Diving is a distinctive sport, marked by the game’s especially tough physical and mental aspects. The competitions and training regimens can overwhelm even some veteran players at times. Despite this, the dive team has continued to improve since the Division-I transition and has adjusted to competition at the top level well, staying competitive with top schools such as the University of California Los Angeles. The dive team is currently led by Jeff Couto, head dive coach, who has been with the program for the past 15 years.
While diving may be unique compared to other sports, the events are easy for anyone to learn. There are two different types of events within diving: springboard and platform dives. The first springboard event is the low dive, which is 1 meter high and the high dive for the springboard, which is 3 meters high. The platform dives are only done at the DI level and internationally. Within the platform event, there are three
events to score points, diving at 5 meters up, 7 meters up and, finally, 10 meters up.
There are six different diving categories: the front category, back category, reverse category, inward category, twisting category and a final sixth dive. There is also a category specifically for platform dive: an armstand. “Each athlete has to perform one front, one back, one reverse, one inward, one twister and then they compete six dives, so in your sixth dive you can double up on what your best category is,” said Couto, “Most of the time its twisters, so you do a back twister and a reverse twister.”
Couto also said that his athletes focus on specific muscle groups during training to enhance their diving. Training exercises also vary based on the type of diving an athlete does.
“[We make] sure with our strength coach we are taking care of our core [and] glutes, strengthening our quads [and] hamstrings [and] making great adjustments for our shoulders upon entry,” Couto said.
“In weights, there’s a balance. For springboard, I want a little more power because the board moves, so I’ve got to learn, ‘How do I compress the board?’ I’m patient in that compression, so it throws me up as I’m jumping. [In] platform, I want a little more fast twitch plyometric explosive movements, so we’re gonna work a lot more on just jumping, box jumps, plyometrics, one-legs — really working on that quick speed.”
Flexibility is also a crucial aspect of diving and makes all the difference come competition.
“Range of motion flexibility is essential,” Couto said. “If you can’t get into a pike — like a flat position — or you can’t get into a proper tuck position, it takes away from you being able to get into a perfect 10.”
Madison Liu, a senior exercise science major and team member, understands the work it takes to perform well in this sport. While most people think of the physical aspects, and rightly so, every sport has a mental aspect to it. Diving requires mental fortitude to perform at the collegiate level, as the slightest margin of error can be the difference between success and failure.
“I would say the most challenging aspect is the mental aspect as one can be physically capable of completing a certain dive, but if there is a fear or mental block surrounding the dive, it can be really hard to push through until you have identified and addressed the issue,” Liu said.
This mental block can be partly attributed to the inherent risks found in the sport.
“Shoulder injuries are common when entering the water,” said Jacob Penman, sophomore software engineering major and team member. “I have dealt with recurring shoulder injuries that are caused when I enter the water wrong. Physically, this can take up to a month to recover each time. Physical therapy has been engraved into my daily routine to keep my body as healthy as possible. Mentally, this brings fear in high-risk dives that I have to overcome so I can improve my capabilities for competition.”
Despite the risks, Penman shared some ways he approaches the sport to improve. This is another aspect where mental strength and visualization are key.
“There are multiple ways to improve dives,” Penman said. “One process I like to focus on is stripping each part of the dive into separate skills to work on. This makes it easier to focus on one skill and master that before moving on to the next. Other forms of improvement could be studying videos of diving to see what Olympians are doing differently than you or visualizing your dives to stay mentally prepared.”
Even if a diver has mastered both the mental and physical aspects, there is still a gap that separates the good divers from the great divers. Maintaining this focus is key for success, with veterans of the sport even struggling at times.
“In my experience, I have noticed that divers who do well in competition are those who have a good balance between staying loose as they are waiting for their turn in the round and getting focused on their next dive a few minutes before their name is called,” Liu said.
“In big meets with lots of competitors, it is important not to mentally drain yourself by dwelling on your past and future dives but to enjoy the experience through either hanging out with teammates or listening to music, and then get into the zone at the proper time.”