XC-Flying: It’s all about mental strength and attitude

XC-Flying: It’s all about mental strength and attitude

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Preparation for and attitude during XC flights

Last year we had a beer together after a great XC day and were talking about the importance of “the head” in cross country flying. Master mile-muncher Hans Tockner said: “XC flying is 100 % percent a mental thing!” We took this statement as a reason to ask our team pilots what they think about this. The answers were really interesting and inspiring. These are the questions our team pilots answered:

  1. How important do you consider the mental preparation for an XC flight? If important, what exactly do you do?

  2. How important are attitude and mental strength during an XC flight? Do use any special techniques?

  3. Have you ever done a mental training? How was it?

Uros Bergant (Slovenia)

1. I like to have “flown” everything in my head before actually doing it. So I visualize a successful day from preparing the equipment to landing in the evening. In my preparation, I try to minimize the unknowns to the minimum.

2. Two things, closely related, are important: motivation and focus. The head needs to be clear of other things in life, motivated and focused only for the flight. The main rule is to forget about retrieval completely.

3. I’m sure I do it a lot, though not consciously or even methodically.

Wolfgang Bernhard (Austria)

1. In my opinion the essence that separates good from outstanding XC pilots is mental strength. Physical fitness and state of the art gear are elemental anyway. Before a long XC flight, I „fly“ possible routes in my head. When I pass special locations or scenery (glaciers, beautiful mountains etc.) I take time to enjoy.

2. While flying I always ask myself some basic questions: Are the conditions OK? Do I still enjoy the flying? Honesty is the basic key. You have to be true to yourself. A wrong decision can affect your paragliding for years. Trust me, I know what I am talking about… Besides these basic guiding lines, I focus on optimizing turning points, speed, and so on.

3. Yes, regularly but that was 25 years ago, while I was part of the Austrian national Judo team.

Maria Grazia Crippa (Italy)

1. I think is very important! Like for every kind of long-distance sports, I do creative visualization (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creative_visualization). Why? Attitude and mental strength mean everything in paragliding! If you feel uncomfortable, are afraid, or keep thinking you have cold, warm, you need to piss… you’ll bomb out! This is what I do: I try to think positive and I tell to myself: “It’s an EN B-glider. Don’t be scared. Nothing can happen to you.” This is because I’m a scaredy-cat…

2. A good advice is to divide the flight into parts: this will make the distance feel much more manageable.  For example, if the plan is a triangle I divide it in three parts. After the first turnpoint I think “OK, one is done.” At the start of the second leg, I visualize myself just starting out on a new flight – with a fresh mind. I just focus on getting to the end of the second leg. Of course I restart for the 3rd. For each leg I remind myself that accepting the challenges and difficulties I face will make my accomplishment more worthwhile in the end.

3. I practised creative visualization when I did Karate, and yes it was very helpful. I have applied it at paragliding and it works. Sometime I lie in my bed and imagine I’m flying: I did a perfect launch. I try to imagine myself as a super-pilot, who is mastering his glider – feeling smooth, graceful and relaxed!

Joe Edlinger (Austria)

1. I am an optimist and generally feeling well. That’s one of the most important aspects. Today my preparation is not so much mental. It includes the whole planning before a flight, traveling there, of course much sleep, meeting with friends – and laughing about our mysterious dreamy world.

2. No, I don’t actively think about my psyche. During a flight I am 100 % focused on the flight itself. After a challenging situation in turbulences I enjoy the first calm moments. I shout out all the happiness and enthusiasm at the cloud base. These few minutes, when I feel my pulse and the adrenalin slowly decreasing, provide tons of positive energy for the rest of the flight.

3. No, but I have thought about it. I think contains a lot of potential for getting better. Generally I follow my father’s advice who always used to say „it’s your own fault, if you feel bitter“. That’s a great way to get rid of weary thoughts.

Peter Ertle (Germany)

1. Besides the usual preparations and check-ups like weather, gear, urinal condom etc., I don’t have a ritual. Sometimes I fly the route in my head, focus and analyse the cruxes and try to manage them better then the last time. From time to time, I tell myself „hit the sack and get more sleep“ – being too excited this concept doesn’t work yet.

2. Being reasonably fit and above all enjoying my airtime is the base. During the flight, my excitement and experience pushes me forward. Other than that I am absolutely focused. General awareness and alertness enable me to adjust my plan. If necessary I try to think out of the box and be brave enough to change a plan. The best moment is when I am sure to complete the triangle.

3. Nope!

Till Gottbrath (Germany)

1. The most important thing is to have a goal at all! How do you want to achieve something if you don’t know what? The factual planning means weather-check, route planning and enough sleep. Knowing that all these factors are well executed, I can launch confidently and joyfully. Some flights I fly in my head and on my computer in advance. Calm preparation minutes before the start are very important for me. I often take a few minutes time out from the launch site hustle. I then imagine what it will feel like to land after 10 hours and a 200 km triangle (which actually still is a dream for me).

2. I guess 99 % of the flying-time, I’m fully focused on the flight itself. But I also use some “motivation tricks”. I am excited about little achievement like reaching a turnpoint. I book this as a success. In calm conditions I relax – physically and mentally. I enjoy the landscape and the sensation of flying. Having gained height again after a low save, I can count this as a success again. And sometimes a cheer for my paraglider: „Come on, fly baby!“ But that’s more intuitive then intentional.

3. No, but I am very interested.

Matthias Kirchmayr (Austria)

1. Mental preparation is very important for a successful XC flight. The day before a flight, I check the weather forecast and work out a realistic route. I then imagine flying the chosen route several times and really concentrate on turning points and tricky sections. Yet, I have also experienced awesome flights with changed plans according to weather and conditions. In these cases, it is still important for me to have and follow certain goals like mountains, valleys, or villages.

2. That’s very important. Paragliding is mainly a mental issue! After a collapse or heavy turbulences I try to analyse my fears and ask myself if the flight is still joyful. If not, I slowly land at a safe spot. If I can control my fears, I keep on flying – with maximum motivation.

3. No.

Hermann Klein (Germany)

1. It’s not so much a special kind of mental training, but the general process of planning a flight. Having time, not worrying about meetings etc. With closed eyes I picture myself flying each route several times, focusing on the mountain chains and ranges as well as traverses over valley. At the launch site I take my time – I sit down and inhale the day. That makes me calm and focused. Good physical preparation and enough sleep keeps up concentration for longer.

The opposite: A sudden decision to go flying but you don’t have much time because you have a date in the evening. So you hurry up the mountain and get airborne without a target or a real plan. After two hours you bladder seems to explode because you forgot to pee. That’s not the way to do it – with or without mental training.

2. Self confidence is extremely important! In my experience bombing out is mainly caused by the head. If you believe in it, you will almost always find thermal lifts. I also try not to be distracted. I fully live in the presence.

3. No.

Johann Kronberger (Austria)

I don’t really care for mental training. I simply want to get out there and enjoy flying. I only check my gear, the weather forecast and focus on the route planning.

Werner Luidolt (Austria)

1. Mental preparation is really important to me. The key elements that work best for me are a positive attitude and my personal beliefs, some relaxing techniques, the power of visualization and imagination, scanning the area and, of course, the perfect set up of my gear.

2. I try to relax when I’m in the air (i.e. when doing a long traverse), both mentally and physically. The ideal state of flying is when you experience the flow. Body and soul are in perfect harmony and work as one. You don’t think, you just fly.

3. I made many experiences and developed my own personal mental preparation ritual. I am very open to that special field and want to learn more about mental coaching.

Roland Mäder (Switzerland)

1. Mental preparation is the basic key for me. Even though I’m really excited before every flight, I take some time to focus and ask myself whether I am really ready for that flight. The desire to fly is the central element!

2. During the flight mental strength means one and all! When I’m in the air, my body works half intentionally and half intuitionally on the right mood to fly fast, efficiently and safely.

3. You mean a real mental training? No. But for sure I benefit from the NOVA Pilots Team – face to face and via all different forms of communication. The team spirit really pushes and motivates me. It also provides energy for long XC flights.

Michael Pohl (Austria)

1. Mental preparation is an essential part of the whole planning process before an XC flight. After having chosen a route, which fits the weather forecast, I dive into the route with my mind. With the help of Google Earth and See You I visualize all the important sectors and turnpoints. I already fly this task.

2. In the air I fly step by step and try to fully concentrate on the very next tactical decision (Route, line, weather etc.). Most important: stay focussed on my final goal. If have decided something I stick with. No doubts are allowed. In case a tactical decision turns out to be bad (loss of time, poor thermals) I don’t bother. No negative thoughts. Instead I try to stay motivated by thinking of good times with my fly-buddies, imagining achieving today’s goal and landing safely with my friends.

3. No.

Robert Schaller (Germany)

1. Not really. I’m permanently hot on paragliding anyway.

2. In the air I try to reach some kind of a “flow” where I act automatically. For me that “flow” leads to reaching base with the last thermal after 8 p.m., finding a safe landing spot after a seven-hour flight, and completing a three digit FAI triangle. And just before landing a bit of relaxed soaring would the icing on the cake.

3. No.

Vladimir Svorcan (Serbia)

1. When I fly for fun, I don’t plan a lot. I just follow my heart. But for competitions it is particularly important and based on “the check”: before competitions I check and double-check my gear, repack my reserve if necessary, do visual check on lines, canopy and harness. Then check all batteries and instruments, consult weather maps and most of all, talk to local pilots or other competitors who were at this location before. It makes me confident.

2. Attitude is very important. If you feel like a winner, you will probably make it. When I am stuck low and slow I curse the weather or say a little prayer. This distracts my mind from thinking about the bad position I am in. My main strategy and weapon is patience. I will thermal anything I find, even –0.5 m/s, just to prolong being airborne. Eventually a thermal will fire up and it will boost me up too.

3. Somehow… I use everyday advice from my mother: “if you have to deal with clerks in bureaucracy establishment, arm your self with patience.” The same applies for flying: in weak or turbulent conditions, patience is the key. Don’t lose faith.

Hans ter Maat (Netherlands)

The key element on the day before a flight are checking the gear, route and weather conditions, as well as transportation and of course good food! Having done this I imagine myself flying the selected route – I try to imagine all bad case scenarios that may occur. If I actually get into turbulences there are hardly any surprises. A great looking house has had a well-organized architect. It’s the same with paragliding. The better your preparation, the smoother your flight.

Good preparation also means to have a clear mind. I try not to be distracted by every day problems. This helps me to put all my energy into flying and actually keeps me longer in the air.

Hans Tockner (Austria)

1. As your brain really has to stay sharp for hours during a flight, I think that mental preparation is responsible for a successful long distance flight. Before a flight I imagine all kinds of critical scenarios and develop the solutions. When you get in turbulences or any kind of trouble, you better have a ‘plan b’ right away.

2. I always split up a whole route into smaller sections. Every section has is own goal. Having finished a section, I analyze what went well and what went wrong. It’s a constant learning progress. In order not to loose my head and make a mistake, I imagine possible problems that might occur before reaching tricky parts. But the most important things are enjoying and relaxing. When there are no important decisions to be made, I simply enjoy our awesome sport and the beautiful landscape that we get to discover. Isn’t that the reason why we go paragliding anyway? These rich experiences give me so much positive energy that my mind will be fully focused again, when it gets tricky.

3. No.

Final question: What do you think? We are interested in your feedback and comments…