By Dr. Alan Goldberg
You look for your score when it’s all over and can’t believe your eyes. Even though you’re surprised, you somehow knew this was going to be a great dive right from the moment that you climbed onto the board for your very first dive. All of your dives had that very special feel that seems to come around all too infrequently. Maybe it was the sense you had just before each dive of being in your own little world, aware of everything and everyone around you, yet strangely oblivious to it all. It was as if you had “concentration blinders” on and all that you could see or hear was what you were doing and nothing else. Maybe it was that calm, that confidence that seemed to settle over you just before the meet even began. Your old friend fear was nowhere to be found. Perhaps it was a strange combination of feeling both loose and excited at the same time that enveloped you just before you took off on that first dive.
On the board you felt calm and focused. There was an easy strength and energy that seemed to flow through your muscles. Your takeoff felt strong and powerful. Dare you say perfect! You went up high over the board, your above board mechanics were strong clean. Your timing was exquisite, over and overagain. You ripped your entries. There was an almost eerie connection between your mind and body. It was as if you could simply mentally rehearse the dive before you went and, almost instantaneously, with your takeoff, you perfectly reproduced those images with the actual dive! Even if you were slighly off on one dive, it seemed to have no significant impact on you. Nothing could shake your confidence and focus. It was as if your mind and body meshed perfectly for this meet. You were effortless effort. Poetry in motion. The gods of peak performance were smiling brightly down upon you. It’s that one meet that makes all the sacrifices, pain, fear, frustration and hard work that you regularly endure worth while. You were diving in that zone! If only you could prepackage those feelings and that performance state so that you had it at your fingertips whenever you wanted!
Maybe you’ve had the frustrating experience of diving in the zone one day and enthusiastically looking forward to your next meet or practice so that you could get up on that board and do it all again. Unfortunately, this session your timing is way off, you feel tentative and even fearful, and the only thing that you do again is crash! Or perhaps you found yourself in the zone for the first few dives of the meet, flying high until one or two bad dives sent you hurtling down to earth and crashing as the meet progressed. There’s nothing more elusive in diving than finding the doorway to the zone and keeping yourself in it when the chips are on the line. While there’s no guaranteed formula for consistently unlocking the zone’s power, following these six guidelines will significantly increase your chances of of opening up that doorway to peak performance for those big meets:
1. Understanding That Your Predive Thoughts Directly Affect How Well You Dive
Predive thoughts go directly into your body, changing your rate and depth of breathing, level of muscle tension, heart and pulse rate, all of which have a profound effect on your endurance, takeoff, aboveboard mechanics, timing and the smoothness of your entry. Frequently, dives are ripped or crashed before the athlete even climbs up to the board, so be aware of the quality of your self talk. Remember the mental principle of G.I.G.O., garbage in, garbage out. If you think “garbage” thoughts before and during your dives, your performance will begin to “smell” like garbage! Discipline yourself to monitor the negativity that’s a normal part of competition and replace it with more positive, performance enhancing thoughts. This may not be easy in the beginning, especially if you’ve gotten into the habit of being negative. Be persistent and don’t allow the negativity to get much air time.
2. Keep Your Focus of Concentration In The Meet, in springboard diving lessons, And On Each Dive, Not In Your Head
When you dive in the zone, you are not thinking, you are simply doing. You are in the experience, not in your head. This means that you may be concentrating on the feel of the dive, your arm tuck, legs or entry, or you may be focusing on a spot outside yourself that you use as a signal to help you come out of the dive. When you think, you will always get yourself into trouble. Thinking tightens up your muscles and clouds your vision. It will erode your confidence and feed your fears. You can’t think yourself into the zone. Instead, you have to be in the experience of the meet and into each dive. Before you dive, find things in your predive ritual (arm movements, deep breath, predive images, self talk, etc.) that you can keep bringing your focus back to so that you’ll stay in the experience instead of in your head.
3. Stay Inside Yourself And Dive Your Opponents’ Dives
One of the biggest mental mistakes made by divers that prevents them from ever reaching the zone is focusing too much on what’s going on around them, especially on how their opponents are diving. When you dive your best, you are centered and throwing your own dives. This may sound sort of silly because whose dives can you really throw anyway? But all too often a diver gets preoccupied with the competition and what they are doing. You can’t be worried about your opponent’s size, record, degree of difficulty of their dives, reputation or hair style if you’re going to dive in the zone. Everything about your opponent, including how much the gods of luck are shining down on him or her that day, are all “uncontrollables.” A pre- or during meet focus on uncontrollables will raise your stress level, kill your confidence and will never help you perform to your potential. To get to the zone, you must first be aware when your focus of concentration leaves your dives and then quickly return it to what you’re doing. Don’t try to dive someone else’s list. Do what you do the best. Stay centered by keeping your mind on you.
4. Have Fun in Meets and in Springboard Diving Lessons
In any sport, peak performance is a direct result of having fun. The more you enjoy the meet and the competitive struggle, the looser you’ll be mentally and physically and the better you’ll dive. If you make one dive or a meet too important, you’ll choke the fun right out of yourself and end up crashing big time. Putting your ego on the line when you compete is one way to drain the enjoyment out of the meet. If you dive well, you’re a better person than if you dive badly, you start to think. You can’t wait until after you’ve won the meet to have fun. This is backwards. You must have fun first, before you dive, in order to perform your best. Fun (passion) is one of the key passwords that will get you into the zone. Without it, you’ll find the door to the zone slammed in your face. Remember what you, love about diving and try to stay in touch with this when you compete, esppecially in those bigger meets!
5. Trust And Let It Happen
When you dive in the zone, you’re powered by effortless effort. You dive smoothly and consistently without trying too hard. Your peak performances come from a “letting it happen” mind set. You can’t force a good dive out of your body any more than you can force yourself to sleep at night. Willing yourself through a perfect reverse and a half will only tighten your muscles up and cause you to dive with uncanny inaccuracy. To dive your very best, you have to mentally step back, trust your hours of practice and experience and just let that great dive come out. A premeet reminder that you’ve “paid your dues,” know what to do and are ready will go a long way towards helping you perform your best. Trusting and letting it happen means that you must stay calm and relaxed. The more relaxed that you are, the easier that it will be for you to rip your dives.
6. Dive In The “Now”
When you are in the zone, your focus of concentration is naturally in the “now.” This means that you are paying attention to what is going on in the moment rather than worried about things in the past or what’s going to happen in the future. A past or future performance focus will block your path to the zone. As a diver, the only “time zone” that you really have control over and power in is the “now.” When you find yourself slipping out of the proper “now” focus and thinking about a botched dive (past) or moving ahead to worry about a more difficult one later on in the list (future), your job is to quickly bring yourself mentally back to the now and the dive you are about to do. Diving in the zone is all about focusing on one dive at a time in the now.
A Message from Dive San Diego: Our springboard diving lessons are geared towards fostering skill and personal growth. We teach our divers how to stay in the zone at all times!