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The Problem With Balking in Diving


When a diver initiates the motion of a dive on the springboard or platform and stops before takeoff it is called a balk — and it is one of the most frustrating habits a diver can develop. It not only stalls the improvement of a diver's growth, but it also disrupts practice, and discourages the coach. Worse of all, it quickly develops into a very difficult pattern to overcome.

That is why it is important to break the balking habit as soon as possible. The more quickly you address the problem — whether as a coach or as the diver yourself — the faster you will be able to move forward in your development.

If balking has become a problem for you or for your diver, use the information below to kick this habit for good.

Psychology Behind the Balk

Whether you buy into Freud's theories or not, the role of psychology in sports is hard to deny. Some may even argue that the mind is more powerful than natural talent; that a good psychological outlook is more indicative of success than any other element. Its significance is never more apparent than in the balking phenomenon in diving.

As in other sports such as gymnastics and ice skating, the fear of trying difficult movements that can result in injury is difficult to overcome. This fear can either motivate or paralyze an athlete: Balking is the manifestation of the latter.

New Dive & Balking

Generally, a diver starts balking when they are learning a new dive. Balking is a form of hesitation. Psychologically, the diver just isn't quite ready — even if, physically, he/she is more than capable of performing the dive.

If this is the situation, stop and ask yourself or the diver:

  • Is this dive too hard for him/her?
  • Does he need more time on the trampoline?
  • Would more preparation on the lower board/platform be useful?

If the answer to these questions is no, than the diver's hesitation is probably caused by negative thinking. More often than not, the diver focuses to much on the “what if's: What if my hurdle is leaning; what if I am too close; what if I get lost in the dive. This thought pattern can can paralyze the diver.

Try these methods to help you re-focus. If you are a coach, have your diver use them.

  • Think about one thing: Focus on a single aspect of the dive such as keeping your head up on takeoff; keeping your arms in line with your body; or keeping legs tight.
  • Practice positive self-talk at home and at the pool: Repeat positive affirmations whenever possible, such as: I have a strong hurdle; I am focused; or I am strong.
  • Visualize the dive: Have him sit in a quiet spot and focus on the hurdle. He or she can imagine moving the hurdle to the takeoff, moving the takeoff to the dive, and moving the dive to the entry.

As a deterrent to balking, coaches often develop tools such as a balk box (pay a quarter for every balk) or the enforcing of applicable punishments such as sit-ups or push-ups. These are great methods and often help discourage the balking problem.

Hurdle the Excuses

Self talk and visualization are great tools, but for many divers there is a multitude of reasons why he/she balks that has nothing to do with negative thinking.

After the fear of learning a new dive, the primary reason a diver will balk is because his hurdle doesn't feel right: The body is leaning in the hurdle; the last step was too long so the toes are hanging off the board; or the arms weren't in the exact position they should be. There is a multitude of excuses.

But when it comes right down to it, that is what it is — an excuse.

Balking in Competition

As a diver you may think, “I can balk in practice, but I would never balk in a competition. But the old adage, practice makes perfect, will flip that idea on its head; if you balk in practice, you can practically guarantee that at some point, in some meet, you will balk.

That is why all divers must learn to perform a dive when the takeoff isn't perfect. Doing so will only improve your diving. It takes skill to know how to rotate and complete a dive successfully when your toes are hanging off the board — a skill only practice can teach. If you balk in practice because your hurdle isn't just so, you will never know how to perform that dive if that same thing happens to you in a meet — and more than likely, it will.

Break the Habit

Remember in competition, there is no do over. If you balk, it is an automatic two point deduction in your scores from every judge. If you balk twice the dive is considered failed. The best way to avoid this is to not balk in the first place.

Every time you step up to the board, plan on attempting that dive, no matter what it is or how the hurdle is executed. That way when a high pressure situation arises, you will have the confidence to perform the dive successfully — even in the midst of imperfect circumstances.

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