save you many jumps flailing around by yourselves. Coaching is also available at most local competitions to help teams work out exits and engineer skydives. They can also help with the mental side of skydiving such as how to conduct team meetings and how to mentally prepare for the skydive. So don't be afraid to ask for help. You're only cheating yourselves it you don't.
Keep a team notebook
In the pressure of training, it is easy to forget what you've learned. This is where a team notebook comes in handy. You don't have to write down everything, just a few reminders about how to do a particular move. Then when you're scrambling to dirt dive at a meet, you can refer to the notebook to refresh your memory. Make a page for each random and each block (currently, there are 16 randoms and 24 blocks in the 4-way dive pool).
Tip: Create the notebook on a computer so you can print a copy for each team member.
There is more than one way to start a team, and the suggestions offered in this article might be old hat to experienced competitors. But for jumpers new to 4-way, they provide a good starting point.
If you get nothing else out of this article, remember this. Team jumping is a commitment of time, energy, and money. It is a group effort. Everybody has to be dedicated, committed, and focused. They have to be able to perform under pressure. They have to be able to get along with people. And, most of all, they have to believe in what they're doing. If you are willing to do all this, then what are you waiting for? Go find yourself a team!
© January 5, 2004 Edward E. Lightle