Mastering the Skies with Elite Coaching

  • Published
  • By Lt Col Marci Walton
  • 14th Student Squadron

The best instructor pilots are continually developing methodologies that resemble the role of an elite-level coach. There are many similarities between professional-level sports and pilot training; both build incredible confidence and a readiness to perform under pressure. Sports, much like pilot training, have a profound way of teaching young adults how to strive for a goal, handle mistakes, and cherish growth opportunities. In a study done by accounting firm Ernst & Young, 96 percent of senior level female executives were athletes. This is an incredible statistic that shows the importance of the athletic experience in developing high-level executives who are responsible for managing their companies and making strategic decisions. It is the coach that helps shape and give meaning to the athlete's experience, and at the highest level of competition, the coach sets the stage for the athlete’s success and readiness to perform. 

Over the last three years I have seen a shift in mentality where training student pilots has started to look more like training elite athletes. CRAFT (Comprehensive Readiness for Aircrew Flying Training) teams played a major role in shepherding this mentality shift by highlighting the importance of physical, mental and nutritional education. Prioritizing strength and conditioning, cognitive performance and performance nutrition can have a positive effect on the success of our student pilots. Similar to a professional athlete, our students show up with one goal in mind: FLY LIKE A CHAMPION.  

Instructor pilots are the primary individuals tasked with developing student pilots and helping them achieve their goals. I truly believe that instructors, like coaches, are caretakers of dreams, and it is our charge as a coach to help people achieve their ambitions and follow their passions. Instructors at Columbus have been working hard to create pathways to success for our students even amid the evolving syllabuses of the T-6, T-1 and T-38 training pipelines. We must continue to develop our instructors as coaches who can help students focus on the best process for leveraging pressures and stresses of pilot training to become the person they want to be. A good coach is going to forge a pathway to success that not only gets the athlete to trust themselves in stressful situations, but also leverages teamwork when the pressure is on. 

Many of the most successful coaches at the highest levels do not chase statistics. For them it's not about the number of goals scored or even the result of an individual game, the focus is on fostering teamwork and helping athletes develop as people first, not being defined by their sport or statistics. Chasing excellence in this way can allow student pilots to value the results of a daily sortie differently or even value the outcome of their assignment differently and move forward stronger as part of the team.  

It takes the entire team at Columbus to generate the future of Air Power, and it will take being able to integrate with the entire joint force to continue projecting American strategy around across the globe. I believe that elite coaching at Columbus can lead to a better state of success and readiness for our student pilots as we send them out to answer the Nation’s call.