"How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" the guy asked his cab driver. The reply,
"Practice. Practice. Practice."
I think we all can acknowledge that practice is an important part of
learning and improving any skill. Sports players practice, sometimes for
years. Kids learning musical instruments practice. Very few people are a
"natural" who can just pick something up and be instantly good at it.
Why does no one ever talk about practice with regard to radio contests?
I find the SS CW contest is the best single thing I can do to be ready for
WW CW. Why? Because it lets me practice my SO2R techniques. After doing
SS CW, I find I can sit down in WW CW and immediately go into SO2R mode
without much thought or effort.
Other ways to practice in radio contests:
- Start at the bottom of the band and see how fast you can search and pounce
your way to the top. Then go back to the bottom and do it again. The first
time is about knowing how to acquire the next signal and dump in your call
(or decide to keep tuning). The second pass is the valuable one. It helps
you practice call sign recognition, duping skills, and how to dig between
the fast loud guys.
- Work a QSO party or smaller DX contest that is focused on one area. See
if you can work every station you hear from that area. Again, this helps you
practice recognizing signals from a target area and duping skills.
- Work Field Day running high power. No better simulation for practicing
running skills. :)
- Work RTTY contests to learn SO2R skills. In RTTY, the computer is doing
the brain work and the QSOs have a fairly consistent timing and pattern.
This frees you to practice the keyboarding skills of jumping between the two
logging windows. For even higher level of practice, try running on two
bands at the same time (while never transmitting on two bands at once). The
goal is to do it so smoothly that no one listening can tell what you are
- Search and pounce in a contest using low power. Almost everything I
learned about busting pileups came from my early years in ham radio with 100
watts and wires in trees. You take a different approach when you are not
the loudest guy in the pileup. Learn that different approach and then be
amazed when you apply it while running a KW!
- W4AN used to do work in his shack with two radios turned on listening to
two different stations. He would practice copying both. You probably won't
be able to copy solid on both, but you will learn how to quickly shift focus
back and forth. The goal is to get this skill happening without thinking.
- Get on the air between contests and make some QSOs. Nothing helps your CW
sending more than having to think and send at the same time. :)
Most of all, have fun!
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