Game, Mindset & Match

Fast approaching the age of 47, I am more qualified, knowledgeable and skilled in various disciplines now than when I was younger, even if I have to admit that I am physically less able (cue list of old and new injuries). Arguably, some physical attributes are over-rated and mindset is equally, if not more, important, depending on your game. Some sports, and I would single out paragliding in particular, demand a level of currency to stay reasonably safe.
The implication is that after a lay-off enforced by the seasons or other demands, it is wise to ease back into the sport. This is more than just carefully judging the meteorological conditions, flying familiar places and undertaking less demanding flights to get reacquainted with one’s kit (various toggles, emergency handles, gadgets and buckles). This is vital – but useless without re-engaging a risk-taking mindset.
Tennyson said “Those Himalayas of the mind are not so easily possessed. There’s more than precipice and storm between you and your Everest”. He was dead right. If we have good training and the pukka kit, any adventure sport or discipline would be easy – right? No so. It’s our brains that get in the way of peak performance; witness our GB Olympic heroes. There is little the conditioning coaches can do for them on the day but the input of their sports psychologists can be pivotal. I have used many effective sports psychology concepts in ski teaching to build self belief and to dash self-limiting beliefs (such as “I can’t ski black runs”). It is amazing how well people will perform when they think they are on a red run (which they are normally competent on) and they are actually on a black run. The colour of the run is now one less excuse for poor performance. The bar has been raised; self esteem and self belief are fortified and we can move on to greater enjoyment and challenges.
I had my own red run/black run experience recently on a fabulous long paraglide flight on Blencathra in the Lake District. It is an intimidating mountain environment and a “demanding site” according to the guide book. I had never flown this site and initially cautiously felt my way around the hill before flying higher and “running” the ridge, with walkers below waving up at me.
When it was time to land, I looked out over Threlkeld village for the school sports field where I had been advised to land. In and amongst the houses and trees, I spotted the school, then the goal posts and made out the distinctly rectangular pitch. The pitch looked small but judging sizes on the ground is difficult from high up. Spiralling down, I continued on my approach, getting lower and lower, and the pitch still looked small. I considered landing in the larger, open fields below me but chose not to disturb the cows (or their owner). There are fewer landing options the closer you get to the ground and eventually I was totally committed to putting down in the pitch. As I was on “finals” I could now see that the field was bounded by a hazardous stone wall laced with barbed wire. An end of terrace house butted up against the pitch and I heard my glider wing brush against it as I cleared the wall and wire and turned sharply right. I braked hard and dumped myself and the glider firmly down on the ground, intact. Brilliant. It was the flight of the summer.
I packed up the wing and hitched a lift back to my car. “That was a postage stamp landing field,” I commented to the pilot that picked me up. He looked confused, and then told me I should have used the proper, full-sized pitch further out from the village along the main road. Had I been making an emergency landing on the pitch I may have reacted differently and been more stressed. As it was, I thought it was a “red run” when it was really black (if not off piste!) and it was just a matter of total focus and doing what I know how to do, without self-doubt getting in the way. How satisfying to finish the flying season with that experience, rather than to begin with it!
Baz Roberts
Baz is a sponsored athlete with The North Face (UK)