A player-coach is a member of the team who simultaneously holds both playing duties and coaching duties. In skydiving, this means a coach is jumping with the team as they coach, as opposed to coaching and guiding from the outside. Read on to learn if it is the right choice for you, and how you can find one.
Player Coach Advantage
Having a rock-solid teammate in the air with you improves your jumps. A coach will physically guide the way and force the correct pictures. This improves your score and prompts faster learning.
I can tell you a lot as a coach, but it is faster to show you. Students can copy the coach’s body language, rhythm, and timing thus improving their own skills faster.
A player-coach can also “feel” things that aren’t obvious from the outside video. Weird angles, odd pressures, subtle body positions, and funky level quirks aren’t always visible from the camera. Being in the mix gives the coach this information.
Downsides of player coaching
The biggest downside of player coaching is cost. In most cases, you are paying the expenses (slot, video, tunnel, travel) of the coach in addition to their fee. In 4way, this means all the expenses are split by three instead of four. Teams must consider if a 25% increase in price could be better used in more training without a coach.
For teams that train a lot, the dynamic can be more complex. Normal teams experience ups and downs in the relationship as they grow together. Because of the dual role a player-coach has, they must navigate the same stresses in addition to their advisory responsibilities. An outside coach can cope with team interpersonal complexities more easily because they have a distinct role. A good player-coach is competitively mature and able to juggle both roles simultaneously.
Player coaches can be difficult to find since many are actively on professional teams already. They also might not be available for big competitions for the same reason.
Competing with your ‘Ringer’
You may compete with your player-coach if they are available and eligible. This can be a big competitive advantage because of the increased skill, but also because the coach is there to keep the team focused and on track.
At US Nationals, one-quarter of your team (not counting video) can be an individual who in the last five years has won a gold medal in your targeted division, any medal in a higher division, or any medal at a high-level FAI event. Basically, you get one ringer.
There is a lot of debate about whether player coaching is “fair” at US Nationals. The fact is many teams have someone in that role. In 2019, the top two advanced teams had a player-coach and the first-place intermediate had a jumping coach. Numbers are similar in prior years.
It is fully within the rules to have a player-coach and the precedent is there. It isn’t mandatory to have one in order to be successful, but it increases a team’s chances. The arguments can rage on, but unless the USPA decides it wants something different it is going to continue to be popular.
How to Find a Player-Coach
Finding a player-coach is not always simple. Experienced professionals are often actively competing. Even if they are not, they can only take one team to a big event. Couple that with full work schedules you might not find a match.
Start by asking your local coaches about opportunities. They usually have a handle what player-coach teams are forming even if they personally are not available. Beyond Fury Coaching, SDC Rhythm XP also has some great opportunities.
The next step is getting creative in what you are after. If competition is not important to you, consider a season of just training. Or choose a different large competition as your year-end goal. If you have your heart set on nationals and you can’t find an available player-coach, consider training with your preferred coach all season and swapping them out for a different ringer at the meet.
Player coaches are a fantastic way to learn faster and improve your average. If you have more budget than schedule, they are a giant performance boost. They can be expensive and difficult to find for big meets, but you might be able to get creative with your goals to find a super match.