Dan'sMagic 9: Understanding the Game

4-Way explained from the beginning

4-Way Formation Skydiving is the most popular and practiced discipline in the sport of competitive skydiving. A 4-Way team consists of 4 flyers and a videographer.

Perris Fury 4-way Team — by craig o'brien
Perris Fury 4-way Team — by craig o'brien

On a 4-Way jump the four flyers fly through a series of 5 or 6 freefall formations. Each formation is defined by the grips the teammates have on the arms or legs of another teammate. (See pictures) Each formation is worth one point. The team flies through the series as fast as possible to score as many points as they can within the 35 second working time. The 35 second clock starts the instant the team leaves the airplane. A competition consists of 10 jumps. The team with the highest score after 10 jumps wins.

4-way Randoms
4-way Randoms

The team’s performance is judged by the footage the videographer provides to the judges. The judges can only use what they can see. If the videographer doesn’t capture a picture of the entire team at the correct distance and angle, the judges cannot accurately evaluate the team’s performance and will deduct the points they can’t see from the team’s score.

There is a pool of 60 total formations. These formations are separated into 22 “Block” transitions and 16 “Random” formations. Each Block consists of two sequential formations (referred to as “points”) and a particular way the team has to transition from the first to second formation within the block. The second formation of the block is either a repeat of the first formation or a completely different formation all together.

Blocks from the 4-way Dive Pool
Blocks from the 4-way Dive Pool

Different blocks require a variety of different flying moves. On some blocks the team breaks into two pairs of two flyers and turns the separate pairs or “pieces” 180 or 360 degrees before redocking to build the next formation. Other blocks require the team to break completely and for each individual to turn 360 or 540 degrees before completing the next formation. Still other blocks have transitions that include one piece made of three flyers and an individual flyer, or one piece made of two flyers and two individuals.

This variety of blocks creates many challenges. Each is completely unique and requires technically different moves to be performed.

THE UNIQUE MENTAL CHALLENGES

The RANDOM formations are single points without a requirement for how the team must transition from one random to the next. In order for each formation to be scored all the grips that define a particular formation must be stationary and in contact at the exact same moment (this is also true for blocks). If the grips are not all perfectly stationary at the same instant the team does not receive the point for that formation.

The team must show a complete separation between each formation  — by craig o"brien
The team must show a complete separation between each formation  — by craig o"brien

During all transitions other than specified block moves (including random to random, random to block or block to random) the team must show a “complete break” between formations (above). A complete break is one where every teammate’s hands are off of grips at the exact same moment. It is not enough for each person to completely release the grips they have. They must all be off grips at the same time. If during any transition (other than a predefined block move) the team does not show a complete break to the judges they are deducted one scoring point.

On the best formation skydiving teams each teammate’s hands are on and off the correct grips with nearly perfect timing and synchronicity. The top 4-Way teams average more than 25 points in 35 seconds. On a jump that is drawn as 5 randoms it is not at all uncommon for these teams to do over 50 formations in 35 seconds. The world record is 56. That is equivalent to building one formation every 0.6 seconds. Flying with this level of timing and synchronicity requires the team to develop a high degree of freefall awareness and communication skills. In order to stay in synch together the team must be able to recognize and respond to the smallest error. Not an easy task when you are moving through the air at over 110 mph.

In order to stay in synch the team must be able to recognize and respond to the smallest error.

In preparation for competition the teams will have trained all the individual blocks and randoms and will have assembled these formations into many different sequences. BUT the particular 5 or 6 point formation sequences of the competition jumps are randomly drawn the day of the meet. Though the teams will have practiced all the of the dive pool prior to the meet, they will not have practiced the exact sequence of any particular competition jump. The competition jumps are likely to be the first and only time the teams have ever done that exact jump.

To complicate the mental challenge this sport presents, many of the blocks will force the individual teammates to switch positions with each other during the jump. This means that when the team is going through the sequence for the second time they could be in a different position in the formations. The teammates are then required to remember 10 or 12 different points rather than 5 or 6.

It is easy to see the unique mental challenge that this sport presents unlike any other sport. Formation Skydiving teams have one chance, to perform against the clock, a sequence of moves that they have never actually practiced before. The sequence could involve as many as 12 different formations with a pace that may be faster than one formation per second. The mental skills that must be developed are every bit as critical as the individual physical flying skills.

Never having done the exact sequence before, it is possible to get lost and to forget the next formation. There is also no audible way of telling a teammate who is “brain locking” what the next point is. Even if there was, the clock is ticking. In the time it takes to recognize someone is lost, and tell them where they need to be, you have lost a lot of points.

The team must not only train how to avoid brain locks, but how the team and individuals will handle this or other errors when they do happen to get through the error in the least amount of time.

I know of no other sport that presents these same challenges. Any other athletes or teams that have one chance to perform against the clock have practiced their exact performance hundreds of times before the competition. Ice skaters and gymnasts have practiced their routines hundreds of times. Skies have done runs on the particular slope and golfers have practiced on the same golf course. In formation skydiving we have one chance to get it right. We will have never done the exact sequence before and we won’t get to do it again. It is these 35 seconds and only these 35 seconds. It is a challenge like no other, and that’s why we love it.

It is a challenge like no other, and that’s why we love it.
The sequence could involve 12 different formations with a pace that may be faster than one formation per second — by craig o'brien
The sequence could involve 12 different formations with a pace that may be faster than one formation per second — by craig o'brien

PHYSICAL TRAINING

Skydiving is also unique in that there is no particular physical size or shape that has an inherit advantage. You can’t be 125 lbs and play professional football, or 200 lbs and be an Olympic gymnast. But people of both these sizes have won the skydiving world championships.

Formation Skydiving doesn’t separate; athletes of all shapes, sizes and genders compete head to head on an even playing field.

To perform at their full potential formation skydivers train to be lean, strong and flexible. In addition for the team to achieve the ideal “fall rate” they will each member will have an ideal weight they need to maintain. The physical training is often very individualized depending on if they have to work to keep weight on or off.

The daily physical training plan that AIRSPEED did on jumping days included 30 minutes of cardio, 30 minutes of flexibility and 45 minutes of strength training.

More Magic From Dan

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This series of articles is extracted from Dan's amazing book, Above All Else – available from Square One HERE or Amazon HERE

This article was originally published on skydivemag

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