The Eternal Classroom

Friday, July 12, 2019

Maxine Tate Teaching on Failure

Embracing New Adventures

“I don’t seem to be able to leave that alone,” she grins, “so at the end of last year I went in thinking, ‘Okay, what am I going to compete in next? What do I like doing?’ Well, I like to go fast. That’s no surprise. I’ve already competed in various flat and canopy related disciplines, I don’t do much free flying at all, I don’t fly head down, so the natural choice would be speed skydiving which is all about flying almost head down. I’ve never done it, but I always want to learn something new. I really love being a newbie.”

“Speed skydiving is relatively still in its infancy as a discipline,” she continues, “It has been around a few years, and it seems like everybody is experimenting with techniques. I had a chat with a few competitors for advice and then had a go. They are using the Flysight as the measuring tool now, and I’m very familiar with the platform from canopy piloting. You have the ability to use data analysis to improve performance and figure it out – it’s not guesswork anymore; you can look at the information and learn from it and that appeals to me. That’s the eternal student in me, I suppose.”

That mentality was very much in evidence, too, when Maxine was an actual entry-level student. When she first started skydiving, she went down the classic belly-flying route, and she got the fire in her belly for formation skydiving straightaway. An AFF instructor on the dropzone where Maxine was certified started a team, and she and Maxine competed in both 4-way and 8-way for the first four years of Maxine’s career. She absolutely ate it up.

After that, Maxine moved to Australia. She started to do more 8-way in Aus, but after four years or so of hard-core competition in FS — being a highly considered person — she had an interesting realization. “I realized that, as I was spending all my time as an FS coach and in the tunnel teaching body flying skills, my canopy work was really quite shoddy in comparison,” she says. “At this point, I was competing at a very high level in FS and I really felt like I wasn’t a well-rounded skydiver. I decided to make sure that I was competent in all of the prerequisite skills to be a skydiver, not just what I was focusing on.”

“I’d just come off a full season of training 8-way FS, so the idea of being a team of one as a canopy pilot seemed way easier than a team of nine,” she says. “So I started swooping. But even at that time, as a pro canopy pilot and a competitor, I still wanted to try and learn other related skills. There is so much symbiosis in the other disciplines, so I did a season of 2-way sequential CRW and competed at US Nationals – it definitely made me a better canopy pilot.”

Maxine joined up with Flight-1, the leading canopy school in the sport, in 2010. There, she found a group of athletes who share her passion for constant, optimized learning — and for passing that along to the next, keen generation of skydivers.

“A mantra we have [at Flight-1] is to be an educator, not a regurgitator,” she enthuses. “An educator takes information and gives it to someone in a way that they are going to understand and relate to fully, which is different for every person. That’s the challenge I love about being an instructor: it’s the art of getting the best out of every single person you work with, especially in skydiving, where you are working with adults who have already developed a certain means of learning. It is the skill of the instructor to help focus in on how that person learns best.”

That’s not easy, of course. One of the challenges Maxine points out is that — let’s face it — the timeline for learning in skydiving has become quickly and decidedly compressed. With the advent of the tunnel, athletes with a freefall issue can leverage the repeatability of the tunnel to solve problems in a day or two of focused work.

“If you are going to change the way you perform a maneuver, you need to break down the old muscle memory, replace it with the new methodology and then repeat it enough so it becomes the new muscle memory,” Maxine explains. “That doesn’t happen in one or two jumps. You may be able to achieve it in an hour of free fall time say, which you can manage in the tunnel in a day or a weekend. But you can’t do that under canopy.”

“Here is the thing: All of the athletes, myself, colleagues, competitors, friends, we do the work,” she insists. “We do a lot of work behind the scenes. I think we should do a better job of telling that story and describing the hundreds of jumps that go into developing a stellar zone acc run for example – so that people understand that we have been through it too. There are only a very small handful of athletes in the top 30 that are naturally talented pilots. You don’t necessarily need to be born with a riser in your hand. You need to put in the work and — most importantly — believe in your ability to get to your endgame.”

At the end of the day, the students who walk away are all walking away from one thing: Fear of failure. That saddens Maxine, but she understands where they’re coming from.

“Sometimes we are the ones that stand in our own way because we don’t believe in ourselves enough to keep at it,” she says. “But failure is the last thing you should be running from. Actually, I think it should be embraced in a big way. It is said, ‘If you fail, don’t give up because FAIL stands for first attempt in learning . And the end is not the end. In fact, END stands for effort never dies . In other words, if you don’t do the work, you aren’t going to earn the Merit, and the only person you’re truly disappointing is yourself.”

According to Maxine: when it comes down to it, your own opinion is the only opinion that matters, and it is so much better to be your biggest advocate than your biggest naysayer. She insists that the most important thing is not to let fear of failure — in your own eyes, or in other people’s eyes — be your reason for quitting. Ultimately, to Maxine, quitting is the only true failure.

“I think people should care less about the opinions of others and focus more on whatever they have to do to achieve their goals,” she says. “Allow yourself to fail, then fail again and again and again, until you succeed. One doesn’t exist without the other. Commit to the endgame and remember we are so much more capable than we think we are.”

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