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Balk Busters
by Alan Goldsberg

(sung to the tune of "Ghostbusters")

"Is there something wrong... in your local pool... driving you to distraction... makes you feel like a fool. They get up on the board... and then go no-where... Just freeze in mid-hurdle... Lord it just ain't fair."

If you've coached diving for any length of time you probably know THAT song all too well. Balkers can try the patience, sanity and teaching skills of even the most experienced coach. After you've exhausted your teaching bag of tricks with threats, yelling, pleading, bribing and sit-ups, all to no avail, who can YOU call?

In this article and those that follow I'd like to provide you with some strategies for balk busting. Some things that you can do before you get "slimed" by the frustration that balkers usually heap on their coaches.

Strategy #1 - Change GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out) to Good Stuff In, Good Stuff Out

Any diver who is blocked by fears and consistently balks is a master of this GIGO strategy. That is, whenver they think about the dive in question they continuosly "feed" themselves a steady diet of mental garbage, (ie. "I can't do it," "I'm going to be too close," "I'm going to kill myself," "God, I'm so nervous," "what if I balk again," etc.).

The garbage doesn't just consist of words but also includes negative imagery, visual and kinesthetic images of what they don't want to happen. With this kind of negative imagery and internal focus the diver's muscles get tight, breathing gets shallower, confidence disappears and proper concentration becomes impossivble, The end result, or "Garbage Out" of all this is a balk.

In order to interrupt the self-perpetuating cycle of the balk, (one good balk leads to another), try the following at-home and in-the-pool strategies.

At Home: There are three ways that you can intervene to interrupt that balk. First, help the diver understand GIGO, and that the specific negative words and images that he or she regularly uses actually maintains the balking problem. Find out exactly what self-talk and images the diver is using them by asking them to teach you (mentally) HOW to balk the way they do.

Second, help them begin to slowly reprogram this "garbage" with "good stuff". One way to do this is to have them make little signs, on 3 x 5 cards which state exactly how they want to be, feel or act, AS IF it were true ie. "I love my reverse and a half," "I go into my hurdle with power and confidence," etc. The diver is then instructed to phrase these signs positively (not "I don't balk" but "I take it up smoothly and powerfully") and put them up around their room, in their changing bag, school notebooks, wherever they are assured of seeing them frequently.

Third, have them mentally rehearse the dive they are having problems with 15-20 times before they go to bed each night seeing and feeling what they want to have happen.

At The Pool: When a diver balks he or she is mentally focusing on the wrong cues as they climb the board and prepare to go. Since your divers can only concentrate on one thing well at a time, you want to begin to assign them other more performance enhancing cues to focus on when they prepare to dive. In order to not balk and execute successfully, what kinesthetic and/or visual cues to they have to be focusing on?

If you can five them something to feel or look for (usually no more than one of each), this proper focus will distract them from the thoughts that are maintaining the balking.


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