Great physical performance is as much about mental fitness as it is about physical fitness. That's a fact.
The idea that "skydiving is more mental than physical" is repeated so often in the sport that it's practically a truism. Even stone-cold pros concede that you don't necessarily need to be a very physically strong or flexible athlete to be a good skydiver (although it helps, of course). You do, however, need to be mentally strong. You need to consistently exhibit the ability to focus, channel your energy to the task at hand and actively manage your body's response to fear. Those skills are the object lessons of the field of sports psychology. Skydiving, then, is a great place to learn and hone them.
"Sport psychology, to put it simply, focuses on the psychological factors associated with physical performance," says Dr. John Bartholomew, an Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Austin's Department of Kinesiology and Health Education. Sports Psychologists work to help create consistency in their patients' athletic performance, helping their minds work with, and not against, their bodies. They help their patients to spark and stoke a roaring motivation that helps to clear the thick brush of discomfort, stress, fear and focus-lessness that plagues every human person, athlete and non-athlete alike. They help their patients face external pressures, too, such as intimidation and scrutiny.
Sports psychologists use a well-tested battery of techniques to meet those goals: Among them, breathing control, positive self-talk, visualization and pre-performance routines. Ironically enough, the so-simple-it's-hard key is to stop focusing on the outcome and start focusing on the moment. To that zen end, these techniques work together to dampen distractions and stress, slotting the athlete into the "flow" mentality we're all so keen to find. As you can imagine, these skills are not just useful on the court, the course or the stadium. These are life skills that strengthen every interaction of the practitioner with her outer and inner world--and skydiving might just be the perfect training ground for all of the above, as it emphasizes mental performance so distinctly while keeping the training in a physical context. (Read: If you can't do a ten-minute plank right now, no worries. But, if you practice these skills long enough, we bet you will.)
Skydiving cultivates poise and readiness in the face of stress. Your number-one goal on a skydive isn't necessarily to swim faster, run longer or leap farther than anybody else; instead, it's to relax and be calm as you head into a high-pressure environment where you need to be very alert, energetic, vigilant and focused. In doing so, over time, you learn to identify and sustain an optimal level of arousal, where you're engaged without being overstimulated. You'll use these same skills in life, when you're handling bad news; driving in poor conditions; making a public appearance; entering into a challenging conversation.
Skydiving comes complete with a pre-performance routine, the main points of which are set but the details of which are customized by the athlete. A set list of gear checks and preflight reviews form the foundation, but each athlete brings her own additional elements to the routine, making it meaningful, personal and even more effective.
Skydiving requires the athlete to actively visualize her performance, often in collaboration with one or more other skydivers. According to the director of the Exercise and Sports Psychology Laboratory at UT (who also serves as a researcher in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education), "mentally creating a detailed scenario full of vivid, multi-sensory cues is a tried and true method for reducing stress and anxiety, making it more likely that you will be comfortable during [the stressor]. After all, you will already have been a champion, if only mentally, and the rigors [...] may feel less threatening, more conquerable."
Are you interested in the ways skydiving can strengthen the stuff between your ears? We'd love to partner up with you on that journey! Come to Jumptown and earn your solo skydiving license. We're waiting to see you at the top of the class!