Learn to Dive Like an Expert (Jul, 1940)
Learn to Dive Like an Expert
SIMPLE RULES, OUTLINED BY A CHAMPION, WILL HELP YOU TO BE A BETTER DIVER
By ALF PHILLIPS
FAMOUS OLYMPIC DIVER AND STAR IN BILLY ROSE’S AQUACADE
GLIDING along the springboard in easy strides, you bounce down onto the tip and feel the springy plank catapult you skyward. High over the water, your body under perfect control, you suddenly whirl in mid-air and knife down into the blue water below. Knowing you’ve made a perfect dive, you bob to the surface, your ears ringing to the applause of the crowd. That’s the thrill of diving.
But if your experience is limited to occasional bellyflops from the rim of a pool or swimming hole, you probably feel that springboard diving is a difficult sport to learn. Well, it isâ€” and it isn’t. I’ve been at the game for sixteen years, and I know I still have plenty to learn. But picking up the fundamentals of basic dives such as the swan or the graceful back dive, is far from an impossible task even for a rank beginner. And once you’ve mastered the simpler dives, the more complicated ones are only a matter of determination and practice.
To start with, your body must be supple, for in diving, flexibility is more important than mere strength. I’d advise you not to go near a springboard until you’ve put yourself through a series of exercising workouts. Choose simple exer-cises that tend to stretch your arms and legs, loosen your spine, and toughen the muscles of your abdomen. A good diver should be able to bend from the hips and touch his head to his knees, while keeping his legs straight. When you can do thatâ€” and it’s not as hard as it soundsâ€”you are all set to step up hÂ£re on the springboard.
But you’re not yet ready for your first dive. For if I’m doing the coaching, you’ll park there at the shore end of the board while I hammer home this point. Good divers think out every phase of each dive before they make a move: the run, or approach to the end of the board; the takeoff from the tip; the flight through the air; and the entry into the water. It’s good to make this a fixed habit.
Got that? O.K., now walk out onto the end of the board and start bouncing up and down on it in continuous, rhythmic leaps, swinging your arms upward to add to your lift as you leave the board, and straightening your legs and pointing your toes while in mid-air. “Ride the board,” that is, time your arm swing with the beat of the board, and strive for height. You may think this bounding up and down isn’t getting you anywhere, but it is developing your sense of balance, teaching you to coordinate your movements, and giving you the “feel” of the board.
Now for some more pointers while you’re resting up from your bouncing practice. Many dives can be performed in three different ways: straight, with no bend at either the hips or the knees; with a “pike,” in which the legs are straight but the body is bent at the hips like a jackknife and the arms are extended either sideways at shoulder level or forward toward the toes; and lastly, with a “tuck,” in which the body is drawn up into a tight ball, with the
hands grasping the shins or ankles.
All right, you’re ready for your first dives, which should be made feet first. Practice these three positionsâ€” straight, pike, and tuckâ€”in mid-air after taking off from the board. Do them first from a standing take-off, and then from a running start. In the latter case, take at least three gliding steps
along the board, and then a jump or hurdle step that will land you down on the tip. Hit the tip with the balls of your feet, and try to land in the water about three feet out from the end of the board.
When you’ve mastered these practice jumpsâ€”and they’re easy enough â€”try a few other positions. The star position, for example, in which you first assume a straight vertical posture in mid-air, then spread your arms and legs wide apart, and return to the straight position before entering the water. Now combine the straight jump with a half twist so that you face the board as your feet hit the water. Then go on to combine a pike, or jackknife, with a half twist. Sure, you’ll fall flat on your back a few times, but keep at itâ€”you’re getting places now.
And while you’re recuperating from that last bellyflop, let me tell you that in every diving meet from a one-meter board (a springboard approximately three feet up from the water), you’ll be called on to execute five compulsory dives and then five other dives of your own choice. These compulsory dives are (1) the running forward header, or swan dive; (2) the backward header; (3) the running half-gainer; (4) the backward spring, forward dive, or back jackknife; and (5) the forward header with a half twist. To see what each of these looks like, glance at the sketches on these pages. I’ll give you a few hints on how to do the first two. When you’ve got them down pat, you can progress to the more complicated dives on your own, for by that time I’ll guarantee you’ll be a diving fan and nothing will stop you. Incidentally, if you have a friend interested in diving, practice together, so that each can observe the other’s dives and offer constructive criticisms.
Now for that first compulsory dive, the forward header. Take off with a run as you did in your feet-first practice jumps. As you leave the board, lean slightly forwardâ€”but remember, too much forward leaning will cut down the height of your dive and tend to make your feet flop over as you enter the water. Lift your arms and spread them outward as the board flips your feet up. Strive for height, and in the air keep your legs tensely stretched, knees stiff, toes pointed, head back, and eyes open. Of course, that’s a lot to remember, and the first time you try it you’ll feel like collapsing in mid-air. But if you do, the dive will be ruined, and the smack you’ll get on hitting the water will be a first-class reprimand for losing your nerve.
If you’ve caught your breath, let’s get on to the back dive. First, balance yourself on the balls of your feet on the end of the board, back to the water, with your arms out in front of you at shoulder level. Now raise your arms to a vertical position, throw your head back, and fall into a back bend like those you’ve seen dancers and acrobats do. As long as you keep that head of yours back as far as you canâ€”and only that long â€”your body will arch around and land you easily in the water head first. Once you’ve mastered the trick, try springing up from the board to gain height, instead of just falling back from it. Keep your nerve, think the dive through first, and soon you’ll be executing not only the back header but also more spectacular dives in expert fashion.
In a championship meet, there are five judges scattered at vantage points around the pool. Each judge scores every dive on a basis of ten points for perfect and zero for total failure. Every type of dive has an individual rating, depending on its difficulty. A combination of these figures gives you your score.
Even if you never get into a meet, your ability to dive will pay you dividends for many years and in more ways than one. For learning to dive is really a complete course in physical education, developing nerve, balance, poise, and muscular coordination. But above all, diving is a whale of a lot of fun.
Good luck. See you on the same springboard one of these days.