Top 10 Mental Skills for Divers
At a certain level, divers start winning meets not because they’re the strongest, have the greatest technique, or the most genetic potential. There comes a time when every competitor is strong and well-trained. At this point, the advantage goes to the diver who is the toughest mentally.
Sometimes a weaker, less trained athlete can end up on the podium because they’ve perfected the following 10 mental skills.
Want to dive your absolute best? First, you need to know that it’s possible. Your ability to succeed is only as real as you believe it to be. At the same time, though, confidence must be tempered. Over-confidence can lead to complacency. Find a level of self-confidence that is just right, and your diving ability will soar.
Set realistic, but challenging goals. Top divers not only set long-term goals, but also short-term ones. Achievable short-term goals give divers a sense of accomplishment which can help fuel interest and drive.
Further, there are two additional types of goals what will help divers: Process goals and outcome goals. Process goals are things you want to achieve while in the process of diving. For example, these goals might include improving your ripping technique, having tighter form, or increasing your rotation off the board. Outcome goals, on the other hand, are result-oriented. These include winning senior nationals, qualifying for National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) finals, or making the cut at age group nationals.
3. Detailed Imagery
Before the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Laura Wilkinson had an injured foot and was unable to dive into the water. For training, she had to rely on dryland work and sharp mental ability to picture herself diving. By the time of the Olympics, her foot had healed and she dove beautifully — going on to win the gold medal!
The world’s best divers create detailed mental “films” of their dives. In their mind, they can clearly see themselves performing the dives, exactly the way they want to, down to the very last detail. They frequently concentrate on these mental images. They slow down the frames and see their dives moment by moment. These divers get so into the imagining of the dive that they can practically feel it happening.
The most successful divers know how to maintain focus during diving meets and practice. These divers know how to focus on the big picture (winning a meet), as well as the details (ripping an entry). During competition, this focus is specific to the dive at hand. Top divers know how to pinpoint their focus to achieve their desired results.
5. Positive Thinking
If you surveyed every Olympic diving champion throughout history, they likely all have at least one thing in common: They each practiced positive thinking. Positive thinking is neither buying into fantasy nor having unrealistic beliefs: Rather, it is the knowledge that when you dedicate the work, time, and energy to succeed — you will!
Positive thinking goes hand in hand with confidence and success. It’s choosing to focus on the positive of a situation opposed to the negative. When things don’t go the way you intend, focus on how the situation can help you on your journey (rather than failing).
For two years prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Michael Phelps swam approximately eight miles a day, without taking a single day off — including holidays!
Desire needs to be your fuel for the days that you are feeling run-down, distracted, or juggling various commitments. Do you really want to get in the water when it is cold and raining? Maybe you need a day off, or maybe you just need to tap into your desire. Remind yourself of your goals, and why you are training.
7. Energy Management
In order to dive well, you have to have the energy and excitement to do so! On the days when your energy is low, you’ll need to psych yourself up. But too much energy — particularly energy from anxiety or nerves — can be detrimental to performance. On days when you’re so keyed up you can hardly breathe, you’ll need to know how to relax. Bring your energy down into a more normal level.
The best divers in the world use self-talk to support themselves, find or maintain motivation, and turn negativity into positive energy. Become aware of the things you say about, and to, yourself. Then take control of your thoughts so they contribute to your success.
9. Stress Management
How well do you perform under pressure? What happens to you mentally when your plans fall apart? The best divers have the ability to re-focus, stay positive, and relax — even when everything seems to be going wrong.
10. Keeping Perspective
Regardless of whether you have a less-than-ideal workout, lose a big meet, or win a National Championship, life goes on! Even Olympians are multi-dimensional — they have friends, family, and non-diving hobbies. Enjoy the highs of your diving career, ride out the lows. You are not defined by what you do in the pool. Keep your diving in perspective.
Try to train these 10 mental skills similar to how you would train a physical skill. Do this, and you’ll not only see an improvement in your diving meets, but also likely get more joy out of the sport.