The AFF training program is very rewarding but can sometimes be challenging for both the instructor and the student. Instructors want their students to be successful and safe, and so they are often eager to impart their years of knowledge to them. While this desire is honorable, instructors may inadvertently overload students with information that they simply do not have the bandwidth to absorb or the experience to comprehend. By keeping things simple and using standardized training methods, instructors can avoid unnecessary difficulties for themselves and their students.
The AFF program is designed to teach basic survival skills through a series of training jumps. These include performance criteria that the student must meet in order to advance and eventually earn an A license. This training is meant to form long-lasting habits in a new jumper, habits that they must hold onto for the rest of their careers. During the first few jumps in the program, it is especially important for instructors to keep their instructions simple and focused. Information dumping distracts from the task at hand and overwhelms the student.
Far too often, instructors spend precious time going into unnecessary detail about aspects of skydiving that have no impact on the jumps their students are about to do. It is easy to fall into this trap, and it may take a conscious effort and quite a bit of self-restraint to remember to keep things simple and focus on what the student needs to be successful. This holds for instruction in freefall, as well. Too much unnecessary input will confuse and fatigue an already anxious student.
Instructors should teach students in the early categories only what they need to know to be successful on that specific jump. At the start of the day, review emergency procedures and practice gear checks. After covering these survival skills, then focus on the new dive flow, exit plan, canopy skills and landing pattern.
Jumpers are at the mercy of the daylight and the weather, and instructors should never waste their students’ time when conditions are jumpable. (Students are there to skydive, not hear someone’s cool swoop stories.). Condition students to be responsible with time management. Make sure they respect the call time and hold them accountable for getting geared up and ready. This mindset will benefit them for their entire skydiving careers. If you are spending an hour or more with your student before every jump, then it's time to rethink your own time-management skills.
Once a student moves on to the solo and coached-jump categories, they will have enough experience to begin comprehending the more nuanced parts of skydiving. This is when instructors can assume more of a mentor role and begin diving deeper into topics. For example, someone landing off could spur a detailed conversation on the topic of exit separation, ground speed and jump run. In later categories, this explanation of what led a jumper to land off will be vastly more comprehensible than it would have been just a few jumps earlier.
Give students only the tools they need for success. Observe their progress and give simple feedback. Learning takes time, so don’t try to teach them everything you’ve learned over years in one day. They’ll get there.
David Mazik | D-32497
AFF and Tandem Instructor