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                          THE MINDSET OF THE CONTESTER
                       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-
        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 
        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 
        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 
        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-
        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.

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