Waterski Jumping is an extreme sport with a high level of risk. The athletes that don’t take it seriously will at some point get a wake up call. This isn’t your average sport. It’s life threatening, and very dangerous if not approached in a wise and calculated manner. We all need to accept this, and do our best to manage the risks! Pretending we aren’t scared, and making light of the reality of Jumping is not the approach to becoming a great jumper. If you take a more scientific approach to the sport, and learn from the ones who have managed the risks, and reaped the rewards, it’s surprising how easy it is to steadily improve
We should all know that it is necessary to take this sport seriously if we want to be able to enjoy it for lots of years and have many big, fun and most importantly safe jumps. Let's break down my take on understanding and managing fear, when it comes to taking a rip at the big red monster.
For starters, we all need to admit we are scared to jump. We need fear to be able to survive. The whole term No Fear, or Fearless is complete insanity. That mindset is not going to help anyone survive or perform well. If in life we didn't have fears, we wouldn't be where we are today as a society, and we wouldn't be evolving. Fear stimulates our mind, pumps our adrenaline, and makes us nervous. If it gets out of control and we don't know how to manage it, fear can cripple us and make it nearly impossible to perform. I would say we have all felt this at some point in our lives. Overwhelmed, accelerating heart rate, sweating, scattered thoughts, even sick to the stomach at times. These natural reactions are part of life, and part of our body and mind preparing us for something dangerous! The saying only the strong survive does have some merit. From my viewpoint, only the ones who can properly manage and use fear to their advantage will survive. In our sports case, the goal is to jump safely and be able to manage challenging situations effectively. If managed properly fear can trigger the perfect amount of adrenaline, increase and narrow our focus, steady our heart rate and help us to perform to our potential with ease and flow. This is what some people call being in the zone, narrowing focus, in the moment, or completely present. This is what I call the ideal performance state. This is a place where everything flows, things seem to come with ease, and time seems to stop for the few moments we are performing.
When I am performing my best I am so focused that at times I don't even realize what has happened, how far I flew or even if it was a good jump. I am so into the exact moment that I have no idea of what just happened or what's next. At my last event of the 2016 season, the US Open, I was so focused on a few key things I totally forgot what the top score was or if I was even close distance wise. I looked over at the scoreboard after my first jump and realized I won by 9 ft. It was a surreal moment, and that's when the positive endorphins and adrenaline really kicked in! I was in shock, and awe and then sent back to reality! Now the question is how do we get closer to this ideal performance state? I'll share a few tips that will hopefully help us all find our flow! Don't get me wrong. I have spent 22 years working on this so I don't have any magic tricks, but I do promise that understanding fear and what triggers it and how to manage it will over time make a big difference in your skiing.
Calculate your appropriate level of risk for each set you take:
In Jump it's important to take calculated risks for your confidence and to progress. Jump isn't a go to your max every set no matter what the conditions are type of sport. It's a sport where you find smart and unique ways to challenge yourself on a regular basis. If it's windy, and you are sore and tired, maybe you challenge yourself to 20 passes of drills without stopping the boat, or you cut and pass and work on being 5 ft later than normal to get used to it. If it's perfect out, you could set a goal to jump within 5 ft of your personal best 3 jumps in a row. The idea is to use your imagination to set up a unique challenge for yourself that slightly pushes you out of your comfort zone. You have to be willing to adapt as we can't always control the conditions in our sport!
Identify and understand how you will manage all the possible challenges you are about to face:
Before a tournament take a few minutes to look at the obstacles and challenges that might come your way. If the site has backwash, a different boat than you are used to, and you don't know who the driver is, find a way to prepare for these obstacles to the best of your ability. Do a few sets skiing on a rolly site, or do circles with the boat to mess the water up before your set. Grab a few sets with the competition towboat somewhere, and mix it up with a few different drivers before you head off to compete. Being able to say you did your best to manage these potential challenges before the event will do wonders for your confidence, and make it much easier to be calm and at ease when it comes down to the big day!
Control what you can control
Rest, Nutrition, Training, Fitness, Steady practice etc. All of these things you can control. Do your best to leave no stone unturned! The more you prepare, the lower your competition anxiety will be, and the higher your level of confidence will be. For example, the week before the Masters, I make sure I eat well, get 8 hours of sleep a night, stick to my workouts, and make sure I get a few high quality tournament sets in. That’s about all I can control. The rest I just let go of, and enjoy the ride! Everything else is meant to be.
Set yourself up with a pre-ski routine:
Everyone is different but I feel it's essential to have a pre-ski routine. I would suggest a 15-25 min dynamic warm-up, followed by a few minutes to think about your plan for the set, and a few more to get suited up as a starting point. Before we hit the water it's essential to prepare our body and mind for the task at hand. Here is how I see it going for you! Start with 5-10 min light cardio to jack up your heart rate and get your blood pumping, then put your body through the full range of motion, add in a few practice visualization jumps, think about a few keys for your set, relax and suit up. Then it's time to walk down to the dock with confidence because you are about to have some fun and fly!
If you love jumping, and have experienced the unique and life changing adrenaline rush that comes with flying off of the big red monster and landing a jump, I’m sure you will appreciate this article. My goal is that everyone who reads this can relate to one bit of wisdom that I have presented. That can be for either sport or life. The rules for fear are across the board, and not specific to Jumping. Good luck, and please feel free to reach out to me with any questions, or would like to book in for some coaching!