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Did You Know...

... that the beginning competition season brings funny feelings?

posted Apr 20th, 2013 - The 2013 competition season is slowly beginning. It is time again to get ready for the first meet of the year and become familiar with the special circumstances and feelings that a competition brings to you.

Several indoor meets have offered the opportunity to post some scores during the winter. Valentine's Meet in Eloy and Paraclete XP Outdoor Championship in DeLand were the first outdoor meets this year. Local and regional meets will follow with spring arriving in the northern parts of the USA and in Europe.

Blue Skies Mag gave the NSL News the opportunity to think out loud about the mental part of competition in the latest edition. It's not about visualization or concentration skills and training - it's about the special feeling in the stomach that makes the difference between training and competition.

Funny Feeling: Dentist appointment

Turning Points: Funny Stomach Feelings

Do you know that funny feeling in your stomach when you go to a date with the girl or boy you have been admiring for a while? How about the knots down there before an upcoming interview for a great job while waiting in the front office? Sometimes even an appointment at the doctor's or dentist's office can make you nervous, right?

And all that seems to be nothing compared to real competition in sports. The difference—or better, the escalation of the same nervous feeling—comes probably from the knowledge that your opponents have nothing nice for you. The date is supposed to be fun, and the girl or boy will treat you nicely, most likely. The potential boss or employer will treat you well at the interview, as you will work for her or his company, and the doctor will try to be as easy on you as possible.

The opponents in sports competition have nothing nice for you. They want to beat you, and you know that. That's one of the reasons for increased nervous feelings when the competition is coming up. It's easy to fail under this pressure, which is identical with not performing up to your own speed and standards.

Deliver under pressure: Pro golfer Martin Kaymer
Top athletes perform under the same or even more pressure, and they deliver perfectly. Often they even set records under the most challenging circumstances. How is this possible? Well, additional adrenaline in the system increases the blood flow, which supplies the muscles and the brain with more oxygen that will be badly needed and burned quickly at show time.

Top athletes are familiar with those circumstances and feelings, and they make all kind of efforts to befriend them. They know that they can perform better than in training, where they don't have any or as much pressure. How do they befriend those feelings and symptoms, which can make you feel so uncomfortable and nervous? There are mental trainings, relaxation exercises, and many other methods, and there are even sports psychologists who make their living teaching and coaching how to do it. However, most importantly, the top athletes in any sport compete on a regular basis to get used to a competitive environment.

Last minute in the plane
By competing often enough and embracing the pressure and the challenges they turn a potential nervous breakdown (called brain lock in skydiving...) into just a strange feeling in the stomach. They learn in each competition and eventually understand and believe that this funny feeling in the stomach has a good reason and can be very productive and helpful if you let it guide you to a higher performance level than in training.

Fast forward to skydiving competition where all the same experiences can be applied just as well. That counts not only for the traditional skydiving competition at the known meets, such as 4-way formation skydiving, which is obviously my own favorite. Very similar feelings and circumstances come up at record attempts and any other challenging skydives. There is pressure that needs to be handled.

It's the last minute in the plane when the stomach begins to act up and the ants begin to come alive—if it hasn't already happened. It is not unusual at all that teams and competitors begin to feel the pressure when they come to the drop zone the morning of a competition. Things that have been experienced many times in training all of a sudden feel a little bit different.

Exit pressure...
This kind of pressure can easily turn into a devastating situation during this last minute in the plane, when the door has opened and the red light is indicating the jump run. You are going through the competition sequence or any upcoming maneuver one more time—and it is gone, has disappeared from your mind which is blank.

Usually it comes back in time if you have prepared yourself well enough. However, it was frightening and is still at least a distraction, while the funny feeling in your stomach is still there anyway.

Now imagine the surprise for a new competitor who has never felt anything like that. The impact is even stronger, and the results can be disappointing. You team mates depend on your performance, at least in any team event, like 4-way or 8-way (do I really lean a little bit...?) and the team doesn't function at all if one piece of the puzzle is missing. Life goes on after a bad round, and the next one is coming, but the disappointment is still tangible.

Winners: Arizona Airspeed
There is help. It doesn't have to happen to anybody at an important competition, as you can be prepared for it. The days are over where skydiving competition had only one championship event per year where you had to deliver your best. You still want to show your best at the most important event, and meet practice is the best way to become familiar with a competitive environment.

I still get this funny feeling in Round 1—after a very competitive soccer career, many track races, and 30 years of skydiving competition with hundreds of meets. I love it and embrace this special feeling, it makes me perform better and with more intensity and satisfaction, I never want to miss it. The best thing is that I know how it feels since I can go to a meet in the skydiving neighborhood at least once a month. And there I meet my pals who love the same feeling just as much. And by the way: Did you know that the winning teams at the championship events are the ones with the most competition experience...?

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