The Philosophy Of Winning


A. J. Smith

The lesson this morning is on a philosophy. Ed suggested this sort of beginning line. I guess it's as good a way as any to get started, but I'd be, generally, awfully suspicious about people who like to philosophize when we've got a task to do.

We're going to talk about winning. But, we have to sense the nature of the competition first, what's it like. It can take a lot of forms. Actually, our competition has been going on here during the last day or two. In essence, we've all decided, if you agree, that sailplanes are the same except for one or two of them that are bigger, and which probably come apart in just as many pieces as they go together in. We know that pilots are essentially all the same, at least in terms of ability to move the stick and rudder, to find a thermal and other ordinary things. Beyond that, if you've been taking notes, you've accumulated all of our secrets, so there really isn't much left. But Schreder's still been competing. He started the first day by making flattering remarks about George's ability and my ability. What he's really thinking is that now we'll be overconfident. He makes references to smoking. He thinks I'll give it up. Then I'll be a nervous wreck, and he'll be breathing clean air. And he says to make a list of the contest numbers of the ones who thermal well, or select good thermals. He suggests that No. 2 is a good number to list and follow. I'd like to turn that around and use my friend Avis' words, "Why follow No. 2 when you can follow No. l." You can see what he's hoping -- He's hoping he's sold a hundred guys on descending on No. 2.

Comment from audience (Dick Schreder): "Remember, No. 2 tries harder. That's right."

This kind of competition is all great fun. I'm certain that you are aware that there's been other competition here in the last day or so, in a similar humorous vein. But there's got to be more to competition than this in order to guarantee a win.

Most of us would agree, if there is any one characteristic that we would recognize in a good competition pilot, it's determination. I've heard this word used by almost all of the people who were involved here. I've probably heard it used more often by pilots who are not at this meeting. How this determination shows up in a pilot's character is a changeable thing. Sometimes it is difficult to recognize. After you know competitors as individuals, you realize that in one fashion or other, they have a great deal of determination. Sometimes, because of their nature, it's a hidden thing. And sometimes, with others, because of their character you automatically stand to one side because they're volatile. However it is expressed, determination is a necessity, I am certain.

Dick and George have a high degree of determination but their outward signs and character are certainly quite different. Still, this determination is the common beginning point. As soon as you realize this is a necessity, then you've got to think about getting yourself tuned up for competition. Again, you may feel that you operate at a fairly high level of efficiency constantly and you don't need to do any extra work on your psyche for a contest day to do well. This I doubt, in relation to myself. Remember again that what I'm telling you now is not a bible. Set your own pace. I'm simply trying to tell you what works for me and what probably will work for you in some form or other.

If you want to compete successfully, you've got to talk in terms of being in first place. Second place only gets you the opportunity to try harder, which is no great pleasure in this world. It's best to be in first place and have a sufficient advantage so that you can relax. First of all then, you've got to have a determination to be in first place, not second place. Excuses are no good. A Ka 6 isn't a good excuse. It really isn't. If you use it for an excuse, you're defeated before you come to a contest.

I'm certain that Wally Scott, for example, while he moans a lot, is not defeated before he comes to a contest with a Ka 6; and he moans in hopes you'll discount him as a competitor and be overconfident. That gives him a perfect opportunity to climb up through you. First, you've got to have determination. Second, you've got to be prepared. I think we've covered generally the areas of preparation during the last day, but we must reinforce that this is an essential. There's no way to win without preparation. You can examine any form of competition in this world, in business or sport, and success is not a happenstance thing. It is a result of preparation.

Keep a file on your activities, keep a record of your contests, keep a record of your mistakes. Dick converts his into a list of do's and don'ts. It is surprisingly like my list of do's and don'ts. Study. Use the records. As you go back to a competition site, review the records. You must have learned something about the terrain and the weather in the area if you've flown there before. It you didn't, you've made a mistake.

In a race a few years back I, noted that a friend passed about 8 cars in the first turn. It took me a year to analyze why he could do it; the next year I was prepared, and right behind him as we passed 8 cars. The following year it was the same. And the following year the same again. It was simply that there were about 20 other people in that competition who didn't remember and didn't keep records. That was worth a couple of seconds at a crucial point, which grew into a couple of minutes, which won the race each time.

You do have to prepare in the tiniest detail. Prepare, first, the sailplane, because you do save seconds this way. These result indeed from the tiniest details. For the most part, among 30 or 40 modifications that George Moffat put together for us this summer, no one of them, and perhaps no 20 of them together, could make a measurable improvement in the performance of our ships. I'm certain I could pick 20, carefully select them for their minimal effect, and come up with half of that list that did essentially no good. They made the sailplane quieter, perhaps, and did things psychologically, but that's hard to guess about. The other 20 probably did make a measurable difference. Somewhere then, in all of that effort, was some measurable improvement in the sailplane. Perhaps it would be in the order of 10 percent. Measured in terms of the first day we flew those sailplanes, just as they came out of the factory, perhaps it was 15 percent. Profitable work.

This means you should work all winter on your ship in a sense. Have a plan to do this and have a list of and a priority of items to improve your sailplane. The list should be so long that you never get it completed, but you should work hard at it. You build a discipline, you build a respect, perhaps a better word, you build a respect, at the time you do this work, for the amount of effort necessary for success. You build a respect for the seconds that are important. When the contest finally comes, you're better prepared, not only in terms of equipment, but mentally. You know the sailplane better, you know all of its problems. You're much better prepared.

Of course, you've got to prepare the systems too. You've got to have all the instruments working. This was covered beautifully here. Thank Gene Moore for his contribution in this area. A good variometer and a good total energy compensated variometer is essential. But you've got to prepare mentally as well. The tow car has to be good. The trailer has to be good. You should buy your next automobile only on the basis of its ability as a tow car. There is no other justification. This means you have a fight with Detroit first of all. Own your own car, so that when you say, "drive the wheels off the car," the crewman cannot misinterpret that. Prepare yourself physically, not only in terms of physical conditioning but in terms of weight. There is certainly an optimum pilot weight for Elmira, one for Marfa, and so on. John Slack is in trouble in all areas. They haven't made strong enough soaring weather yet for John.

And finally to elaborate a bit more on our previous discussion, you've got to have a plan and the plan should be one that enables you to win. The plan should be done in detail too.

As has been pointed out, this is a strange kind of competition we're in because we don't often have measuring sticks. If you have an automobile alongside of you as you go through a corner, you've got a good measuring stick. It's tough to find a parallel in soaring. Some of us who progressed faster have been fortunate to be able to fly with others, who are good soaring pilots, so that we've had a measuring stick with us. We've developed our techniques not only in contests but in comparison flying during the week. The real breakthrough, perhaps, for both Dick Schreder and myself came the one spring when we said, "Let's go flying every day the weather is good or even halfway good." We went out on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and whatever.

We flew pretty much by ourselves in the Adrian area. We experienced the first sea breeze front I saw in that area and we were a bit puzzled by that. What we developed, most importantly I think, was a rhythm in using thermals. We got to work very efficiently because we were, in a sense, competing with each other constantly, trying to outclimb the other, trying to leave the thermal before the other, trying to find the next thermal before the other. That sort of thing. That spring was a revolutionary one for us. We went to Elmira that year, and we did quite will. You've got to have a plan to win, and you've got to practice.

Remember the sort of graphic plan that I use? Chuck Lindsay reminded me in his slides this morning, that it is a development of a briefing form we had used in England. Use that graphic plan or something similar. Go beyond that. Study the maps of the area, the actual terrain of the area, and try to arrive at a scheme that uses that terrain or the weather or whatever minor factor there might be. Put the factors together in as many ways as possible. Perhaps no one has thought out the best combination and indeed the way to win. Study the maps carefully before you fly, not only in hope that you won't have to use them to navigate, but also in hope that they will give you some clue to the best course. This is not simply for distance tasks or long triangles but for very short triangles. There is some advantage somewhere to someone. It's your problem to seek it out.

Have plans to win the little bits of each day. You can, for example, try to win the start. Again, if you have measuring sticks, this helps. If you can get across the start line faster and closer than the others, then you're really winning the start. You're breaking the whole task down into the first of its components. How do you win the start? Let's consider an example.

My start of the last day in Poland this year was difficult. I got off late in the tows, the good weather was coming through in a series of waves perpendicular to the course and the people who got off a few minutes ahead of me got into a wave of good weather. I got off into a trough, a wave of poor weather. I saw Pilots, as I was releasing from tow, making very high speed starts off under their wave of good weather. You could recognize the good starts because they were done in dives, long, long, dives. As I got into the starting altitudes, approximately 3,000 feet, it was in very, very weak weather. There was no chance for me to make that good kind of start. At least, not at that time. Because of my position in the standings, if I didn't make that kind of start, I probably had no chance of winning the competition. So I stayed around the field for nearly an hour until the next good wave came through. This necessitated, just to stay up, flying approximately 25 miles away from the field back under some good weather, then slowly working upwind to get back under the next good wave, then drifting down to the state line with it. This whole process took about an hour and involved probably 60 miles of flying. I arrived over the field, nearly the last man to start - everybody else had disappeared, but I was still quite confident that I was at least taking care of one factor that was necessary for me if I were to win the competition, and I did get a good start. As I passed over the start line, I was on the back side of a good wave so that I could make a high speed run and a few miles out come under the good wave and then have the advantage of riding with it for a while. As I made my start, I saw one sailplane come back to make a start. I have a feeling that it may have been Stouffs. I felt, then, that I had him beaten because he was fully two minutes too late to make a good start. He had little chance to catch the wave I was going to catch and he apparently didn't. I would like to talk to him someday to confirm that. Timing was essential. I had a plan to win the start. It was successful.

You've got to win the thermals too. When you're with other people, they are a good measuring stick. In the absence of other people, and this is probably the better way to work thermals, by yourself, your measuring stick is your previous performance in thermals that day. You've at least got to measure up to that kind of climb that you've been experiencing earlier in the day, or you've got to achieve some new level of performance in the thermal. You've got to work each thermal and work it better and, if you're working with someone, work it better than he does. Again, you're breaking down the task into smaller components.

You've got to win the cruises. You've got to know, as you cruise normally on a soaring day, even in poor weather, a sense that you're taking advantage of some factor in weather or terrain or whatever, which is minimizing your sink or increasing your speed. If you're not doing as well as the other plane you have visual contact with, find out why in a hurry. Don't hesitate to do it like he does. Even if he has told you to do it some other way.

Finally, as the next to the last point, have an overall plan to win the day. This is the next larger assembly. Try to think of a way that will enable you to win the day. I don't think you win, to repeat, I don't think you really win, by doing a sort of good regularized, procedural thing each day. Some factor that you see that others don't see, can give you an advantage. This is no different than everyday life or business.

Finally, consider a plan to win the contest. Naturally, if you've been successful as you've gone through the business of winning the components, the last consideration is academic. Get out your good suit and plan to have your crew follow the briefing of the previous day and have your sailplane assembled at the winning stand. And this is not a minor problem. They will have forgotten.

There is a way to plan for winning the competition. You should begin in each contest with a plan, again not as a bible but as a guideline. Before the competition begins, assess the terrain. Study the kind of weather you can expect, how best to use your particular sailplane and your particular abilities to maximize your performance in that particular contest. Use that study as a guideline. Modify it. It's much easier to modify guidelines as the weather develops, as the contest situation develops, as your position in the standing develops; it's much easier to modify guidelines than it is to think up some brilliant new scheme each day. That last approach is really taxing and you tend to give up. But, if you have a kind of guideline, you can modify it each day. Review your situation in the contest. If you're fortunate to be in first place at the end of the first day, with a good margin, this should tell you something about how you should fly the next day. Depending on that margin, perhaps it should tell you how you should fly for the next seven or eight days. I found myself in that position in 1967, and it made the contest easy for me. My crew doesn't know it, but they should have appreciated this because they had only a mildly abrasive two weeks compared with a normal operation. I was able to determine, at the end of the first day, that I could be conservative for the entire contest. This is not a put-down on anybody else. It was just a fortunate position to be in. My flying didn't suffer all that much. I think my performance probably was perhaps 10 percent less than what I might have done if I'd pressed and, at times perhaps, 20 percent less than what might have happened if I had gambled. But I was able to coast at that conservative level and take fewer chances and know that I had a good chance, from the first day on, to win the competition.

I have found it just as often to be the other way. I've been far down in the standings on the last day of the competition and have known that the only thing to do is to gamble everything every day - to fly faster than the best speed to fly ring says in hopes that I'd be lucky to continually get thermals that are better than the last one, or that I'd find some extraordinary circumstance that would enable me to catch the six people who were ahead of me. I have indeed been fortunate to be successful in that situation too and to win the competition on the final day, as have others here. In either situation, you've got to have a plan to win the contest, first in the form of general guidelines for the entire competition, modified as you go along and then, second, in the form of a detailed plan for each day.

Who can define psyching? To psyche or not to psyche? Is there any value in really tuning yourself up for competition or for a flight? As you can infer from my comments, for me, I am convinced there is. You can begin it, or rather you can continue it, through the year. You do it by working on your sailplane, thinking about the machine, thinking about the systems, the instrumentation, thinking about the flying you're going to do, keeping records, studying, and whatever. This keeps your mental facilities tuned to the problem of competition. Does it really help? I'm certain it helps all of us. How much we want to tune ourselves up is probably quite a personal thing. I don't always try consciously to tune myself up. I've discovered through the years that I do get twitchy as the takeoff time comes. Sometimes twitchier than others. I have found myself in some circumstances where I realized this and began consciously to build on it. To begin consciously to develop the pitch faster for myself. There are a number of ways to do this. You can take long, quiet walks, or you can get back in the corner of the hangar. You can sit in an air-conditioned car and give yourself pep talks, or whatever. Sometimes your competition helps in this problem. They come up to you and say things like, "Boy, the SISU will never climb on a day like this." It's usually not that obvious and probably not calculated at all. They say innocent things. Perhaps they don't mean them that way, but they say just enough to tick you off and, on occasions, almost consciously, I've seized on this opportunity and read them off for about five minutes and then, almost at the conclusion, jumped into the cockpit and gone like stink for an hour. Mad! It really works for me. As I say, it's not completely a conscious thing, certainly. It begins as a subconscious thing. I'm quite aware of it now. I don't fight it. I relax with it. It annoys the other people. It really does. It gets the people around you so choked up that the officials, if they could appoint a firing squad at any one point, would get them together. But, we're not competing with them.

To sum up. Be determined. Be prepared. In equipment, body, and mind. Plan. Plan to win the bits. The components. Focus your energy. Concentrate on the contest. Don't waste your energy on diverting influences. Win.

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