Last week I had the opportunity to judge diving at the Division III Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference. After 17 years as a diver and 6 months as a coach, this was my first time in the judging hot seat. I'll admit, I was pretty nervous. I understand how diving is judged, I know the rules, but Division III is a bit of a different animal because you have such a variety of athletes. You have the divers who just threw together a list after joining the team following a PE class that introduced them to diving for the first time in college. Then there are the divers that have been competing since age groups that could perform very well at the Division I championships.
Initially, I found myself judging a bit like Simon Cowell:
On the fourth and final day of competition, the women's 3 meter springboard really captured my attention. There were 3 girls that were close after the optional rounds, all within striking distance for the Conference Title. The girl that had led the optional rounds fell to third after the voluntary rounds, but only 2 points out of first. The girl that was in third place after optionals took the lead with one dive left. The girl that was second after optionals pulled ahead by .05 in the last dive. At every level of competition there are exciting dramas played out on the sports field, and I love when I get swept up in the excitement!
But my heart broke walking out of the pool that day. There was a young lady that had failed two dives, and she was crying because that disqualified her from the competition. I wish I had had words to encourage her in that moment but the sight of her just struck me deep and my heart just hurt for her. I don't think she has been diving very long, and I think she may have been on the team that didn't have a diving coach. But that doesn't mean she doesn't care or isn't passionate about what she's doing. The passion and love for the sport of diving that this group of athletes showed, far exceeds the passion that I see at many high level, even Olympic level events. So many athletes at the top just do it because they happen to be good at it, a parent has pushed them, it's a way to make a good living, or they just don't know what else to do. Honestly, I would say that probably just a small handful of elite level athletes actually have a true passion and love for their sport. Not that they never had passion mind you, but for many, the passion fades into something else as they rise through the rankings.
Seeing this raw passion from so many athletes at this D III meet really hit home, reminding me of me when I started and how I got through some difficult times. If I could go back and tell that young diver something, I would tell her to keep working hard! When you love what you do, it doesn't matter what the world thinks, give it all you have and enjoy every step. That is passion played out, the only true perfection any athlete can strive for...