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THE MINDSET OF THE CONTESTER -or- THIS IS YOUR BRAIN DURING A CONTEST Now, on to this month's topic. Contesting for the head. This article is a collection of thoughts I have had over the years as a contest operator, and it may provide some insight into how contesters think about contesting. This may seem like a stiff, dry subject, but I think you will find it most fascinating. Remember last October, I wrote an article about why we contest. There, the important reasons why we contest were considered. But, let's look at some of the more subtle things. The things that make the difference between contesting to have fun, and contest- ing to win. The first concept that n The first concept that needs to be addressed is that of fun. Just what is fun for a contester? First of all, the biggest personal thing we generally get out of a contest is a sense of fun. Since there is no monetary award for successful contesting, nor will it make you really noticed (Except among other contesters!), and in most cases it does not help you find the love of your life, it has to be just plain fun that motivates us to try as hard as we do. The satisfaction that contest operating develops is what determines how hard we try. For most people, they are entirely satisfied to just sit down and work a bunch of stations for a while and generally hand out points. When the bands begin to be worked out, and the Q rates drop, the fun begins to turn into boredom, and these operators tend to QRT. But, for the die-hard contester, these conditions bring out the best. Most people find calling CQ into dead bands to be somewhat boring and pointless. But, those who are out to win have dealt with the boredom, and know that their persistence and discipline will help them in the end. For these people, this is FUN! If it wasn't, they certainly wouldn't be doing it! But, there is more to it than just that. Something deeper is motivating teper is motivating them to do this. This motivation CAN be acquired. What could this motivation be? Let's explore a few possibilities. PRIDE- The most useless asset of the contester. Maybe it's unfair to even call it an asset, as 'pride cometh before a fall'. In any case, an operator motivated by pride will quickly peak and go downhill from there. If an attitude of pride is motivating you, it's time to reconsider how you contest and maybe, why you con- test. GOAL SETTING- Ah, here is something useful. Everyone likes to self-improve at various activities, and contesting certainly leaves a lot of room for improvement for even the best operators. Setting realistic goals can go a long way to improving your operating enjoyment, as well as improving your skills. Off sea- son, it can motivate you to improve your station. This is perhaps the most important thing an operator can do to enhance his enjoy- ment of contesting! TRAINING- This probably motivates newcomers more than oldtimers, but is valid for both groups. Contests are excellent proving grounds for new operating techniques and skills. A good operator must diligently practice disciplined operating in order to be as effective as possible. As this is not usually acchis is not usually accomplished in one contest, or even in many, it continues to motivate people to do better. COMPETITIVE SPIRIT- This is something that is designed in to each person to one extent or another. As long as it isn't your driving force, a competitive spirit is a healthy thing. Competition of any sort, done within reasonable bounds, improves us mentally, physically and spiritually. The Apostle Paul records several times in the Bible that the Christian life is like a race. A race is nothing more than pure competition. So, a little radio con- testing can be quite beneficial. A good measure of this being in healthy balance is your attitude about winning. If you are driven to win, and nothing else, you will be in for a nasty surprise some day when you actually DO win! (This is where pride comes from!) However, if you can say to yourself: wow, that's nice, but the next contest is in three months and it will be interesting to see what the competition is like, you have a healthy competitive spirit. RESEARCH- Another thing that motivates contesters to win is the ability to carry out a kind of research. Will the rotor still turn at the end of the contest? Will the power amp still be functioning? Will I be awake ? Will I be awake and sane? These things help us design and build better stations, and help us carry out the fundamental goals of 'advancing the radio art' and 'increasing the pool of technical experts'. Even people we tend to label as 'appliance operators' do this, as they test the psychosomatic aspects of operating and the human-equipment interface. To slip down to low band contesting for a minute, some of these people have trained and disciplined themselves to stay awake for 48 hours straight, and the knowledge learned about the body under unusual stress is both scientifically and personally rewarding! I am sure if you think about these things for a while, you can see yourself fitting into one or more of these motivations. There are also undoubtedly others I didn't mention. But, the moral of this story is this. If you enjoy contesting, and want to improve, there are ways of improving that will help you build a healthy winning attitude. Now that motivation has been considered, let's consider the disciplines of preparation for the serious contester. Since the goal of the contest is to place well, certain things should be done to help achieve this. Let's consider some of these things:these things: REST- A well-rested operator is also likely to be an efficient operator. Get a good night's sleep for a few nights before the contest. In VHF contesting, use the middle-of-the-night 'dead' time to get some rest. The couple of Q's or mults you missed will be made up for by being alert when they show up the next day. AVOID STRESS- Try to get your station ready ahead of time, if possible. Set aside the problems of the week. If an expensive car repair, or a problem with a co-worker has you worn to a frazzle, you aren't going to operate at your peak. EAT RIGHT- The disciplined contester knows to avoid foods that make you drowsy. Things like alcohol, sugar and caffeine can have a considerable effect on your ability to operate. You should start this a day or two before the contest. THINK STRATEGY- As we will see in a moment, the serious contester needs to have a plan of attack. The time before the contest is the time to make sure this plan has been rehearsed in your head, over and over, so you will execute it properly on the air. This is also a good time to work on mental methods that will help you avoid common operating errors. (See the January contesting column for some tips on this one.) MENTAL AND ERGONOMIC AENTAL AND ERGONOMIC AIDS- Although falling more along the lines of station improvements, a properly laid out station can reduce operating stress and mental fatigue. Make sure controls and switches are properly labeled and within easy reach. Position your computer monitor and keyboard properly. Only your rig and key should have better spots. One of the most important things is to put the call (especially if it is not yours) and the report on strategically placed notecards where you can see them easily when tired and bored. Shield all exposed high voltage. You are most likely to contact it when tired during a long contest operation! Now, for the last section of this article-- on-air head games. This is where the rubber meets the road. You have set your goals and made your preparations. Now, the clock turns 1800 UTC and the contest begins... KNOW YOUR COMPETITION- If you want to beat the other station, know his operating habits. Where on the band does he hang out? Does he like to hunt and pounce, or run? How does he deal with his beams? Is he efficient at moving stations to other bands? Is he single- or multi-op? All of these things help determine how well a station performs. As an example, you consistently notice tha notice that your competition is working more to the East. Maybe you need to work more in that direction. Or perhaps, you know he's 'miss- ing the boat' to some extent and know that you need to work more to the West. A good operator has developed the ability to figure out what the competition is up to and adjusting accordingly. KNOW WHERE THE Q's ARE- This is one of the most important aspects of good operating. Although swinging your beams through 360 degrees from time to time is important and necessary, it is even more important to know where those VHF population centers are, and to concentrate on them. It also helps to know a little about these population centers. Are their activity hours different? Do they tend to listen your direction at specific times? This is all worth extra points. KNOW YOUR PROPAGATION MODES- One of the most important things a VHF contest operator needs to know is how to recognize openings. And, when an opening occurs, how to make best use of it. Unlike most low band operating situations, VHF openings tend to have unique characteristics that demand special operating procedures. Good examples of this are: Aurora, E-skip, meteor scatter, moon- bounce and FM. Each of these propagation modes has it's own set 's own set of specific procedures, that can make the difference between a no points at all and a big score increase. Also, the good operator needs to be ready to use any of the propagation modes on short notice, as VHF openings tend to be abrupt and short-lived. I hope to do an article on some of these in the future. Meanwhile, use your VHF station between contests to build operating skills in these areas. DON'T IGNORE WHAT'S RIGHT AROUND YOU- This means work all of the DX stations in the rare grids without forgetting to work all of the local stations, many of which are on FM. Knowing how to balance your operating time between the two separates good ops from the best. A good example of this is listen for N2WK in the next contest. He is ALWAYS on sideband and ALWAYS on FM! How does he do it? A good station helps, but the good operator never loses track of what's going on in the FM area while actively pursuing the weak-signal DX. Proof of this is that Waynes weak signal score is always substantially better than his FM score, but his FM score is better than anyone elses'! LEARN- This is simple. If you hear somebody using a technique that works, copy it if at all possible. If some technique doesn't produce good resultsproduce good results, consider substituting another. A lot of new operators (myself included) tend to get stuck in ways of doing things. If we could pick up on what techniques are working under a given set of conditions, and change our operating to reflect this, our scores will improve. And, if operating multi-op, don't be afraid of or react negatively to an operating suggestion! BE PATIENT- This is especially important for stations with tech- nical limitations. If the bands seem dead, (And you are sure everything is working) keep trying. If you give up, the winning edge would be the Q's you missed 5 minutes after you turned your radio off! Knowing how to effectively work dead bands is one of the highest arts in the VHF contesting world. BE READY FOR CHANGE- This follows along with patience. Should the band suddenly open, you can go from dead to pileup in a minute or two. Or, a pileup may suddenly disappear. Be ready to control the exhilaration or the disappointment and keep operating effective- ly. ACCURACY- The disciplined operator ALWAYS makes sure the call and report is correct, and readable in the log. He ALWAYS gets the sked info copied right. These things require discipline, and pay dividends in the largest way. Read last month's contad last month's contesting column to learn more about this. BREAKS- Unless conditions warrant it, take regular breaks to stretch and relax. If you have off times, use these to relax. These will improve your mental alertness. SHUT OFF YOUR OPERATING AIDS from time to time, especially when tired. Calling CQ with your real voice, or sending it by hand from time to time can help you stay alert. This is especially true when conditions are flat. One thing that consistently sets apart good operators from the average operator is that the good operator can actually enjoy the challenge of lousy conditions by the discipline he has developed. So, what's the long and short of all this? First, you can have fun as a serious contester, and this discipline can be developed. Secondly, You need to prepare your mind as well as your station for the contest. Third, be mentally prepared during the contest and be able to think yourself to a better score! I hope you found these insights thought-provoking, and I readily welcome any comments or criticisms you might have about this article. This is by no means definitive. Just remember, THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF YOUR STATION IS YOU!