Senior diver Ross Todd remembers his freshman year fondly. He remembers meeting his teammates who soon became some of his best friends, he remembers succeeding in his training and he remembers succeeding in his academics.
Todd’s first year was a lot of what he hoped it would be when he committed to packing up and moving to Ann Arbor from Adelaide, Australia — but that’s not all it was.
At times, Todd’s first year was stressful and draining. He remembers how his second semester dragged on as more and more months passed by without him getting to see his family.
Although many students experience similar feelings their freshman year, most do not share the additional mental burden of competing at an elite level in a sport that demands extreme focus.
“Diving is probably 70% mental, 30% physical,” Todd said.
And in such a mental-centric sport, external stressors like those that Todd lived through his freshman year, as well as internal stressors from the sport itself, can derail an athlete’s training.
“Having external stressors going on in your life also affects other things going on that contribute to good athletic performance like nutrition and your sleep,” Todd said. “Again, those aspects do have sort of a snowball effect, where if one goes, the others tend to as well. And then before you know it, your performance in the pool starts to lack as well.”
The problems that snowball effect creates are obvious, so how are they addressed?
At Michigan, the answer starts with the diver-coach relationship.
The Wolverines’ men’s and women’s diving coach, Mike Hilde, was an All-American collegiate diver at the University of Southern California just 14 years ago, and treats his athletes with the compassion of someone who has walked four years’ worth of miles in their shoes.
“I’ll individually talk to each of our divers, and I’ll make changes and manipulate their workouts,” Hilde said. “You know, if they have two tests on one day I’m not gonna put them on 10 meter doing all their big dives. I’ll have in mind an easier, basic workout those days to help with those situations.”
Todd almost echoed those words exactly when he spoke with The Daily on Thursday.
“Mike is exceptional at really listening to his athletes, and he’s very much open to contribution,” Todd said. “A lot of high level coaches have the mindset that it’s either their way or the highway, there’s no flexibility. But Mike Hilde is very much pathway-focused.”
And what do Michigan’s divers gain from their coach’s flexibility?
In a word: control.
“I would say the biggest impact of stress is on motivation to train, and to turn up every day for the 6 a.m. practices. And to try to will yourself to get through two hours of putting your body through stress and putting your mind through stress on top of what’s already going on.
“In my experience, when I’m when I’m at the pool, and I’m training, it’s never really an issue. But in the process leading up to it, in finding the motivation to practice. That’s where it’s at. That’s where the difficulty comes in.”
This feeling is not avoidable in its entirety, but Hilde’s flexibility helps to minimize it.
“It really does make you actually want to be training,” Todd said. “It makes you want to train and be an elite athlete more.
“Ultimately, I’d say that giving the athletes a sense of control really does alleviate that stress.”
From his teammates and coaches to his education and his new home in Ann Arbor, Todd is thankful for a lot that he has experienced in his three and a half years at Michigan.
No one person or thing could be the sole object of his gratitude, but Hilde, a man he sees as a mentor, certainly belongs in that list.
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