For approximately nine years I experimented with the application of sport psychology principles to the teaching of primary flight students. I reasoned that the motor skills needed to fly an airplane were no different from those needed to learn a sport activity. While every sport’s activity has specific performance requirements, all sports demand various degrees of hand, eye, and foot coordination, and most importantly, all require mental control.
Since there was nothing published on applying sport psychology principles to flying, my efforts consisted of trial-and-error methods extrapolated from sport psychology research data gathered for other sports. After three years of experimentation, I was astounded at the excellent results obtained using sport psychology principles in teaching primary flight students.
At this point I realized the implications of sport psychology for aerobatics, be it competition or fun flying. Again, I started trial-and-error research. Fortunately, most of my students at that time were enrolled in a university aviation program and had logged 100 to 200 hours of flight time but had no previous aerobatic experience. Therefore, it was possible to evaluate the results based on various teaching techniques utilizing subjects who had comparable flight experience, yet without the influence of previous aerobatic training. With data from teaching these students, I began work on sport psychology for teaching aerobatics and for application to the competition aerobatic environment.
While the element of physical danger is minimal in some sports, others have a significant risk of physical injury; the nature of the sport determines the type and severity of the injuries. Like any motor sport, aerobatics has the risk of accidents, and these accidents can easily result in death. Just as in other motor sports, there is always the risk of mechanical failure, but aerobatic accident statistics consistently show this to be a low occurrence. This speaks well for the design, construction, and maintenance of the airplanes designed and built for aerobatics. However, the pilot is the most common causal factor in accidents. In fact, 85 to 95 percent of all aerobatic accidents have, as at least one common causal factor, the human element.
During the years that I explored the application of sport psychology to aerobatics, I studied, on a regular basis, aerobatic accident data from National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigations. I came to the realization that sport psychology has implications for aerobatic accident prevention, something not associated with the traditional use of sport psychology.