Lessons From the Masters: The Blue Angels

We have a big old schoolhouse chalkboard on the wall right by our door. Whenever I get an inspiration for a post, I scribble the idea on the board… if the idea hits me away from home, it gets entered on my phone and transferred to the chalkboard when I get home.

chalkboardI like the chalkboard… it is very tactile and very visual… plus it is fun to draw up plays and defenses “old school” style when fellow coaches visit!

The other day I was looking at the board… it really is unavoidable since it just about smacks you in the face when you enter our home… plus I can see it from where I normally sit and type these posts.

I noticed there was a common thread running through about 3 or 4 of the ideas that had made it to “The Board”… the commonality was what we as coaches can learn from “experts” in fields outside our discipline.

So this post will be the first in a series of “Lessons from the Masters”.

The National Geographic channel has some interesting programming… especially interesting for an old history teacher and coach. Recently they had a special on the Blue Angels, the US Navy’s precision aerobatic team. The pilots on the Blue Angel flight team are elite… the best of the best… masters of their craft. Over 500 navy pilots a year apply for the squad and only 6 are chosen.

The show itself focused on the training of the Blue Angel team… both physical and mental preparation. The part that intrigued me was their pre-show (pre-game) ritual of “Chair Flying”.   I have written about mental visualization several times (Mental Visualization, The Highest Quality Mental Reps, Inside Russell Wilson’s Brain) but these pilots take it to a new level.   Blue Angels’ Captain Greg McWherter, has this to say about their mental practice….

“We’re a very structured organization, as you can imagine. We do the same thing every practice and on a show day. Two hours prior to flying, we get geared up and drive into work together. When we get to work, we go into our briefing room and close the doors for almost an hour before we brief and we don’t let anyone upset that. No family, no press, no friends. And we do that just so we can get focused as a team. Once we start the briefing, we have a set pattern. I lead the briefing, talking about the weather, and we’ll sit in our chairs and close our eyes. We’ll put our right hands out like we’re gripping the controls stick, our left hands out like we’ve got our throttle and we’ll “chair fly” through the maneuvers just like we’re flying the plane. And from an outsider looking in, it looks like we’re doing a séance.”

Here is a  brief video of their mental visualization technique.

My takeaway… this is yet more proof of the value of mental visualization… a verification that this technique works. It is a technique that these men are quite literally betting their lives on. Mental visualization helps them perform precision maneuvers that at times put their wingtips within eighteen inches from each other while flying at 700 miles per hour.

blue angelsDo you talk to your athletes about how to prepare mentally for a contest? Do you spend time teaching mental visualization techniques? How much time do you spend with your athletes on the different mental components of the game?

You Can Do More… your brain is lying to you…. Don’t Believe It!

Jeff Floyd – youcandomore1@yahoo.com