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F2D News – 9 January 2005
Mark Rudner

Although it might not be what the weather brings to mind right now, I’ve decided to talk a bit about training in this month’s column. Combat is both a mental and a physical sport, and as with any sport, training is required for success. Training can take many forms. Depending on how you spend your time training, you may see a large benefit or relatively little benefit for a given amount of time spent. Everyone needs to tailor his/her training program to his/her own needs, but I’ll try to offer some general things to think about that will hopefully prove helpful in fine tuning your own training practices.

While it is often said that there is “no substitute for stick [flying] time,” I’d like to add a couple caveats to this statement. First, simply flying a lot is not enough to guaranty continuous improvement; as I will elaborate on below, to get the maximum benefit out of your flying time you should always be focusing on learning something. Second, just because flying may be the most effective means of training, this does not mean that you cannot train even when the weather does not permit flying.

In the off-season when the weather is bad, it is a good time to exercise your mind. As humans we are endowed with an incredible power of imagination, and it would be a shame to let it go to waste. The first thing you can do in your mental training program is to think back over the competitions of the past season and try to replay any particularly memorable matches in your head. A match may be memorable because it went well, or because it went poorly. Either way, as you replay the events in your head you should try to identify what techniques or strategies worked well for you, and what did not, and what tended to cause trouble for you in the air time and time again. Once you have identified these things, you should start to think of ways to overcome your difficulties, eliminate your bad habits, and how to amplify the good elements of your flying. Focus on what worked well, and figure out how to do more of it in the future. Did you have more success flying offensively or defensively? Is this what you feel is the best strategy for winning F2D matches? How can this strength be used more effectively in the future?

Once you have developed a fairly thorough assessment of your flying, it is then time to move to the second stage of mental training. This is where you can put your imagination to good use. In order to decide what types of changes might be beneficial, you can fly imaginary matches in your mind to test out various strategies in a wide range of scenarios. This probably becomes easier to do as one becomes more and more experienced, but it’s worth trying even for less experienced pilots. Think about difficult situations similar to those in which you have found yourself previously, and explore different options for how to get out of them and different ways an opponent might respond. What kinds of maneuvers might be necessary to implement your new strategies? Are you comfortable and confident enough with your models to be able to execute such maneuvers under pressure? By answering these questions for yourself, you will work out the details of the physical (flying) training program you need to undertake when the weather improves.

As I mentioned earlier, when the time does come to roll out the lines and fly again, it’s important to have specific goals in mind as you fly. In the beginning as you get used to the speed and sensitivity of F2D models, any time spent flying will help to make you more comfortable at the handle. After a while, however, simply flying around in your “comfort zone” will cease to do much good in the way of improving your flying. This is when you should start to push yourself. Every time you take off, have some goal or lesson in mind for the flight – try to fly lower, try to make accurate square corners, try to fly without looking at the model, or work on anything else that you believe would be helpful in a combat match. By always pushing yourself a little to try something new, you will notice your flying continuing to improve. Improvement may come slowly and steadily, or it may come in jumps separated by long plateaus, but as long as you keep working at it with the right attitude and mindset, progress will always be on the horizon.

In addition to working on your solo flying skills, it is also important to try out your new strategies in real combat situations. If you have flying partners with whom you can fly practice matches, this can be a very good opportunity for experimenting with different tactics and for further developing the good habits that you identified in your self-assessment. As with solo flying, it is important to have goals in mind when you fly practice matches – there is some benefit from simply flying around chasing after a streamer, but if you concentrate on learning specific things in each match I believe you will find yourself on a much quicker road to success.

That’s about all I can think to say about training at this point. I hope it will prove helpful for some of you out there. Happy meditating!

If you have any questions or comments, please email Mark at rudner@mit.edu