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IMGCA Article - The Mental Game Of Diving


The Mental Game Of Diving

Manage The Fears And Doubts To Win


Bill Cole, MS, MA

For many years I've been the mental game coach to divers who have succeeded at the top diving competitions in the sport. I've coached remotely at the London Olympics and Rio Olympics (one Bronze medalist), had winners in the US Olympic Trials, three top-ten finishes in the World Championships, a Silver Medalist at the FINA Diving World Cup, a Silver Medalist at the Pan American Games, a Silver Medalist at the FINA Diving World Championships, a USA Diving National Champion and three first-place wins at the NCAA Division I National Diving Championships.

My clients have been members of Team Diving USA, Olympic Diving Team USA, Team World Cup Diving, and many other teams. I've also had many regional, zone, state and local divers achieve great success. I have been mental coach to many divers from the ages of 11 and up who have been nationally ranked, regionally ranked, state champions, and local champions, who have gone on to win college scholarships.

It's been a pleasure in helping these divers reach more of their potential. Their qualities of determination, dedication and courage are really something to admire.

I often get a phone call seeking help from a diver, or from the parents of a diver who is struggling. They may have issues of low confidence, or they may be in a slump, and often, fear has taken over. Once they take my free on line assessment, I can pinpoint their issues, devise a customized mental program for them and make fast progress. To take the assessment, go to
and follow the instructions for logging in.

Here are four mental strategies divers can use to get more out of their mental game of diving.

  1. Feel The Fear...And Dive Anyhow: A few years ago there was an excellent book on overcoming fears in life entitled Feel the Fear...and Do It Anyway. The author, Dr. Susan Jeffers states that generally, fears take on a larger energy when we view the situations we are facing as impossible to overcome. Many people want a life of ease, comfort or smoothness. Particularly for a diver, this is just not possible. To dive at a high level, you must embrace the difficulties and hardships that come with the territory. Fear is one of those diving facts of life that must be faced head on in order to overcome it. The best divers look at their fears, figure out how to overcome them, commit to giving their best at all times and vow to enjoy the process, and to learn from it. If you can do that, you can call yourself a winner.

Being the best that you can be is possible only if your desire to be a champion is greater than your fear of failure.
Sammy Lee, the first Asian American to win an Olympic Gold Medal for the United States, and the first man to win back-to-back Gold Medals in Olympic platform diving

  1. See The Dive, Feel The Dive, Do The Dive: I teach my clients how to not only picture images and movies of their dives in their minds, but also to feel these dives. I have had many divers slump on a dive, or be unable to master a dive. I take them through this poorly-executed dive in their mind. They unfortunately fail in their mind also. I ask them to describe the dive and to use words that describe the good parts of the dive, and words that describe the bad parts. We repeat the dive in their mind. Eventually they begin to see the difference between the good and the bad aspects of the dive and they can feel what they need to do to become more proficient. You can do this also.

It took me a long time to control my images and perfect my imagery, maybe a year, doing it every day. At first I couldn’t see myself, I always saw everyone else, or I would see my dives wrong all the time. As I continued to work at it, I got to the point where I could see myself doing a perfect dive and the crowd yelling at the Olympics.
Sylvie Bernier, Olympic Gold Medalist, Springboard

  1. Do You See A Threat, Or A Challenge? In psychology, we call the judgment or evaluation of your chances of success in a given situation "cognitive appraisal". This is your determination of whether you believe you can actually succeed, or if you will fail. Everyone does this to one degree or another, and it may not be conscious. When you doubt yourself, feel negative, or just plain fearful, you have appraised the situation as being "dangerous". You see it as a threat. But remember, you have the power to view the situation the way you prefer. After all, no one puts thoughts in your head. You're the boss in that department. So the next time you feel anxious about a dive, stop, slow down and think. Make a better decision and decide to view the situation as an interesting challenge. Can you become curious to see how you'll do? What can you learn from this dive? Once you get into that curious frame of mind of positive appraisal, you've just taken your mental powers back.

I think your mind really controls everything.
Michael Phelps, best swimmer in Olympic history

  1. Reframe Nerves And Use That Energy To Succeed: Inexperienced divers get nervous and they think, "I bet none of these other competitors are as nervous as me. In fact, look at them. They seem calm and ready to compete." Little do they know that everyone is worked up at a diving event. If you don't have some edgy anticipation of the event, you're "not up for it". You need that ideal level of anxiety to be activated to spur your mind and body into the ideal performance state. The inexperienced diver feels their nerves and becomes alarmed even more and they think that something is wrong because they have anxiety. This causes them to become even MORE nervous and this process begins to spiral out of control. In contrast, the experienced diver feels the same anxiety, but they interpret those nerves very differently. They know how human physiology works, and they know they NEED this anxiety, and they seek to harness it into useable, actionable, powerful athletic energy. The experienced diver WELCOMES the anxiety, and when it shows up, they think, "Ahhh. Good. Right on time". Would you ever want to go into a competition feeling 100% peaceful, placid, calm and unconcerned? No way. That's a recipe for disaster. Your mind and body would not be properly activated. You'd feel flat, almost as if you don't care. And you wouldn't perform well at all. So remember, nerves are your friend. You NEED some nerves to dive your best.

Body does what mind prefers.
Lenny Krayzelburg, a USA swimmer, who won four Olympic gold medals and set a world record

Now you have a different perspective on the ways your mind works when you dive. You can see that you have far more mental control than you thought. The mind does control the body, and you actually have true control ONLY over yourself. Any fear that you feel originates from within, not from the object or situation you fear. You've heard the saying, "One man's meat is another man's poison" and it's true. Famous inventor Henry Ford said, "If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right." I encourage you to take back the power of your mind and to use it to propel yourself to higher and higher levels of diving success.

Copyright © Bill Cole, MS., MA. 2017 All rights reserved.

This article covers only one small part of the mental game. A complete mental training program includes motivation and goal-setting, pre-event mental preparation, post-event review and analysis, mental strengthening, self-regulation training, breath control training, motor skill training, mental rehearsal, concentration training, pressure-proofing, communication training, confidence-building, breaking through mental barriers, slump prevention, mental toughness training, flow training, relaxation training, momentum training, psych-out proofing and media training.

For a comprehensive overview of your mental abilities you need an assessment instrument that identifies your complete mental strengths and weaknesses. For a free, easy-to-take 65-item sport psychology assessment tool you can score right on the spot, visit This assessment gives you a quick snapshot of your strengths and weaknesses in your mental game. You can use this as a guide in creating your own mental training program, or as the basis for a program you undertake with Bill Cole, MS, MA to improve your mental game. This assessment would be an excellent first step to help you get the big picture about your mental game.

Bill Cole, MS, MA, a leading authority on peak performance, mental toughness and coaching, is founder and President of the International Mental Game Coaching Association, Bill is also founder and CEO of William B. Cole Consultants, a consulting firm that helps organizations and professionals achieve more success in business, life and sports. He is a multiple Hall of Fame honoree, an award-winning scholar-athlete, published book author and articles author, and has coached at the highest levels of major-league pro sports, big-time college athletics and corporate America. For a free, extensive article archive, or for questions and comments visit him at

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