Collegiate divers are a special breed.

They are the kind of people who look at the high dive — the one that blows the minds of frightened children everywhere — and say, “That looks fun.” 

“I think they need to first be fearless,” Michigan men’s diving coach Mike Hilde said. “I think they need to be people that are risk takers. You’ve got to be gutsy, you got to have a little bit of a risk taker personality, I think to kind of enjoy and be successful on the platform level.”

This fearless mentality undoubtedly serves divers well by the pool, but its benefits are not limited solely to that arena. Statements along the lines of “face your fears” are among the most common of life coaching fodder, and, as this suggests, divers’ predisposition to fearlessness and fear-conquering places them in an advantageous position in the larger game of life.

“When you have been through the experience of getting onstage and diving in front of a bunch of people, and you’ve gone through trials and tribulations, you learn how to conquer fear and block things out that don’t matter,” Hilde said. “When you can really focus on the main things that are important at that time, it allows you to go through new experiences with confidence.” 

It is important to note, though, that fearlessness in and of itself does not provide for this confidence in its entirety. 

“It’s just another level of something a lot of people aren’t willing to do and you feel kind of in an elite group being willing to put yourself up there to do that,” Hilde said. 

This willingness to do what others won’t can manifest in a variety of ways that aid divers in their lives outside the pool. Michigan’s divers, as well as collegiate divers more generally, find themselves at a particularly valuable juncture for this mentality. 

College itself is a time wrought with intimidating new experiences: first time away from home, first time without your home friends, first time without a strict school structure. It presents a landscape in which divers can, and likely have to, lean on their confidence in the face of fear. 

But the time after college is an even more poignant example. 

In the current landscape of post-collegiate diving, there are both not nearly enough positions and not nearly enough money to provide a space for a large portion of collegiate divers to continue their career. As such, the vast majority of college divers take their last dive at their respective universities and then enter the post-diving part of their life at the same time that they enter the adult world.

They might not dive anymore, but they do not abandon the personality traits that drew them to such a thrill-inspiring sport.

“I think it just allows you to believe in yourself,” Hilde said. “When you get out of college it allows you to understand that you have challenged yourself in things that maybe you were successful in and maybe you failed in some aspects of, but you always put yourself out there.”

In Hilde’s view, that last element of always putting yourself out there is as important to success in life as nearly any other action. 

Individuals inevitably fail, even in the context of a successful life, but the value of the unwavering confidence that stems from diving at the collegiate level is undeniable.

“And once they gain that confidence, I think these kids leave this college and they go, ‘Man, I can do anything,’ ” Hilde said.


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