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The sport of skydiving routinely provides new students with every opportunity to …quit. Here’s a reality check: Most DZs do not do a good job with AFF. Don’t get me wrong, most instructors do a great job with training, but the continuity and management of a student’s progress through the program, generally speaking, sucks.
If a student is riding the fence about whether to become a skydiver or not, they’ll probably fall on the wrong side nearly every time. It’s as if we test those entering the sport by saying, “How bad do you really want it?” Only the hardest of the diehards, the ones bitten so badly by the sport that they can’t live without it, make it through.
There are major obstacles to becoming a skydiver. First, it’s expensive. Second, it’s a major time commitment. But those obstacles pale in comparison to the torturous waiting game we force students to endure. We hate going to the DMV because we have to wait. We get irate when we’re hungry and the service is slow. Yet in our own industry we charge students a premium price to wait. I’ve been to countless DZs (mine not precluded) where I see many students sit around for hours before they get to jump. Don’t say you haven’t seen it … it happens at many DZs around the country.
Let’s put this waiting into context. Let’s say skydiving is like learning to drive a stick shift, only without the benefit of endless practice in an empty mall parking lot. The process of learning to skydive is something like this: Jump. Wait a week. Insert self-doubt. Answer questions from the naysayers in your social group and family. Abandon weekend plans with friends. Return to the DZ. Wait all day to get one jump in … wash, rinse, repeat. This scenario is not an ideal method for fostering learning or engagement. If I stall the car, I want to try again—not go home, wait and think about the difficulty of driving a stick all week. Eventually, I’ll give up and buy an automatic.
If we want to grow the sport, we must improve our service, not just by reducing wait times, but by getting people in the air more than once in a day. The more comfortable our students feel about being in the air, the more they’ll want to return there.
We mustn’t forget that many students have a continuous pro-versus-con dialogue going on in their heads. Immediately after making a skydive they’re thinking, “This is the best thing I’ve ever done, I love this!” Insert a week off and a long drive to the DZ, and that internal dialogue morphs into, “What the hell am I doing?” As DZOs, the worst thing we can do is to prolong this feeling of self-doubt by making students check-in, wait for their instructors to debrief prior students, pack, grab a drink and finally get manifested either three loads out or continue to wait because of shut downs. I can assure you that DZOs wouldn’t tolerate that level of service in any arena outside of skydiving, especially when they have an appointment.
I’ve mentioned the wait time issue on other occasions and I hear this a lot: “That’s just how our sport is,” or, “It’s better to wean out those who want it from those who think they want it.” I call B.S. on both arguments.
Our next customers are digital natives. They have grown up in a culture of instant gratification. If they want something they download it, stream it, or have it shipped to them with one click. They are not accustomed to waiting, and they won’t do it for very long. Technology continues to make every aspect of our daily lives more efficient, as evidenced by the fact that we can now manifest from our smartphones while lying on the packing mat.
Times are changing and if DZs don’t scrutinize how we schedule both students and instructors (and perhaps embrace less quantity to improve quality), I believe we will continue to see the same abysmal attrition rate in our sport that we’ve seen for decades.
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