Yasmin Schuette, from the German all-female 4way FS team Skynamite, gives her top tips in formation skydiving. Read below to find out what canopy she jumps (and why), her journey into 4way FS and her top tips for getting into 4way FS. She’s pretty badass. Just sayin’.
Canopy of choice for formation skydiving
Since my first solo jumps I have been flying a Safire because I always loved the openings and the choice to fly it safely or a bit more sporty. Today it is a Safire 3 109 and I feel really great with it during team training, competition and coaching. If I ever had to give advice to a female skydiver asking me to downsize? Yes downsize to an optimum weight and balance, but learn to flare it in the correct way.
My tips on flaring your canopy
Being more of a light weight I have always had issues with canopies wobbling in the wind or hardly travelling forwards with a bit of a breeze going on. I am not very good at estimating distances so I always needed some tricks in order to ride my jumping horse, flare my canopy or even land a plane properly.
Best tip I got for knowing when to start my flare on my canopy was: “Look straight ahead (don’t look down) and as soon as you can see the single grass blades you can start to flare.” Sounds odd but really helped me to improve. Flaring symmetrically and pulling the toggles down more than I thought had also helped me after someone had filmed my ‘self-made’ bad landings and analysed what was going wrong.
Where my love of formation skydiving started
I can remember how I started off with people taking me on formation skydiving (FS) jumps, exiting unlinked or linked, burning through the sky and trying to fly as fast as them and remembering which grip I should take. My fall rate is rather slow so I have been using a weight belt all my skydiving life. I have even developed a very wrong body position due to taking in my arms and legs to stay on level.
Thanks to Roy Janssen, I started working on reconfiguring my body position to move faster and more controlled. Using more of my arms and my legs as a rudder. We even started turning down the wind tunnel speed as a team and relying more on our body to fly than on the wind itself.
So my recommendation for beginner FS ladies out there is to try and fly more with people having the same fall rate (especially in the beginning). This gives you the opportunity to learn to fly relaxed and with a proper body position. Getting rid of the wrong muscle memory is frustrating and expensive 😉
FS is my passion
My FS 4way addiction started when one day at a Boogie in Portugal a successful German FS Flyer and one member of the Swiss National 8way team took my skydiving buddy and me for a 4way jump. They briefed us in the plane and told us to just take care of the fall rate. I remember the Swiss guy performing 3-D moves within the formation, and both Pros were turning fast as hell. I cannot remember the formation, but I just thought that these guys were moving like aliens in space… and I totally loved it!
My buddy and I landed in the beginners landing area after the jump and were so excited to have been part of that experience. We swore to build up a 4way team and learn how to do exactly that! So there in Portugal my FS 4way journey started.
We found 2 other people willing to put effort and money into the project, pay for a coach, go to the wind tunnel and even compete at our first German Nationals we immediately won in the beginners class. After that I just wanted more and more and more. After several years of team dynamics, training camps, competitions and exchange of tired or injured teammates, I still love my sport deeply.
Now, 10 years on and several coaches later, I am starting to understand, see and learn even more about formation skydiving. How aerodynamics, body position, mental state and team dynamics relate to a good jump or even a good competition. I often think back of what information I could have used earlier or even what I should have trained differently.
“I guess that is just the normal way of gaining more width to your horizon by building up experience and knowledge.”
My top tips for beginner skydivers
When I coach beginners how to start their FS skills, I like to start with things that seem really odd but make a big difference to the quality of your jumps and how other skydivers feel jumping together with you.
- Decide wisely who you want to jump with in a formation.
- Be sure everyone is aware of what they are able to do and what kind of tracking, canopy flying and landing skills they have.
- Take your time to brief the jump, dirt dive the formation and talk through the exit at a mock up.
- Talk about how to get into the plane (who sits where) and how to get out into the door without ripping off your reserve handle.
- Please talk about how to approach a formation and to level out before taking grips.
- Be very sure to talk about separation and how to track correctly. Confirm what level everyone will break off, how long to track for and when to pull your canopy.
- Agree on a landing order and on a landing pattern.
- Also talk about when to be gathered to brief and debrief and when there is free time to hang out individually.
I can see that our coaching days are very efficient and feel safe and well disciplined even though I see and jump with these people for the first time. And I can also see that after the course they use the same routine whilst jumping with their buddies afterwards. This always makes me very happy and know that I could make a little bit of difference to the sport. I’ve witnessed my fair share of dangerous situations in the sport.
Recommendations for improving your 4way FS skills
At my home dropzone (DZ) and club in Saarlouis (FSZ Saar) I like to coach the 2way dive pool first. This is because almost all formations are the basics for 4way FS. Even if a third skydiver is added, the majority of 2way formation skydives still make sense. There is a 2way competition taking place at almost all DZs in Germany simultaneously, so training for that 2way competition is our first goal for beginner skydivers. Then usually some of them find each other for 3ways and 4ways and end the season with experimenting on that.
I always recommend a 4way wind tunnel camp to gain success faster. After a winter season with some tunnel camps we often have some newborn 4way teams in the following year. When I coach in the tunnel I love doing 3 rounds of no contact before taking grips so they learn to fly their body first.
When it comes to learning to do blocks or 3-D formations I really recommend flying 2 on 2 with two coaches. It helps you get the feeling and the visuals of the formation faster. Dirt diving is very important in the beginning to understand angles and transition. I remember creeping until we fell off the creepers! It’s hard work, but it helps a lot and costs no money 😉
It’s as much a mental game as it is physical in competition
When it comes to 4way competition skydiving we all need to know that it is more to the human factor than it is to skydiving skills. I’ve experienced all sorts of team dynamics, communication problems and fitness or health issues over the years. And after being on a mixed team years ago and now on an all-female team, I know that sharing the same goal and being willing to put in the same effort is the basis for everything else.
Get to know about yourself and about your team mate’s mental status and resilience. Learn to communicate with 5 individuals and know how to cope with everyone’s behaviour. Even adjust your own behaviour to meet the team’s needs. All of that is infinitely more important than turning fast or performing the best 3-D move individually.
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Use resources and gain perspectives from other skydivers
We as a team started using a profiling system called HBDI® to understand and cope with each other’s differences better. We have now established an honest but positive feedback culture in our team. In order to cope with competition mode and avoid brain logs I have learned to do my regular mental training and use visualisation methods before the jump. I read some books and studies in order to dive into different perspectives. But I also love to interview the most successful skydivers to know their personal tips and tricks.
One of them said that he thinks it is most important to always do everything the same way. This is to be consistent for the other team members and to save brain capacity. Another competitor said it is important how you structure your climb time in the plane. Firstly, visualise yourself in the formation. Then relax and look outside the window. Then again visualise the jump but from the perspective of the video man. And then again relax and share some funny gestures with your team before exiting.
One competitor told me he would put himself into the state wanting to fight or hunt before exiting to release massive energy to the moment. And one person told me it needs a certain pulse rate to perform to one’s optimum level. All of it, I think, is true and helpful.
My own trick is to put myself into a situation where I was very much attached to the moment. I visualise myself sitting at South Beach Martha’s Vineyard. I hear the roaring surf and feel the sand beneath me vibrate. That helps me to be attached to the moment, feeling connected to what I am doing right now and helping me focus to NOW.
Summary of my top tips for formation skydiving
Summarizing my little journey through 4way formation skydiving I think these are my bullet points:
- Find the right people to make a team with who have the same goal and the same commitment
- Cherish each other’s differences as complementary strengths
- Stay safe, be disciplined and maintain high quality in every jump
- Learn how to cope with stress and performance pressure
- “Hard training is easy competition”
Thanks for reading!
If you are keen for more information, check out the webinars we held in our Woogie earlier this year. Roy Janssen talked about coaching, mental preparation and competition in his webinars. Check out Vol. 1 & Vol. 2. Hayabusa also did two webinars about 4way life, training and competition. Head here for Vol. 1 and here for Vol. 2.
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