Nurturing team spirit: meet the French Gliding Team Trainer
In 2022, France entered pilots into the 21st FAI European Championships in Lithuania, the 37th FAI World Championships in Hungary, The 12th FAI Junior World Championships in the Czech Republic and the 11th FAI Women's World Championships in Great Britain. In the Women’s world gliding competitions in 2022, the French team took a silver, topping this with a team cup gold at the World Championships.
We contacted the national team trainer, Eric Napoléon, a well-respected and experienced pilot for FFPV (the French Gliding Federation), for an insight. He revealed that a combination of planning for the next generation, and good old-fashioned team spirit are the focus of the team's objectives:
Eric, tell us how the French team prepares for a World Championships…
The selected pilots are grouped as a mix of very good pilots with competition experience, alongside pilots with strong potential that we are trying to push further by bringing them together.
For us it is important in terms of development and renewal to think about the next generation. Unfortunately we have had eight departures recently, top pilots, leaving the sport for either professional or personal reasons.
We could simply send the same names to all the major competitions, but we also prefer to think in terms of renewing and training the pilots of tomorrow.
We have two main objectives:
- Maintain our top level
- Start the next generation on the long road to becoming a world class pilot
Every year I produce a sports program for each category of pilots and for each group. We try to plan a group to talk to one another, discuss competitive topics, and spend time together. We also see each other at the general assembly of the Federation, where the pilots are presented to the presidents and leaders of the clubs.
Then comes the time for the first season’s flights to St Auban in March or even in February for young pilots. The pilots participate in one or two French championships, in an international meeting and they do training flights at their club. We ask that the pilots prepare themselves physically and mentally. Those who wish to can use the regional sports centres.
When the tasks are defined each morning, how is the strategy decided?
Flight strategies depend on weather conditions and potential threats (cloud veils/thunderstorms/passage in pure thermals) which are all studied in the briefing, just as the planned race tactics. These tactics depend on rankings, the points that we can lose or must win.
However, even if we decide on a plan, it is important to maintain flexibility so as to be able to adapt to natural elements and meteorological changes.
How do you analyse meteorological conditions, do you use online models, or do you use a professional?
We use online models that are accessible to the public, and after that we trust in the organiser’s ‘mto’ (meteorologist) as they’re the same for every team.
After each task, do you have a debriefing, and how does it work – is it individually or in teams, and what tools do you use?
Yes, after each race we try to do a debriefing, which takes place by class either in pairs or in threes. I question the pilots to try to highlight the small problems, or on the errors that the pilots made. If a pilot encounters problems or wants to talk about a subject individually, we make the time to discuss it.
And finally, is there are good team spirit between you all? And how is that encouraged, what are the best ways to bring a team together?
Generally, there is an excellent spirit. A very good atmosphere. I try to make time for meetings, to allow everyone to express themselves. We also try to spend time together during breaks or get together to organise a dinner.
Cohesion isn’t guaranteed, it has to be worked on, and you have to have the enthusiasm to enjoy moments and experience things together.
There are plenty of ways to work on and increase cohesion, all those tools around team building… But it can take more time and as the pilots devote a lot of time to training, or participating in competitions, there is not much left time in the season. Of course, it would be easier if our pilots were professional!
Finally, I try to ensure the smooth running of relations and when I detect a very small problem, or a distance/drift, I act immediately. Relations are normally very good because we are enthusiastic, we try to have a good laugh together, to do well and enjoy belonging to a strong group.
Eric Napoleon and the French team at the 2022 FAI Womens World Gliding Championships, Great Britain
Images: FAI/Marcus King