Diving is one of the disciplines that comprise the international aquatic sports, as administered by FINA, the French acronym created from Federation Internationale de Natation. In the company of swimming, water polo, open water sports, and synchronized swimming, diving has the obvious common attribute of water. Diving, both with respect to its evolution as a sport and its current training and competitive practices, is a closer athletic cousin to gymnastics than it is any other athletic activity, as diving does not require any particular swimming skills beyond the ability of the competitor to swim out of the pool at the completion of a dive.
Diving has been a part of the Summer Olympics since 1904. FINA convenes an annual World Championship in all diving disciplines. Diving is also a well-known club sport in Europe, China, and Australasia, and it is a popular sport at both the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) level as well as in U.S. high schools.
Diving is both a men's and women's sport, and it is contested in three distinct competitive formats, in all of which the divers strive for perfect form from the moment that they prepare to execute the dive, to their subsequent entry into the pool below. The oldest form of diving, predating the Olympic competitions, is now regularized into platform diving, where the competitors make their dives from a 33-ft high (10 m) rigid platform. In 10-ft (3 m) springboard diving, the diver executes the desired movements from a springy narrow platform that extends over the pool. In platform and springboard competitions, the diver competes alone. In synchronized diving, two divers endeavor to synchronize their movements from the diving platform, into the air, and as they enter the water.
All forms of diving are sports where the subjective opinion of a group of judges are tabulated. In each event, there are numerous recognized dives, each of which is assessed a level of difficulty factor that is determined by FINA. Difficulty factors assist judges in providing a consistent approach to scoring in a competition. Judges are not permitted to deviate from the level of difficulty assigned to a particular type of dive. FINA has also developed a series of guidelines as to what a judge should look for in the assessment of a particular dive. Platform diving has over 80 dives that have been assessed a level of difficulty, and there are over 60 such categories in springboard. These guidelines aside, the judge is otherwise free to score a dive on a subjective basis, with a zero score representing a failed dive, and 10 the mark of a perfect dive. Depending on the level of the competition, diving is scored on a round-by-round basis, with the winner of an event the diver with the best cumulative score.
No matter what height or style of dive to be attempted, all dives have four components: the approach, the take off, the technique, and the entry. The gymnastics relationship to diving is most evident in the manner in which the athletes achieve their desired body positions in flight from the board. The distance from the platform to the water provides an opportunity for the divers to perform more intricate physical maneuvers, but the principles are the same in each movement. The shape of the diver in flight will generally be one of four orientations to the water. Straight position is movement that is perpendicular to the surface; a pike is a position where the diver is bent at the waist; a tuck is created where the diver pulls the knees to the chest in flight; and free is a straight position combined with one other movement.
As with any sport where the ability of the athletes to control their form in the air is essential, divers seek a combination of muscular strength and a high degree of flexibility to build an ideal range of motion in the joints of the body. Divers can often practice elements of their routines indoors, on trampolines, to replicate the body control required in a dive. The maintenance of form both in long competitions and through practice requires significant stamina. A measure of explosive movement is often required at take off, necessitating significant leg strength.
The ability of a diver to both visualize and to imagine the sensations of air and water during a dive are critical psychological training tools employed by elite-level competitors. Divers and their coaches employ mental imagery to assist in their emotional control of the dive.