The Domino Effect by Dr. Ron O’Brien

Throughout my coaching career I have heard many parents questioning the value of the coach spending significant time on basic fundamentals.  Why is my kid doing all those front and back jumps when there are a lot of dives he/she could be learning?   Jumps and tuck dives don't win competitions, degree of difficulty does!  Why isn't my child doing a back one and a half instead of a back dive tuck?

These are all valid questions and statements.  However, they indicate a lack of understanding about how the sport of diving works.  Diving is a very high-level skill sport, more dependent on good fundamentals than other more mainstream sports.  Football, baseball, softball, basketball, track, etc. are all built on normal childhood activities and skills like throwing, catching, running, and jumping.  In diving, there are a few walking steps taken in the approach and a jump from the end of the springboard or platform.  These are the only somewhat natural movements involved in the sport.  Even the jumping part is different because the jump is from a catapult (springboard) or from a platform 16 or more feet in the air.  This is not normal or natural.  In addition, the jump has to be performed with the arms in an overhead starting position (after the arm swing).  This is not normal jumping technique. Jumping in most any other activity involves swinging the arms overhead as the legs extend.  In diving the arms swing overhead before the knees complete their extension. Therefore, virtually every movement in diving has to be learned with no previous experience on which to draw.

Diving is also a sport that reflects the "domino effect".  That is, dominoes lined up side by side will all fall, one after the other, once the first one falls.  The skills in diving are lined up like dominoes.  If the first component of a dive is performed incorrectly, the rest the skills will begin to fall apart.  One off-balance or out of position error early in a dive most often results in a poor overall dive.  These errors can be very subtle and unobservable to the inexperienced spectator.  What most people see if they are not an expert is the result of the error and not the error itself. Most of these problems occur before the diver is even in the air.

Keep in mind that before the diver leave springboard or platform, height, distance, and speed of somersault are already determined and cannot be altered.  If the diver has a consistent error early in the takeoff, the result will be consistently poor dives.  The common problems of being out too far from the board, too close to the board, not high enough, off to the side, twisted, can't make the dive, or can't do a more difficult dive, will not go away by doing the dive over and over.

The best way to alleviate an error is by breaking a complex skill ( i.e., front two and half somersault) down into more manageable, simpler skills.  The diver can then practice correctly and/or concentrate more effectively on changing a mistake.  Practicing jumps, takeoffs, tuck dives, come outs, somersaults, and entries are essential to learning correct technique.   It takes a lot of repetitions to make correct performance a habit.  Conversely,  if the diver does a lot of dives without correcting error early on, then poor technique becomes ingrained and is virtually impossible to correct later. There's a big difference between "teaching dives" and "teaching how to dive".  Teaching dives is much simpler, quicker and easier for the coach to do.  Teaching dives quickly and adding degree of difficulty can result in early success in competition, because degree of difficulty is important.  

However, in this scenario, the diver usually has a myriad of mistakes that has become uncorrectable and success in competition is short-lived.

Teaching/Learning how to dive takes more work, patience, and persistence.  This type of teaching and coaching is much more demanding and time-consuming.  However, it results in the diver being able to reach his/her potential at a later stage of development.  My motto for young drivers has always been: " Learning a dive FIRST is not important.  Learning it BEST is what counts."