Practice Design

Is diving training as representative of competition performance as we think?

Training drills are often designed to simplify the performance of skills and consequently improve learning. A common approach to achieve this is to break the skill down into separate components. For example, in diving, a common training method is to replace water with a foam pit. This allows the athlete to practice the take-off phases in isolation from entry into the water.

Nevertheless, is this method of practice effective?

The Study

Sian Barris, Damian Farrow and Keith Davids assessed the two separate training facilities routinely used in springboard diving training – dry-land and aquatic. The aim was to see whether the approach and take-off phases of springboard dives transferred from the training environment (dry-land) to the competition environment (aquatic).

Although the rationale for dry-land training is to allow athletes to isolate small manageable parts of the task, the constraints from this form of training may compel athletes to movement patterns that are neither functional nor representative of performance in competition.

In this study, six elite springboard divers were assessed in two testing sessions – the dry-land facility and the aquatic complex. The divers performed the same springboard dive take-off phases (refer to the Figure below) in both training environments.

However, in the dry-land condition, athletes performed one somersault before landing feet first onto crash mats. In the aquatic training environment, the divers completed their normal reverse 21/2 somersault before landing headfirst into the water.

diving figure
Extracted from Barris et al. (2013)

Key Findings

Differences existed in the divers’ board-work despite similar joint coordination in both environments. Specifically, divers showed differences in the step length, amount of board depression and jump height between the two environments. This suggests that the approach and take-off skills might not transfer effectively from the dry-land to the aquatic training environments.

Practical Implications

This study highlights the effect of practicing a component of a skill in an environment that is not representative of the competition environment. If coaches want their athletes to practice the same movements that they would perform in competition, they should aim to simulate the competition environment as closely as possible during training (e.g., practice the take-off, but make sure the athletes are diving into water).


Barris, S., Davids, K., & Farrow, D. (2013). Representative learning design in springboard diving: Is dry-land training representative of a pool dive?. European journal of sport science, 13(6), 638-645.

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