This was sent to me by an Art of Airmanship reader, who is an active USN F/A-18 pilot. It was written sometime in the 90’s, and is credited to Lieutenant Commander James Winnefeld, Jr. He was a US Navy pilot, a real TOPGUN instructor, and worked on the movie Top Gun. He is currently an Admiral, serving as Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It’s on the reading list at LSO school, and is a fascinating deep dive into the practical mental aspects of high performance flying. Most of us don’t “call the ball” to land on an aircraft carrier. But we can all get better at the flying we do. This is how:
BALL FLYING AND BASEBALL
One reason Navy carrier pilots enjoy landing on aircraft carriers so much is that the act has every characteristic of being a professional sport – except, of course, that the money involved is not nearly as good and the road trips are longer. In fact, with the exception of one versus one air combat maneuvering (ACM), “ball flying” is probably the ultimate in motor sports. However, while dog fighting against another pilot is like boxing, tennis or match race sailing, ball flying more closely resembles trying to hit a baseball.
If you are like me, you always played baseball as you grew up, but never truly understood its myriad intricacies. Now that I’ve lived in a major league baseball town for eight years, I’m beginning to appreciate the game’s subtleties and to live vicariously through some of my local ballplayer’s experiences. Meanwhile, I have accumulated over 500 “traps” on the “boat”, and have come to realize how much a pilot landing on an aircraft carrier has in common with a major league ballplayer at the plate. There are endless parallels, many of which can freshen one’s attitude towards “the game” and at the same time improve one’s performance.
Several similarities are immediately apparent. Ball flying and hitting are both difficult and dangerous tasks in which there is very little margin for after a pilot’s first six-month deployment or a rookie’s first season, seem to exist regardless of experience (with the exception of the occasional “rookie sensation”). And there is also usually a lot of time to think about things between “at bats”.
But, let’s dig a little deeper to see if there are similarities, which will illuminate our own business for us and make us safer and more skillful pilots.
First, ball flying and hitting both require superb motor skills, excellent spatial awareness, and a very special type of concentration. To understand how our brains try to meet these needs, we must briefly take a look at the brain’s unique architecture.
Many people know that the largest part of the brain is divided into two halves, which are connected by a bundle of nerve fibers known as the corpus collosum. Most of us are also aware that the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body and processes the right half of the visual field, and vice versa. Especially important is the fact that the two halves of the brain perform independent intellectual functions, each operating in a completely different manner.
In most brains, the left side uses a series, sequential type of processing. It is responsible for rational, analytic thought – it adds and subtracts one thing at a time and performs language and speech functions. On the other hand (so to speak), your right side processes information in a parallel, simultaneous type of processing. This side is intuitive – it is here that spatial processing, pattern recognition and other similar intellectual activities occur. The right brain is also important for 3D vision. This has all been confirmed by a variety of means, including experiments with patients who have had their corpus collosum severed to counter a serious case of epilepsy. It can also be verified by merely examining EEG patterns of people when they are performing various tasks. For example, people listening to music have very active right brains, while those performing arithmetic problems have very active left-brains.
It is useful to look at your brain as though it is a three-pound, time shared computer. It can only do so many things at once and only likes to do one type of conscious processing at once. We can only optimize its ability to perform a task if we focus on that task and type of processing associated with it.
Carl Sagan describes the left-brain as geometrically incompetent. In other words, it is incapable of doing anything involving spatial, simultaneous tasks. In Sagan’s words, “many elaborate physical tasks, including athletics, seem to have relatively little left hemisphere involvement. A well-known “ploy” in tennis, for example, is to ask your opponent exactly where on the racquet he places his thumb. It often happens that the left hemisphere attention to this question will, at least for a brief period, destroy his game.” Listen to Cal Ripken, Jr. (quoted by George Will): “In 1987 I was as hot as anything for a while ..So in one game in California Ruppert Jones of the Angels hits a double, gets to second and says to me, “Gosh, you’re swinging the bat great. You’re not taking any bad swings, your hands are out in front, away from your body – you look great keep it up.” Now, I’m someone who diagnoses every bit of information. I say to myself, “that must be it. My hands are out away from my body.” So the next time up the first thing I think about is “Where are my hands?” I went into a slump.”
It has been shown that many people find it harder to balance a stick on the tip of a finger or juggle (using the right brain) while talking (using the left brain), and that the more difficult the speech, the harder it is to balance or juggle.
Clearly, most of the information you process and the decisions you are required to make while you are flying the ball or hitting a baseball are done on the right side of your brain (with pertinent information transmitted to the other half via the corpus collosum, so you can move the stick correctly, etc.). These decisions are made so fast that you are not aware of each one independently – if you are flying or hitting well.
If you don’t believe you are using your right brain on a good “pass” at the ship, consider the fact that the left hemisphere of your neocortex is responsible for analytic recollection. In other words, your short-term memory buffer, which is where you temporarily store things like telephone numbers, is located on the left side of your brain. Most people, have a difficult time remembering exactly what happened during a good pass, but can remember a not-so-good pass in excruciating detail. Perhaps short-term memory is bad on a good pass because you are using your right brain more. It may be that this is similar to dreaming. Some researchers feel that dreaming occurs predominantly in the right brain, which is why you may have a hard time remembering dreams – unless you make a specific effort immediately when you wake up, as you would a telephone number you wish to remember longer than a few seconds.
These spatial tasks have to be done on the right side of your brain because you are simply incapable of sequentially processing information fast enough. This is where computers have you beaten, which is why ACLS can land an airplane by using sequential processing and you can’t.
So far, all of this is interesting but sounds like something off the self-help rack at a bookstore. What are the implications for a ball flyer or a batter? Most pilots tell me that when they fly a good pass, they feel like they are in a different state of mind. Time seems to expand, to slow down. It is extremely difficult for them to remember things they have heard, and they claim to have “shut virtually everything out”. I agree. I asked a pilot the other day whether he knew his RIO had used our squadron call sign during his ball call (a no-no in our air wing). He said he hadn’t heard a thing – and the pilot had just flown a superb pass. This is characteristic of right brain thinking, and the same goes for a good hitter. Consider Rod Carew, one of the greatest hitters of all time, who said: “It is important to put yourself in an “altered state” whenever you step into the batter’s box…a state where your mind is focused on a single object, the ball”.
Does a pilot have to enter some sort of a mystical trance in order to be a good ball flier? Of course not; it simply involves very carefully managing your mind and the things on which it concentrates. To quote Annie in the film “Bull Durham”, “Baseball is like sex – just relax and concentrate”. Carew says: “It takes courage to concentrate…without total concentration, the hitter will not be able to perform at his optimum level. A successful hitter can block out everything except the ball as it leaves the pitcher’s hand”. A successful ball flier knows exactly what he needs to scan and does it unconsciously. Concentration also takes discipline. At night, it takes most aircraft 8 minutes to travel from platform to 3⁄4 mile. This is plenty of time to get your mind into this state, but no one is going to do it for you. Spend this time gently forcing yourself into it carefully focusing on what you are doing. It has helped me immensely just knowing that I need to prepare my mind to land on the ship.
One of the most helpful and important means of getting your concentration in order is to manage what you have to listen to. You can’t afford to have your left-brain constantly processing verbal information while your right brain is hard at work. There are several ways of managing verbal distractions. First, a good batter doesn’t talk to himself during a pitch, and neither should you. Don’t narrate your pass to yourself or your RIO/BN. As a former LSO I saw one individual show marked improvement after we simply got him to quit talking to himself!
If you fly a two seat aircraft, you can also manage what your fellow crewmember tells you. I value my RIO as an important means of keeping us both alive if I should do anything stupid, but I can’t afford to have my concentration broken by him telling me about my VSI or airspeed, or telling me to “fly the ball”. All of this information is already available to me if I have a good clean scan – one with no excess information. (When I’m working hardest on the ball, the VSI is not much good to me anyway because it lags so much.) In ball flying, as in baseball, you are on your own. The sooner you realize that, the better off you will be. A batter simply can’t hit the ball with someone else telling him what to do real time. A RIO or BN can definitely help keep you safe and can render some assistance just before the crucial moments from 3⁄4 mile to the ramp (especially when there are no needles). But, he can’t land the airplane for you, and if you are not careful, he can distract you. Fly every approach like you are in a single seat aircraft, and only very carefully accepts anything on top of that as gravy.
LSO communications are another even more sensitive subject. LSOs are very jealous and protective of their trade – and rightly so. However, the most successful LSOs I have seen are the ones who allow a pilot to maintain his concentration by minimizing their advice, and not informing him of the obvious. Most pilots can see what they are doing wrong, so don’t force a pilot out of his state of mind by talking to him unless you have to. I cannot emphasize this enough. However (I hasten to add), the best LSOs are also quick to intuitively recognize when a pilot is not flying with his right brain. While they may not think of it in exactly these terms, these LSOs can then “climb into the cockpit” and help the pilot’s left-brain get aboard.
It is important to not overstate the importance of this left-brain / right brain stuff. Much of it is speculative. But, it is worth taking a hard look at and incorporating into the way you think about getting aboard the ship. I know it has helped me.
There is another mental aspect that hitting and ball flying share besides trying to achieve a correct real-time mental state. Equally important is the mental preparedness, which takes place long before an at-bat or a pass at the ship. Every situation at the plate or at the back of the boat is different. There are a lot of average ballplayers who just step up to the plate without preparing themselves mentally, and the same goes for ball flyers. There are two types of preparation, which we must discuss.
The first type must happen early, in the quiet – or bedlam – of a locker room or ready room. Here is where a good ballplayer will take just a few minutes to close his eyes and rehearse a few at-bats. This is known as “visualization”. Remember, your success depends a lot on whether you can establish an unconscious mental flow at the plate vice conscious, encumbered thought. You can’t afford to be thinking about all your actions one at a time, they have to occur naturally and spontaneously. Visualization will prepare you to do this. According to Fred Stanley, a former major league ballplayer who is now with the Houston Astros organization, “Visualization is a mental technique whereby one imagines himself in a certain hitting situation. [It is] a useful tool in dealing with the problem of not seeing the ball”. He continues to say, “Great hitters…admit to taking „mental BP’ before every game; they consider it an important part of their pre-game preparation. Like good hitting, visualization is a skill, and must be practiced. The more realistic the visualization, the more beneficial it will be.” A good batter also visualizes pitches not just from the expected starter, but also from potential relievers – just as a ball flier should visualize different conditions, which might crop up before he returns to the ship. Visualization takes time and mental discipline – instead of catching the rest of the movie in the ready room, close y our eyes and visualize. And when you do, specifically include eliminating any mistakes from your last outing.
The second type of mental preparation is conducted real time. As a ball player walks to the plate from the on deck circle, he must consider what kind of pitcher he is facing, the sun angle, infielder and outfielder positioning, and the overall game situation. According to Carew, “Baseball is nothing if not a game of situations … It’s hard to believe, but many major league ballplayers are oblivious of game situations … they haven’t been schooled enough to think ahead, to organize their attack. Consequently, when they are called upon, they quickly appear lost.” He continues: “When you step up to the plate in a given situation, you have to be totally aware, tuned into your job.”
As in baseball, the situation around the playing field called a carrier deck varies from day-to-day and moment-to-moment. As a pilot prepares to land on the ship – whether he is in marshal or low holding, he should try to determine how much wind over the deck there is, whether or not it is axial and if it is changing. He should also try to ascertain deck movement, sun angle, visibility and numerous other factors. There are generally plenty of clues available (if the LSO doesn’t come right out and tell you) – clues that marginal ball fliers seldom use. For example, an average size wake on an old ship coupled with flat seas generally indicates light (and probably axial) winds – one of the more obvious clues. Knowing that the winds are light will determine turn position abeam; VSI approaching the groove and will greatly affect the burble. At night, your VSI during your approach (prior to 3⁄4 of a mile) can tell you a lot about the expected wind over the deck – a shallow VSI may equate to high winds (and vice versa), requiring an adjustment to ball flying technique from the pilot.
Mental preparation is also important between at-bats. Ted Williams said that his first at-bat was always the most important one because it told him everything he needed to know about how he was being pitched to and played by the other team. Most of the time, a carrier pilot hopes he only needs only one at-bat. But during CQ, or when you get a foul deck wave-off or bolter, use the information gleaned from your first approach to help with the next one. Remember the exact heading that kept you right on the final bearing, best VSI, best place to turn abeam, etc. And while you’re at it, don’t relax you concentration when you’re flying downwind – it’s easier to keep it up than to re-start it.
What all this mental preparation does is minimize surprises – the feeling of “that fact was staring me in the face, and if I’d only taken it into account, I’d have stayed off the one-wire”. Although some of the best batters “guess hit”, most analyze real time – something we definitely must do around the ship during an approach.
Before we leave mental preparation, it is important to consider your “post-game” preparation for the next game – or for a game against the same team later in the season. Carew reviewed in his mind “every pitch and every situation of that night’s ballgame”. It is not enough to land and rush off to catch midrats. For the night’s lessons to sink in, you must think about them before you go to sleep so you don’t repeat your mistakes.
So far, we have only scratched the surface of the similarities between hitting a baseball and landing on the ship. Another very relevant common feature is the fact that performance in each sport is uniquely adaptable to statistics and measuring. In baseball, a hitter’s reputation is largely made on his batting average; in ball flying, it is made by our landing grades. These are, literally, our most visible statistics, either via the newspapers or by our squadron’s greenie board. They are useful because they keep us competitive and, thus, safer. A bad day in baseball can really hurt your average; a bad day in ball flying can hurt you – both statistically and physically.
Like baseball, the statistics that are most relevant to the technical side of a pilot’s performance are more obscure. There are important statistics, which are often overlooked, such as on-base percentage or its cousin boarding rate. Some baseball analysts use formulas, which weight various statistics to try to find the optimum performer. I sometimes think we should use a similar hybrid formula for grading ball fliers. For example, the F-14 hook-skip bolters frequently, but there are some pilots who hardly ever do it. Avoiding hook-skips is, contrary to popular belief, most often a matter of pilot technique, and we should try to reward those who don’t do it. Multiplying landing grades by boarding rate would present a truer picture of pilot ability.
However, in both sports, the technical statistics, which are most important to consistency and improvement, are trends. Good hitters are fanatical about analyzing their trends, whether they are trends in various hitting situations, trends which indicate the location and type of pitches swung on, or simply where they have been hitting the ball. Is a hitter swinging at bad pitches in a particular spot, and have opposing teams gotten the word? We as ball fliers have a tendency to live from pass to pass, and we sometimes overlook an important trend, which is affecting our performance. Insist that your LSOs must keep you abreast of your trends; they can tell you an awful lot about yourself.
Trends are something hitters work on in practice – something pilots can do as well. Practice is important to any sport. While we ball fliers rarely get an opportunity to practice in a “non-game” situation during the “regular season” (i.e. while deployed), we share with hitters that fact that some of the most important practice we can get comes during and at the end of the “off season”. Tony Gwynn, perhaps the best active hitter, calls it visiting the batting cage underneath San Diego Jack Murphy stadium – and he does it a lot in the off season. We, of course, call it FCLP. The quicker you get back in the groove, the better season you will have.
Rod Carew always took a few weeks off at the end of the season to get rest, and then slowly but surely worked his way back into hitting. He did this all on his own – neither major league team he played for required it. Often, we gaff-off ball flying in the off-season, preferring to try to look S.H. around the field. That is fine, but as often as you can during your off-season, exercise the brain cells and muscles you have so carefully developed to land on the ship by doing a couple of quality touch and goes.
It is absolutely critical in both sports to practice intelligently. Practice is never quite like a real game, so it’s important to ensure that you rehearse the things that you can simulate somewhat accurately and avoid dwelling on things, which break important muscle memory or habit patterns. Let’s devote a little time to this point.
We said to fly well at the ship; it is necessary to concentrate in a very special way. Listen to Sadaharu Oh, Japan’s leading home run hitter; “As your mind must be concentrated when you face an opponent, so too, your practice must include this mental effort”. One of the most important things you can practice is simply the mental state you enter when you fly the ball at the ship. That is the most important training objective you can take with you on a bounce hop. Along with this go all of the factors we mentioned above about visualization, managing what you have to listen to, etc.
It will help you in this objective if, when practicing; you don’t do it too long. Many good major league hitters won’t take batting practice beyond 15 minutes a day – ever. They feel it is difficult to maintain peak concentration beyond that length of time – which afterward they begin to do unnatural things and pick up bad habits, things they don’t want to practice. All too often, squadrons send their pilots out for double bounce periods, which consist of between 10 and 12 passes. Unfortunately, in thinking they are giving their pilots twice the training, they don’t realize that the training probably stopped after 6 or 7 passes, and in fact, negative training may have begun. Rather, you should bounce more often with fewer passes – and get the most out of every “swing”. As Carew says, “use the time saved to work on the other parts of your game.” Amen – I’ll trade the fuel used on my last six FCLP passes (on a twelve pass night) for a one versus one engagement any day!
No matter how much you practice, however, it will never be the same as being in a real game. Practice pitchers never have the same stuff (speed) as the real ones, nor do they have their movement. According to Louis Rubin, in practice, the “pitcher tosses it right down the middle of the plate, grooving it. The velocity of the pitch is scarcely more than 50 to 60 miles an hour. What is being practiced is not the ability to hit good pitching, but the rhythm of the swing”. Ballplayers recognize the differences between real and practice pitching, and account for them in a game. We must do the same, for there are very important differences between the field and the boat, which we must recognize in practice and account for when we go back to the ship.
Everything seems to look different when comparing the boat to the field. For one thing, you feel much higher at the boat (especially in the daytime) for several reasons. At the boat you turn sooner because of the wind over the deck. Since you are closer to the ship at the ninety, you feel higher. You are also flying a higher visual glide slope at the ship – the difference is a compromise in FCLP between accurate sight picture and realistic power settings in which the latter won. And it may seem insignificant until in close, but while the ship is 60 feet higher than the water, your visual altitude cues are derived from the water. The way to defeat this in practice is to fly instruments, even in a day VFR pattern – and even more than you would at the ship.
Lineup is also much more difficult at the boat. One obvious reason is fewer and different cues. The single best cue you have in the daytime at the ship – the wake – is wrong. Also, it is difficult to judge the turn when you are closer at the ninety, as you are at the ship, and you have ten more degrees to turn than in practice. How do you defeat this? It is difficult, but you must force yourself to look at lineup more than you really need to in practice at the field. Some feel that an occasional “tiger” pass in FCLP (one with a very short groove) helps. The bottom line: you must remember to discipline your turn at the boat, even though it is unnatural, because an overshoot is extremely difficult to fix. And most major overshoots come when people haven’t been to the boat in a while.
Several enemies also lurk in practice at the in-close and at-the-ramp positions. Depending on which type of aircraft you fly, your hook-to-eye distance works against you because the lens at the field has no roll angle adjustment. On the ship a centered ball puts every aircraft in the same spot; however, at the field the touchdown spot varies widely. If you fly an EA-6 or F-14, you land at the field much further from the lens that you do at the ship. This can build a sight picture, which causes you to anticipate touching down and thus relaxing – at a distance from the lens, which is much farther than that at the ship. We all must fight the fact that our closure on the lens is greater at the field because there is generally less wind, so the time from when you “cross the ramp” to when you touch down at the field is much shorter than it is at the ship. This contributes to even more to your instinct to relax early. As if this weren’t enough, ground effect has you pulling power at the field if you fly the ball all the way to touchdown, especially in high aspect ratio aircraft like the E-2 or the F-14. But the boat has the opposite of ground effect because of the burble. The result is that if you don’t take this into account, you’ll have a lot more ball flying to do at the ship when you are relaxing based on an FCLP sight picture. Many pilots simply say, “I have to add a random amount of power at the boat.” It is smarter and easier if you understand what is really going on, and just fly the ball all the way to touchdown, realizing why it will be different at the boat. If you ever hear a CQ-ing pilot say, “man, that boat has a burble!”, it may just be because he has failed to take these factors into account.
Other differences between the field and the ship include the lack of ship’s movement (which can be partially simulated by field MOVLAS periods) and the fact that there is very little pucker factor (except at some fields, like San Clemente).
There is one way that you can practice “during the season” on cruise, although it doesn’t involve actually flying the ball. Most CATCC crews relish the opportunity to control practice ACLS approaches. Flying these practice approaches will enable you to practice your mindset and some real-time analysis as well. Since the ship is rarely turned into the wind during the practice, you can practice finding the correct heading and VSI to keep you on glide slope. If you have been getting lousy starts at night, ask for a round or two in the “batting cage”.
Be careful when you bounce to ensure that you practice the right things and account for the others. Remember that mid cruise FCLP (for example, at Cubi Point) can be a mistake, destroying a hard-earned sight picture.
Any discussion of ball flying and baseball would not be complete without talking about slumps. An enormous amount has been written about batting slumps, all of which applies to ball flying. According to Fred Stanley, “Slumps are to a ballplayer what bunions are to a mailman – they’re painful, they’re irritating, and every ballplayer is going to have one sooner or later.” Rod Carew: “Slumps are funny in how they can turn an otherwise well-adjusted human being into a frustrated, tentative creature.” Finally, Tome Boswell: “Baseball has so much to do with honed skill rather than raw athleticism, rounded temperament rather than aggression, and self knowledge rather than self- confidence, that almost no player is immune to enormous swings in performance from one year to the next”. What is most important to us, of course, is how people get into slumps so we can avoid them.
Slumps are caused either by a player drifting unsuspectingly into a bad habit or by a bad mental attitude – one often leads to the other. The former type of slump is easy to fix as soon as the mechanical problem is identified, either by an LSO or by or by one’s own introspection and analysis. In Carew’s words, “…don’t attempt any overhauls when a little fine tuning will do…have a knowledgeable coach watch your swing.”
The latter type of slump is harder to fix. All some people need is one bad game or one bad night at the boat and they begin to doubt their hitting or flying ability. We can also be distracted by events in our lives, many of which are amplified by the fact that we are on the road a great deal. When a player is in a mental slump, according to Stanley, “instead of approaching the plate with a positive mental attitude and a feeling of confidence, he goes up to bat subconsciously thinking that he won’t hit the ball.”
The best hitters and pilots have a hard time getting into slumps but break out quicker because they renew their concentration. They realize when something happens that is out of their control, and they don’t let it affect their performance. They are also good at keeping their personal problems out of their flying. The difference between falling into a slump and avoiding one may be how you cope with temporary failure, no matter how exceedingly frustrating it is.
What about the fact that both games have an “umpire”? They are always surrounded by controversy and not always right, but we can’t play the game safely without them. Some have a different strike or “OK” zone, but it all tends to equalize itself in time – you get as many good calls as bad ones. Arguing with an umpire or LSO never seems to do much good, especially if you do it a lot, so save your best arguments for important situations. Like all evaluation situations, your relationship with your LSOs has its own special psychology – even more important in ball flying because you are being evaluated by peers or (worse!) subordinates on something that everyone sees on a greenie board. This will become “user friendly” to land and that look better coming aboard the boat. Let’s face it – some of these aircraft are going to end up with more pilots in the “top ten” than others. As Carew says, “Ego is a tough competitor” – don’t let yours keep you from being a good pilot.
Let’s finish up by discussing exactly what it is that makes people into good hitters or ball flyers – or anything else, for that matter. It really boils down into three ingredients: natural ability, quality training, and personal motivation.
There isn’t really much to discuss about ability – some people are naturally more adept. In both sports, one must have superb vision and depth perception, good hand-eye coordination and timing, sensitive balance, and the ability to concentrate. Any shortcoming in these natural gifts must be made up for in other areas.
Training – teaching and learning hitting or ball flying – is something we can influence directly. Unfortunately, teaching is a “left hemisphere” function, involving putting abstract spatial concepts and techniques into verbal or written terms. This makes it inherently difficult to teach good hitting or ball flying. In any event, in our game, teachers come in the form of LSOs, other pilots, and even RIOs/BNs. And as is baseball, “it is the coach’s job to observe those little things, spot the seemingly insignificant flaws.”
Listen to what Rod Carew has to say about teaching hitting: “To be a good teacher, you have to know what you’re talking about. I would insist that if you want to be a good hitting teacher, you must first seek out and learn the fundamentals of good hitting… you must be acutely aware of just what your beliefs are, how they work together to form important concepts, and know how to explain these concepts clearly and concisely. Therefore, if you are serious about becoming a good teacher, you must invest the time necessary to increase your knowledge about the game.” For LSOs, this means watching and thinking very hard about every aspect of landing an aircraft on a ship. It also means learning the psychological aspects of being a good teacher. And finally, it means caring enough to teach, not just debrief. Anyone can figure out what he did wrong on a pass; it is the exceptional LSO who takes the time after the debrief to sit down with a pilot and figure out why.
There are two sides to training: the other is learning – a mentally lazy athlete will never excel. The best hitters and ball flyers are very serious about learning and very aggressive about finding those who can help them. Benjamin Franklin said “Learn of the skillful: He that teaches himself hath a fool for a master.” You must seek out the best teachers and filter what they say through your own experiences. Often the best teachers come from unexpected places. According to Louis Rubin, “the best practitioners are not necessarily the best teachers; it is the less naturally gifted player, who cannot rely on instinct and habit but must work constantly and strenuously at his trade, striving to make the maximum possible use of his limited talents, who comes to understand the fundamental principles of what he and all other players are engaged in doing”. Don’t always ignore an LSO because you have better grades than he does, or tune out one who flies a different type aircraft. If you listen, you can learn something from anyone.
You should also religiously watch your PLAT tape. Many major league teams make a practice of collecting ample videotape footage on all their players when they are at bat. Tony Gwynn’s wife records every one of his home at-bats, and he watches them immediately when he gets home to check his mechanics. He even takes a miniature camera/recorder on road trips. What would be ideal is a tape similar to that available to LSO School from the NCLT of all of your power and control inputs for your review.
Almost as good would be a videotape of the LSO HUD system, if your ship has one. Reviewing the latter will, at the very least, show you how your rate of descent might be changing during a pass, especially after your ball call. Unless and until such tapes are available, at least always watch your PLAT tape with a critical eye – you might catch a potential trend developing before it hurts you.
Finally, we cannot ignore the third, crucial ingredient of good ball flying or hitting: motivation. Bobby Knight said, “Everyone has the will win, very few have the will to prepare to win.” Motivation stems from sheer desire and results in constant adjustment and concentration. Rubin says, “It is possible to identify which of the players on a team possess the kind of thoroughgoing professional dedication, and which ones are less strongly motivated”. The same is probably true around your squadron. Listen to Thomas Boswell, on adjustment: “The best players – like Don Mattingly, Wade Boggs, Dave Winfield, Tony Gwynn and Ozzie Smith – have such an ingrained appreciation for the difficulty of the game that they work, polish, refine and adjust even when they’re playing their best.” Dale Murphy recently declared that “not a day goes by during the season that he doesn’t have to be corrected in batting practice.” Motivation means that you pick up things in one “season” quicker than your contemporaries, just because you think about them more. The motivated players are the ones who do things we’ve talked about.
Like hitting, ball flying is a game of confidence. Confidence is a by-product of success. Success comes to those who have ability, training and motivation. Rod Carew says it all: “So much of baseball is played inside the head. It’s a silent fight, waged not before a crowd, in public view, but rather in darkness, in hotel rooms or locker rooms, a battle between the forces of self doubt and dogged determination. And it is the losers of those battles who so often speak of a lack of confidence.”
The ultimate hitter or ball flier is the one who is able to consistently perform in adverse conditions. Just as managers aren’t necessarily looking for the hitter who can occasionally smash one into the upper deck, carrier, air wing and squadron COS aren’t really interested in the guy who comes up with an occasional 5.0 pass. They like the guy who always gets aboard safely on his first pass. Their leadership is important; too…that organizational stability – i.e. wisdom – is doubly valuable and doubly rewarded. The three teams in baseball that are on a 100 win pace are model organizations that stress patient talent development and seldom make snap reversals of judgment about key players.” Is your organization like George Steinbrenner’s, or are you on a 100 win pace?
Hopefully, this discussion gave you the means to take a fresh look at your game. Clearly, many of the things that make a successful hitter can be applied to making a successful ball flier. There are definite benefits to be derived from viewing yourself as an underpaid professional athlete – it can make you perform better and makes the game more fun. Keep your eye on the ball!