Having a safe space to learn is important when approaching anything new, but it’s especially important for skydiving, where the new stuff can be dangerous if not performed correctly. This safe space starts with the environment. The people, background noise, things around the room and general vibe can have a huge impact on your headspace and capacity to absorb new information. A calm but constructive environment with minimal distractions allows you to better understand and retain information.
One of the coolest things about skydiving as a sport is how much there is to learn! Anyone who has received their A license knows that graduating is just the beginning. First you figure out how to fly with people who don’t have instructor skills, learn different ways to exit and new ways to take a dock and get more practice with fall-rate control than you ever expected. You discover all kinds of directions you can go with the sport: flying in huge formations, sit-flying, tracking, head-down flying, wingsuiting and how to become an instructor, just to name a few. Every one of these requires more learning, and if you’re at a drop zone that creates a safe space to learn, doing so will be much more enjoyable!
How do you know if you’ve found or created a safe space to learn? It boils down to one thing: The fear of making mistakes must be removed from the environment. You have to create or find a place where it’s OK to mess up. Learning involves a lot of messing up! If both the student and teacher see mistakes as stepping stones instead of roadblocks, it creates a safe space to learn. Then a funny thing starts to happen: When fear of making mistakes disappears, the mistakes themselves seem to occur less often.
If you are a mentor or instructor, be clear, concise and explain that safety is the thing that really matters. Although there may be performance expectations on the jump, ensure that the person being mentored knows that execution does not need to be perfect. (It’s OK if the back flip isn’t pretty.) Focus on the things that matter: altitude awareness, regaining stability, pulling on time and landing safely. Removing the fear of messing up eases the tension during prep, which eases the tension on the skydive. This allows learning to be fun.
The first step to being really good at something is being really bad at it. To maintain a safe space for learning, deal with mistakes—your own or others—kindly. Touch on the positives first. (If you had fun on the jump, despite the errors, say so!) Approach an error as a teaching moment and touch on the opportunities for growth.
If something someone did on a jump genuinely scared you, speak to them in private. Embarrassing someone in front of others is unnecessary and not constructive. People are more likely to listen to a lesson when you give it in a way that shows you care. If you yell at someone in a public space, they’re not going to listen or learn. You may lose their respect and ability to teach them anything in the future.
The thing about learning is that we are all doing it—students, new jumpers, old jumpers, instructors and even sky gods. If we can create a safe space to learn it creates a better environment for every single one of us.
Julianne Grau | D-40369, AFF Instructor, Coach
San Antonio, Texas