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.