The Power of Routines and Rituals

Cliff divers reveal how repetition and superstition are key to consistency

Cliff diving is a mental game. In order to not let your mind play tricks on you when you stand on the edge of the 27m platform, you better have an individualised set of tricks up your sleeves. Honed in by hundreds of repetitions, ritualised actions or routinized preparation strategies, these behaviours come into play when everything is about consistently putting dives straight up and down vertical with no splash and for high scores. When cliff divers reach consistency, they can win a competition, if they maintain consistency, they will most likely win the whole tour.

When Gary Hunt won the World Series between 2010 and 2012, he'd only missed the podium twice out of 20 times. When he secured his latest title in 2016, he'd finished seven out of nine competitions in the top three, two more than his runner-up, Jonathan Paredes. The Brit is not only the man with the most titles, but also the most consistent diver in the World Series circuit. "Everyone wants to be a bit like Gary", is a famous statement from American Steven LoBue. So everyone, male or female, aims for consistency. What's the key?

Consistency creates champions, and Gary Hunt has been the most consistent diver since the World Series began. Photo: Dean Treml/Red Bull Content Pool.

"We all have varying degrees of difficulty but we all have experience and that's where I think consistency comes from", explains David Colturi. "Experience diving in different conditions, experience doing your dives, experience handling the pressure, experience performing well when you need to." The American came back from shoulder injury this season and just earned his second 2017 podium in four events.

Besides experience, consistency really does come from repetition: one needs to put in the repetitions to figure out what works and what doesn't work, to gain confidence within oneself. Does consistency come from routine? "You've got to be in the pool every day, diving, over and over and over", says Colombia's legendary Orlando Duque. "So when you're on location, you know that you can put all those elements together and do your dive. Even if you're tired, the conditions are tough; there are waves, anything. You know what to do, because you've done it so many times in the pool." Repetition is a major tool to learn consistency, to manufacture each dive.

Every single one in the field of the 22 elite athletes competing at each event of the World Series follows their own game plan, things that each diver goes through before every dive. Some count, touch their hands right before they go; others go through the motions of the entire dive or just tie their shammy in a certain way and hold their wristband. It can also be the same pair of socks to wear on the way to each competition.

"These are all things that you pick up when you're training from the lower heights. So you get in that routine and keep this routine up on the platform," describes Andy Jones, who looks back on a routine of 33 World Series competitions since 2011.

Are we still talking about routines or rather superstitions?
In this high risk sport, where the athletes dive from up to 27m – the equivalent of an eight-storey building – just to hit the water less than three seconds later at an average speed of 85km/h, nobody really wants to rely on superstitious behaviour. "I feel like it's more of a distraction", describes Ginger Huber, the American who's participated in all women's competitions to date. "So I try not to let it take over too much because it all boils down to what you can do in your mind and what you can do off the platform."

Ginger Huber has never missed a competition in the women's World Series. Photo: Romina Amato/Red Bull Content Pool.

Joining in on that approach, Orlando Duque takes it even a bit further: "I have to trust my training. I can't follow a routine and if I haven't done any training expect anything to happen. I actually try to break the routine. When I catch myself doing the same things over and over, I make sure to break it. Just so I'm not depending on that."

With only two events to go and a wide-open title fight in the men's, concentration, skill and physical control is what it comes down to in order to crown a new champion. "Whatever can put you in a better frame of mind – you gotta do, what you gotta do," says 42-year-old Duque. A wise man who's proven consistent over the last twenty years of competing at the highest level.

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