It is often said for sports that 30% is skill and the rest is in your head. Although FPV Drone racing isn’t a conventional sport, this same theory still applies. Most GetFPV articles start by outlining how a said component is the most critical aspect of the sport. In this case, however, FPV drone psychology really is the most essential component of the sport.
FPV drone psychology plays a substantial part in the sport. It dictates when we are or aren’t ‘feeling the flow’ and can majorly affect the result of a race event. FPV drone psychology can be split into a timeline surrounding an event; before, during and after. Before the event revolves around familiarising your brain with the track and the feeling of success. During the event, the FPV drone psychology focuses on staying calm, and after the event, it focuses on reflection.
I will now go over each of the three sections of the ‘FPV drone psychology event timeline.’ To help you achieve the best results, I’ll provide some personal and research-based tips and tricks.
Before The Event
So, you are frantically charging batteries and throwing everything FPV related into your toolkit. What you should be packing is your FPV drone psychology into your mental toolkit as well. Mentally preparing yourself for a race is the most important aspect of FPV drone psychology. Staying calm under pressure can be the fundamental factor determining a race win or loss. I’ll go over some essential tips and considerations that I think you should bring to a race in your FPV drone toolkit.
First, I like to visualize the course and imagine flying around it. This can also be achieved by flying it in the simulator. Flying the track and familiarising yourself builds confidence.
Next, as well as visualizing my FPV feed around the track, I like to picture myself utterly obliterating the competition. There are many studies which have established that portraying yourself winning increases the brain’s ability to focus on achieving it. Having also applied this technique in archery for five years, a sport even more reliant on psychology, I can personally confirm that the research is 100% valid. If you practice visualizing success enough, you can even visualize it without having to close your eyes. You can practically see your FPV feed in front of you, swooshing through that final gate!
Another psychology technique that can also be applied to FPV drone psychology is reflection. Reflection is an excellent way of learning to stay calm. It is the foundation of a successful race event. The concept of reflection is a process which encourages you to clear your mind of all nagging thoughts or issues. A simple reflection method is simply to sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and to focus on your slow deep breathing. To help reflect, there are plenty of tools. My personal favorite is smiling mind, a free online/app based reflection tool that was provided in my years at high school to help manage stress. Reflection can even be used during the race event to stay calm.
During The Event
The most important tip I can give you at a race event is to stay calm. The easiest way to do this is to clear your mind and take deep breaths. If I feel myself shaking at a race event, I simply breathe deeply, and you can see my flying smooth out in the DVR. To help with staying calm, I also maintain a frame of mind that I’m just there to have fun. Sure, winning is the ultimate goal, but if I get some good laps in and have a good time, the event was just as meaningful. The impact of getting nervous in a race will result in shaking and the conscious part of your brain taking over flying. Flying consciously is bad.
When racing, you shouldn’t actively be thinking about what to do next or how to take a corner. Basically, you should be letting your subconscious fly the drone. This is quite a skill to master and takes quite a lot of practice. Sometimes I will be in a race and at some point, my brain will essentially ‘catch up’ with my racing and will think something along the lines of “woah there, what’s going on.” This makes it hard to regain focus and get back into the groove of racing. To combat this, I have a few strategies depending on the situation. The basic idea is stopping my brain from consciously thinking about piloting the drone in favor of piloting it instinctively.
My first strategy is using music. There are two subcategories of music, just listening to it and listening to it quickly. When listening to music, the conscious part of the brain focuses on the song rather than on piloting the drone. I have a personal theory relating to music. Basically, my theory is that listening to music sped up can help improve reaction times. On a personal level, this appears to work however it reduces my performance I am not ‘feeling the flow.’ Try it out for yourself and see if it changes your flight performance.
Thinking of something else while flying is also another way to let your subconscious take over drone control. My favorite ‘something else’ to think about is what food I want to eat later or what else I need to do that day. I prefer to stay away from drone-related thoughts and math related problems. When practicing, my ‘something else’ to think about by default is ‘I wish that nearby dog would stop barking.’
Importantly, subconscious drone piloting is not always ideal. Before you can subconsciously race around a track, you must learn it first. I will purposely fly while consciously thinking about piloting the drone during the first few practice laps. This allows me to get a basic racing line down which I will subconsciously develop during the event. Another trick I use is to DVR all the runs I can during the event. This way I can play back my race afterward and critique my lines and improvements without compromising drone control. I also get some epic footage to put onto YouTube.
Another FPV drone psychology aspect is your LED colors. Hot colors, notably red, can provoke more aggressive reactions from observers. In a racing scenario, running red LEDs can provide additional provocation to make pilots behind you try to catch up. The two sides to this are provoking opponents to speed up beyond their comfort level can improve their chances of crashing and yours of winning. If your pace is within their comfort range, however, this will provoke them to race closer to you. Cold colored LEDs can make people calmer or forgiving if they see you overtaking them. There is the possibility to use this for strategy, but I like to run red regardless as it matches my props.
Of all these methods, I tend to use the ‘something else method’ the most as it doesn’t require earphones which can be a bit tedious to set up with goggles on. This method is best when there isn’t much background noise. When racing in an arena full of people with an announcer loudly describing my racing, I tend to go for music to drown it out. Note that your music cannot be too loud as you need to be able to hear your spotter and the race director calling go!
After The Event
The most important thing to do after the race event is to reflect on it. Sit down, replay your DVR and in your head, replay your mindset during each race. Have a think to yourself why you did so well in each race, why you crashed out in another, and in both cases what you could do to improve. Reflecting on your mindsets during the race event can help you to further enhance and refine your relaxation skills. I always think back to my races and try to come up with ways to stay calmer or more focused for the next event. I also like to analyze my DVR to improve my racing lines for upcoming events. Reflection will ultimately allow you to become a better, faster, more consistent pilot for the next event to come.
FPV drone psychology plays a fundamental part in race events. At race events, you can use the discussed tips to keep yourself calm and focused. If you practice, relaxing, and staying calm, your race results should improve exponentially. Flying an FPV drone is undoubtedly a difficult task, but by mastering FPV drone psychology, the sport is yours to master.
EDIT: Professional Pilots’ Comments on this topic
Evan Turner, 2018 Multi GP World Cup Champion
“Hey Headsupfpv here. First off I would like to say that this was a very cool article that I enjoyed reading and it actually had some very good points within it. Some of the things it said like your led color affecting how calm you are I really have not experienced but most of the other key points I can very much agree with. Things like imagining yourself flying the course, always thinking about yourself winning, as well as trying to think as little about the actual flying aspect as possible seem to help me stay more calm and collected during big races. One thing I have found that helps me is in between heats the sooner you can have your quad up on the ready stand the better. It’s just one less thing for u to keep on your mind so that’s always good. After I’ve completely rechecked my quad and have it up on the start stand I just try and go do what I came for and that is to have fun, just go talk to people throw a frisbee who knows do something with other people that you enjoy and that will keep your mind off the racing aspect. When your going up to fly it’s always easy to get super intimidated but I try to just go out there ( I know it’s weird) constantly thinking about what I’m gonna have to eat after I win this race. Not that heat but the race just constantly imagining I’m gonna win the race and treat myself to some good celebratory dinner. When I get up to my pilot stand plug my goggles in etc I have a check list I go through of completely unceccesary things for example (are my shoes tied, whats my radio voltage at, what time is it, is my crossfire antenna tight, I flip all my switches twice and make sure to put them in the correct spot, simply anything I can do to until scully says goggles down thumbs up) and I try and arm my quad way before they say unless then 5 just so I can be prepared before I need to be and also if I had a prop on wrong etc my quad would hopefully flip out before they said in less then 5 and they would give me time to go switch the prop etc. to conclude I really think for me personally it’s just doing as much as I can to prepare ahead of time to get it out of my head the less I’ll worry about it when it’s actually time to fly. Get prepared early go have fun and talk with your friends that you probably haven’t seen in months and catch up with them on life, then when it’s time to fly just get into the zone and do what you do and that’s go fast. That’s just my two cents I hope it was helpful. Happy flying!”
Timothy Ichiyasu, 1st at NyteFury vs. Dolma Team Race, 2nd at Drones In The Desert
“Good article! I’d like to contribute some thoughts as well. I think this is a topic that is endless in depth, and it’s wonderful that it’s been brought up to talk about. The author here mentions letting your subconscious fly. However, this is VERY different from letting your mind wander, and that’s important to note. I’ve found that I perform worse when my brain is processing anything other than flying. This includes anything from the announcer to the keys in my pocket, and the worst part about that is that it’s all subconscious. The first important thing to master (the sim and family members are a good tool for this), is the ability to recognize and acknowledging at what point you have begun losing focus. Only once you are good at this, can you do something about it. After you master focus loss recognition, you must develop some thing that you can regularly tell yourself to focus on specifically about the race itself.
When I spot for someone new and I see them start to fall apart, I just tell them “look at the center of the gate, find your line, imagine the next turn” I also tell myself this myself these things when I lose focus. There are two reasons. The first is that where you look, is where you will go. This is true on so many levels, but predominantly psychology. The second is because the center of the gate, the line, the future are abstract. It forces your brain to actively attempt to model the situation. The more it attempts to model the situation, the more instinctual, accurate, and rapid your reactions will be. “Visualize the win” doesn’t just mean “visualize how you will celebrate your victory.” It also means “model the track, your opponents, their actions, your strategy. Have your reactions cocked and loaded.” It’s also helpful to consciously model the situation. One thing I love doing before the final race is looking at finishing percentage. I’ve won quite a few races because I was confident that, statistically speaking, the fastest guy on the track wouldn’t finish during the final heat.
The brings me to the second thing I would like to mention and that is PRACTICE!!! It doesn’t matter who you are. If your brain does not have a well developed model that fits the situation you find yourself in, your performance will suffer. Your mental model of how your machines will fly is crucial! If it’s not well developed, you will struggle to perform as well as you could. This idea is true for the track as well. Do your best to prepare for the type of track that you will be flying on. Ask the DCL pilots. They had to spend time developing their skills with a 800g quad, because it didn’t closely match the way their typical quads flew. Give yourself the best possible chance and put in the work! You owe it to yourself.
Lastly (this sounds so cliche) but HAVE FUN. There’s actually a really good reason for this tip. I often like to think of emotional states in the form of a 2D chart. One is general positivity, the other is general negativity. The second is excited, and calm. The important thing to note is that performance more closely correlates with the positive/negative axis, NOT the excited/calm. There are guys out there killing it in all sports that are either pumped and fired up, or calm as a cucumber. But all successful athletes are in a positive mindset when they are performing at their best. Consider what happens when someone gets in your head. Don’t let competitiveness generate negative emotion. If you are nervous, turn it into positive excitement instead of negative. You will feel more prepared, and perform better as a result. Don’t hate to lose, love to win!”