It’s my first World Championships, Croatia, 2004. I’m on the British 8-way team. We’ll get the call for the first round in about an hour… and I can’t find my jumpsuit!
We arrived a few days before the meet for familiarization jumps, but it’s been gale force winds so no-one’s jumped. Unbeknown to me, the winds have been so strong they annihilated the 'tent city' set up for competitors. The whole dog-and-pony-show has been hastily moved inside the hangar, with booths set up for the different nations. Anything in the hangar was moved aside, including our gear. I’m looking for a black jumpsuit in a sea of black jumpsuits. It’s like looking for a needle in a crate of needles!
The good news? I have a spare jumpsuit The bad news – it’s bright yellow!! All I can think of is how ridiculous I’m going to look. The rest of the team in matching black jumpsuits, brand-new Javelins and funky helmets – and me, on the point, looking like a dick, the glowing yellow suit dragging your eye to my every mistake. How quickly this is going to go around the world, and how funny everyone will find it – other than me. I’m known for being careless but this is ridiculous. Dan BC tells me to forget about the suit and stretch with the rest of the 8-way team…
I will always love my teammate Rod for whispering in my ear, “You don’t need to stretch, you need to find your jumpsuit”
“Yes, yes, I do!”
We ignore Dan (quaking at my temerity!) and ten minutes later Rod unearths my jumpsuit – joy, oh joy! My shame is saved! I hug him like he’s the last man on earth!
The upshot is, by the time I’m kitted up waiting to do my first World Meet jump, I’m so happy I have my team jumpsuit I’m completely calm. I have this moment of absolute clarity when I realize that no-one around the world gives a fig how we do on this round, or the whole meet. They would have cared about the ditzy girl who lost her jumpsuit. They would have laughed their socks off. But scores, they don't give a monkey's. It put the performance thing into perspective. This meet was about me and my teammates, not the rest of the world. No-one’s opinion of me was going to be changed one iota by what numbers we put on the scoreboard. Freed from the performance anxiety I’d been feeling for days, I went up and had one of the best jumps of my life!
Performance anxiety and fear of failure are totally normal. With competition pressure, some people perform better, some worse. But you can choose. The butterflies you get are a source of energy. You can channel this energy to have a positive effect. It’s like ‘juice’, you can use it to give heightened awareness. Choose to take this route. The best teams perform better in competition.
You can practice this in training. If I feel in the plane that my arousal level is lower than ideal, I imagine it’s an important competition – and that wakes me right up! Instead of being the 12th jump of the day, digging deep, now the jump ‘matters’ and I focus better on performance. This shows how you can use competition nerves as fuel, and train a positive reaction.
Have a lockdown date beyond which you do not experiment. This gives a feeling of familiarity in the meet. It’s good if you’re hungry to jump, not tired of it. Rest is important, as is having a break before the meet. Shelve the desire to ‘be more prepared’ by cramming in as many dives as possible the day before. You’re not going to shave anything off your block times now! Do some feel-good dives for confidence and a good team feeling/pace. Get off the DZ and lay off any fitness training, let the body recover.
Come early to the DZ to familiarize, so when the meet starts you feel at home, and are used to the systems, manifest calls, peculiarities of the aircraft, landing patterns, etc. Set up a team room and food supply. Establish a routine. Conserve energy. Learn to relax between periods of activity. Graze all day in small amounts to keep the body fueled but avoiding the sluggishness of eating big meals or carbs. Have a hydration plan (aka, water bottle!).
Everything can get more stressful at meet time, so it’s important to communicate clearly. Make a specific plan for briefings, meetings, piece partner talk, team time, etc. Be five minutes early so it’s clear everyone is there. It drains energy and can be irritating to be constantly looking for your teammates.
Read and understand the rules. If something unforeseen happens you need to know immediately if you can protest / ask for a rejump, without taking energy and focus away from the next round. Understand it’s not what you do, it’s what the judges see. There may be judgement calls that go against you. You agreed when you entered to be bound by the rules. It may not seem ‘fair’ but stressing just takes focus off the most important task – the next jump. Put it behind you and move on. Probably the next call will go in your favor.
Don’t dwell on mistakes. No-one, not even the top teams, has a perfect meet. Errors are inevitable. Get real. It’s ok to make little mistakes, don’t let them turn into bigger ones by focusing on them – whether yours or others. Positive support from teammates is important to confidence. If someone screws up, your team’s next score depends on their confidence. Practice the right attitude in training. Trust saves energy, builds assurance and allows you to perform and concentrate on yourself. Give trust. Say what you mean. Do what you say. Extend trust and you will receive it.
See the meet as a series of one-round competitions. This clears out junk from the round before. Look at the score and let it go. Flush it. Do a mini dive debrief focusing on meet issues only – exit, fall rate, distraction control, arousal level. Stay off intensity or block debriefs. It’s gone. You don’t have to do that block again! Give support.
Confidence is your keystone to performance. Set yourself up for high confidence. For example, with engineering, if there are two similar options, go with the ‘warm feeling’, the one everyone walks with assurance. Stick to your game plan, ignore other teams, even if their engineering looks more efficient.
Positive visualization is paramount. Seeing is the mother of reality. Visualization isn’t just about the skydiving. See yourself arriving at the meet way before it starts. Visualize yourself moving with confidence, skydiving your best and feeling strong.
Enjoy the competition. It’s your Nationals/ World Meet, you’ve given a lot to be there. Relish every second. You will perform better if you’re savoring the experience than if you’re stressing about it. Whatever your scores, if you enjoy the competition, you’re a winner. If your satisfaction is entirely dependent on scores/medals you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
Use what works for you, and your team, at that meet. For example, most coaches give advice to avoid socializing, it drains energy. But so is trying to be something you’re not. It may be more natural to have a few glasses of wine and a chat than dragging yourself to bed at 8:30, to find you can’t sleep. What works for professional teams may not be appropriate for amateurs. Conventional wisdom says to walk the dives every hour on a weather hold but if it’s pissing down, forecast to continue and you’re on load 7, it may be best to get some rest or watch a movie, then refocus when they get started.
Debrief every meet. Don’t avoid the issues you don’t like or uncomfortable feelings or you will not learn from them. Every competition is a learning experience. Support and trust your teammates through this, they will support you, and your individual and team gains will be high.
To me, the secret of performing at competition is to realize the real truth – that no-one else cares whether you win, lose, fumble, excel, brainlock or shine. Before the meet, ask yourself some questions about why you are doing this, and what it means to other people (usually nothing!). Understand, either you don’t care what they think – or if you do, they have already formed their opinion of you, and this won’t change with your scores. As Dave Grauwels (Hayabusa) often says, “The real competition is with yourself”.