Using Cue Words for Efficient Practice

by Jen Sharp published in Parachutist Magazine

Cue words can help you become a more effective coach or instructor. A cue is simply a short command given during the practice section of a dirt dive to guide your student’s performance. The effectiveness is in its brevity. Here is an example:

In a coach certification course, a particularly verbose candidate felt compelled to spill his brains at every turn during a mock ground-prep session. A real student would have been overloaded with all the explanations and details and then simply tuned him out. How could I get this candidate to see how ineffective his words were? I made him a bet. I stopped the guided practice, stepped in as coach and asked the talkative candidate to count the number of words I said as I performed the mock ground prep. I guaranteed I would say fewer than 50 words. Naturally, he agreed to such a sure bet.

The dive was Category G2, up-and-down movement. I took two dolls from the training aid bin and said, “You,” to my pretend student as I shook one of the dolls. Then I shook the other and said, “Me.” I proceeded to show the dive flow as I interjected the appropriate cue words: “Up,” as I moved my doll up and then the student doll up. “Down,” I quipped next, again moving my doll down followed by the student doll. I repeated this a few times, then showed the dolls tracking away and pulling.

I put a couple of beanbag chairs on the floor and knelt on one of them. “Up,” I said while demonstrating the body position for upward movement. “Neutral,” I said next and went back to a relaxed, arched, neutral position. The student knelt on the beanbag next to me and copied me. I said, “Neutral,” and he complied correctly. (Of course, a student at the G2 level knows the relaxed-arch-neutral position.) Then I said, “Up,” with a rising inflection, and he copied the body position I just demonstrated. I had him hold it for several seconds while I adjusted his arms to a more effective location. “Neutral.” He went back to arch, and I followed that with, “Rest,” my voice inflecting downward so he understood he could stop arching. I waited three seconds and then cued him, “Neutral.” He went to the arch position. I said, “Up,” and he went again to the body position for upward movement and—using only pressure and touch—I reinforced how his thighs should tighten and his shoulders should roll forward. “Neutral,“ I cued. A second later, “Rest.” I repeated upward movement twice more, then demonstrated and practiced “down” similarly. Finally, we moved to the horizontal trainer and ran through the dive three times, at first with me cuing him verbally and visually, then silently, with a real-time altimeter so he could gain a sense of timing and confidence in the flow. Done.

I turned and looked at the candidate. “How many?” I asked.

As it turns out, I used 56 words, so I lost the bet.