In part 4 of this series of articles we looked at various proven methods of eliminating
‘butterflies’ prior to venturing beyond the gliding range for the first time.
By Bernard Eckey
Today we will expand on this topic and deal with ‘Confidence and over-confidence’
as well as ‘Commitment and self motivation’.
Confidence and over-confidence
Although an unshakable confidence in our abilities is vital for success in any sport, it is especially relevant in gliding. Regardless of whether we look at the sport from a competition or from a recreational perspective, it always shows that a healthy dose of confidence and goes hand in hand with success or achievement.
Of course, we can only expect to be confident if our ability matches the task at hand. An early solo pilot lacking confidence in his or her soaring skills is unlikely to remain airborne for any length of time. Equally, a cross-country pilot lacking confidence will either turn around at the first sign of trouble or outland frequently. Confidence can only develop over time and with repeated and regular accomplishments. Unfortunately this psychological aspect of our sport is often underestimated. But how can low confidence pilots get on the road to success? Let’s start with a few suggestions for early solo pilots:
- Choose to fly when the conditions are not too difficult – nothing is more disheartening than performing two or three consecutive circuits only to see your fellow club member climb into the same glider during the better part of the day and disappear for a lengthy flight.
- Remain airborne for as long as possible and remember that slowly weakening conditions at the end of the day present first class chances to fine-tune our soaring skills.
- Ask your coach (or a pilot with proven soaring skills) to fly with you in a two-seater, share the flying and try to copy successful and proven soaring techniques.
- Never make the same mistake twice and never fly through the same patch of sinking air more than once. It’s not only the dumbest thing one can do but it is also a frequent reason for disappointment and failure.
For budding cross-country pilots the following suggestions have proven to be good confidence boosters:
- Deliberately move just beyond the gliding range of your airfield and far enough away to need more lift for a safe return to the home airfield. Making it back is bound to contribute greatly to an increased level of confidence but making it back real easy will instil a tremendous sense of achievement. It also provides encouragement to repeat or even top this success at the very next opportunity.
- Try to convince your more advanced peers to take you on a ‘lead and follow’ flight. Closely observe pilots with proven soaring skills and take mental notes on where they locate lift and how they find the core of the thermals.
- Fly on days when most other pilots prefer to spend the afternoon chatting away in the clubhouse. Successfully keeping the glider airborne in demanding conditions will boost your confidence levels and convince you to rely on your own skill and judgement in future.
- Analyse your less successful flights even more thoroughly than the successful ones in a bid to avoid the mistakes that have lead to an unsatisfactory outcome. Learn from mistakes and become your own coach.
Now let’s turn our attention to overconfidence. Confident pilots can properly assess their own limitations, and may sometimes say ‘No’ in a marginal situation. This is not an admission of inadequacy, but expresses a realistic, responsible, and mature attitude. In contrast, we occasionally find pilots who, after a successful flight or two, seem to think they know it all. In their own minds, they are ready for long distance flying and believe that records are no longer safe as soon as they can get their hands on a competitive glider. These pilots need just as much help as their more timid counterparts. Disappointment is waiting around the corner and may soon cause them to drop out of the sport without the successes they imagined. When overconfidence is paired with a disregard for safety, the alarm bells must ring. An attitude like, ‘Rules are for others to follow’, and “I’m too good, an accident won’t happen to me!” is a sure recipe for disaster.
Commitment and self-motivation
People who excel in our sport are usually highly committed and motivated. Their persistence and determination to go through adversary is a big part of their success! They are habitually fully committed and they know how important gliding is in their lives. With focus and persistence, they find a way around all obstacles, and they have realised that without it success will remain an elusive dream.
We are spoiled for choice when it comes to aviation activities, but we have decided on gliding. It is a time consuming sport and family or friends often apply pressure to spend more time with them, or on other non-gliding activities. On top of that spare time is usually in short supply and therefore we are often forced into a delicate balancing act. Failing to commit to the sport during our post-solo flying is all too often the reason for slow progress or even dropouts. Two steps forward and one step back are undesirable in any sport, but in gliding it is especially counterproductive. What matters most is to quickly capitalise on opportunities for skill enhancement, which is critically important during the early part of our gliding career. Every now and then we must take ourselves aside and investigate whether our commitment is as high as it should be and what we can do to remain motivated.
If we strive for longevity in gliding advanced soaring skills are of primary importance. Advanced skills will inevitably turn into tangible progress, which helps to remain motivated and become increasingly more competent. If, on the other hand, motivation wanes and our skills plateau, there is a real risk that our commitment suffers well before we reach our full potential.
Every person is unique - what motivates one pilot might not work for another.
We probably know of plenty of fringe dwellers in our sport, which only remain long-term club members for social reasons or for a general love of aviation. That’s obviously enough motivation for some of us, but there can’t be any doubt that achievement is by far the best motivator of all. Role models, coaches, friends and teammates are good examples of external motivators. If we socialise with dedicated pilots we are placing ourselves in an environment that is likely to lift our level of motivation and commitment further. Mixing with top achievers will provide additional learning opportunities, which further benefits our level of commitment. The usual result is unexpected success and a string of positive experiences. Setting and achieving even a small goal energises us and becomes an extremely powerful motivator and so does meeting gliding heroes and learning from them.
We also have to draw on our inner being for internal sources of commitment. In team sports coaches and other training staff provide the motivation. They all know that it makes the difference between what people will do and what they can do. However, soaring is a sport of individualists, so the strongest and most consistent form of positive motivation and commitment must come from within. Setting personal goals helps to enhance motivation and clearly underlines that our internal ‘fire’ is a much better motivator than any external source. If we keep the big picture foremost in our mind and focus on enhancing our skills through regular and ongoing training, we will pass up any temptations for distractions. We will eventually be rewarded by the many wonderful experiences that gliding offers to those who have acquired above average skill and knowledge. Just think of the freedom, joy, and excitement coming your way after you reach a level of skill that allows you to take full advantage of the tremendous performance of today’s superb gliders.
Exercising the highest level of commitment is what our top pilots do in preparation for record flights or during participation in competitions. It makes these pilots different from most others but being successful at this level is all about being fully focused on the task at hand. Top achievers simply do things more thoroughly and an undivided commitment is a big part of this. Put differently, our sport tends to reward highly motivated and deeply committed pilots by better flights.
Learning from the experts
Many newcomers tend to be motivated and greatly enthused by active cross-country pilots, the so-called “pundits”. After all, these pilots usually possess a tremendous amount of knowledge and when they consistently outperform others they are obviously doing something right. They might be more skilled and more experienced but whatever the case may be, it is always a good idea to learn from better pilots and let them help us. Admittedly, there are isolated cases where achievers hold back their winning formulae in an attempt to remain at the top of the pack. However, most top pilots are only too happy to share their wealth of experience with others and pass on their accumulated knowledge.
It is always best to take the initiative and ask quite specific questions. Just saying, ‘How come you were so fast today?’ is unlikely to extract a usable answer and will most probably not lead to great revelations. If, on the other hand, we are more specific we stand a very good chance of entering into very informative discussions. Be diplomatic and if necessary admit what your perceived weak points are. More often than not such tactics will make experienced pilots sympathize and useful hints will soon emerge.
Also, like most people, top pilots often like to underline their recommendations by referring to examples or episodes from some of their past flights. Provided we draw the correct conclusions we can learn a great deal – regardless of whether we hear of stories of success or failure. But don’t be disheartened if not everything clicks straight away. After all, during your first year of nuclear physics study you cannot be expected to be on par with Einstein.