Thursday, September 10, 2009

Think "Blue"

This post is dedicated to my old ASU diving coach, Ward O'Connell, who recently passed away at his Arizona home.

In college, I was a springboard diver. I spent my junior and senior years at Arizona State diving as a Sun Devil. My coach was a very positive man named Ward.

I don't think I could honestly say that Ward was the best technical coach I'd ever had. But I'd been diving for 6 years before I got to him and in that time, three very technical coaches had taught me most of what I needed to know about all the dives in my list. Keep your head up, swing your arms through faster, jump, spot the water, etc. I knew all that. By this time in my diving career, whether I actually did it or not depended a lot on my mindset.

And this is where Ward came in. What I needed while I was diving at ASU was to stop over-thinking things and let my body do the dives that it knew how to do. Ward was stellar at helping me do just that.

One dive I had particular problems with was an inward 2 1/2 (on the 3 meter board). For those of you unfamiliar with diving, that's when you stand backward on the board but then jump up and flip forward. For a while, inwards were my best dives. But the problem with inwards is that in order to do them well, you have to allow yourself to get pretty close to the board. If you get nervous and jump too far back, you lose your height and spin and can't then get the dive around. So the key, really, is to get yourself as close to the board as you can, without hitting it.

My problem was that I was getting too close. I started hitting it sometimes. I never got seriously hurt, but when you're hitting your hair on the board as you spin by it, it puts a little fear in you. Or a lot of fear, as the case may be. And in my case, so much fear that you just couldn't make yourself do the dive anymore.

So one day at practice, I was standing backward on the board trying trying trying to force myself to get that inward 2 1/2 off. Rocking the board, telling myself to keep my balance on my big toes, keep my head up... rocking rocking rocking on the board until I would just finally give up and fall off into the water. I just couldn't make myself do it.

Ward called me over to his chair on the pool deck.

"Michelle," he said, "I want you to get up on that board and think only of the color blue. Nothing but blue. Focus on it. Then do your dive."

Ward often said crazy things like that to us so I knew better than to ask why. I shook my head a little, disappointed that my coach couldn't give me any real advice to help me through this mental block. But what the heck. I got back on the board, and thought only about the color blue.

Blue. Blue. Blue.

Then I rocked the board, jumped up in the air, and nailed that inward 2 1/2.

Ward told me later that he knew that I could do the dive if I just stopped thinking about it. My body could do it but it was my mind holding me back. He was 100% right.

I found out yesterday that Ward passed away. It makes me sad because he really was the perfect coach for me at the perfect time in my diving career. Ward, I'm taking you with me to Kona. And at mile 10 of that marathon, when I'm facing 16 more lonely miles out through the lava fields, I'm going to Think Blue.


Sara said...

RIP Coach! It's so wonderful to have coaches/teachers that leave such a positive impact on your life. Thanks for sharing.

IronMatron said...

Sorry to hear about your former coach. Blue. That's good advice.
Can I tell you that I can't even WATCH people do inward dives? I once saw a boy hit his head off the three meter board doing one--. Yeah. That ended his diving career.
Divers are seriously courageous. I'm not surprised you were one in a former life@!

Rebecca DeWire said...

I am so sorry to hear about the loss of this special person in your life. This was a really powerful post and I loved your story about BLUE! And I was getting super freaked out just reading about your inward, you are one tough chic!!!

Lizzie said...

That's a wonderful tribute to someone who obviously cared a great deal about his role as a coach - and had the thoughtfulness to choose words that would impact his students beyond their diving careers. I am sure he would be proud of what you're doing with your life. :)

Big Daddy Diesel said...

Sad to hear about the loss from our Sun Devil Nation.

X-Country2 said...

What a great tribute. I've had some fantastic coaches in my life too.

Regina said...

I'm sorry to hear about your coach. I could have used someone like him when I was in HS. I was an awesome softball player, but I took a bad hop on a ball coming fast and it hit me right in the face, my game was never the same. I could have used someone like him to help me out of a slump like he did you.

It's funny how we remember coaches and teachers who made a difference, they're good work is so often overlooked. You are kind to remember him.

Jennifer Harrison said...

What a nice Tribute, Michelle. I am sure he was amazing. I remember all my HS + coaches and they really do leave an imprint. Thanks for the post.

Jennifer Cunnane said...

This i a great tribute! Isn't amazing how people come along in life just at the time when you most need them? I am sure it will help you to push through the tough parts in Kona!

Angela and David Kidd said...

That's a great story and a great tribute. I have a few coaches like that in my past that I will forever be grateful to. I could have used him in my gymnastics career. When I started letting fear seap in was when I stopped getting better. Instead I did thousands and thousands of push ups.

Marit Chrislock-Lauterbach said...

What an incredible guy - he knew exactly what you needed to hear and how to convey it to you. Just amazing! Three cheers for Ward! :)

N.D. said...

This was a really sweet post.

Trisaratops said...

So sorry to hear of your loss. Wonderful to think that he'll be with you at Kona!

Anonymous said...

Hi you don't know me, but I too remember Ward fondly. I was a diver in southern california for years and knew Ward from seeing him at different diving meets. He was a nice man who often did have little things to say that seemed to stick with you. It is sad to see that he has passed.
I am also a writer and I'm writing about diving on a website. I was researching hitting the board on inward dives for a guide I'm writing and I saw your blog. What an inspirational story. I wanted to get your permission to use your story for a story box in my guide to getting over a mental block. Ward's advice is a perfect addition to the story I'm writing. Please let me know when you get a chance. My email is Thank you.