When I think about the concept of team, I immediately refer to diving.
Diving is where I learned how to be part of a team, how to work as a team, and how to deal with a team. You do not always choose who is on your team or who you are going to work with. But in a sport where you shine as an individual because of your work as a team, you quickly learn how to come together to make great things happen.
The story of my 11-year partnership with Meaghan Benfeito for the synchronized event is unique, and had an unusual beginning. We were not the ones who decided we should be paired up. It was our coach at the time who evaluated our physical and technical similarities… and who knew that we were doing the same dives off the 10 metres. A perfect match was made!
The previous team of Emilie Heymans and Blythe Hartley had won a bronze in the 2004 Olympics in Athens. But they had gone their separate ways as Blythe focused on the springboard events.
So basically, the door was wide open for a new synchro team. We were told to jump on the opportunity, which we did with pleasure. We were already good friends, and in the beginning, this new adventure just seemed really fun.
So we started this journey with an attitude that was completely different from what we had seen before on the international circuit. We didn’t realize it at the time, but I remember noticing the divers in the synchro event always being so serious. For Meaghan and me, it didn’t make sense. We smiled, laughed and goofed around seconds before our dives, and I think that became our signature as a team. Something our competitors picked up along the way.
What made it easier in our career as a team is that we were already hard workers, already telling each other everything. Communication was our key to success and that is what made our team last for so long. We would tell each other how we felt, what we wanted to work on and, what problems wanted fixing as a team. We were giving it 100 per cent … most of the time.
Lazy days are okay, too, and we would acknowledge them so we did not lose patience with one another. We basically had each other’s back no matter what. Our team was built on trust. We also allowed mistakes, never pointing fingers for a bad dive in a competition. Our attitude was “what’s done is done,” and we moved forward.
I’m not saying it was always pretty and always working well, but when things did not go perfectly, our firm base of friendship and trust helped us through the difficult times. And one of the hardest challenges we had to face was the fact that at one point in our career we weren’t synchronized anymore.
We had lost our timing and rhythm. Precision is key in diving. Everything is a matter of fractions of seconds. In an individual event, you must be precise, but you depend only on yourself. In the synchro, the precision doubles.
You have to time yourself with your partner in every part of the movements. The speed of the arm swing, the depth of our squat before we push off, everything counts, and has to be identical. If we can’t start at the same time, chances are that the entire way down won’t be good.
Our coaches really tried to help us in many ways, and we have always been open and involved in the discussion, but we knew that synchronization had to come from us.
Watching videos, discussing how we felt in the takeoff, how slow or how fast we could move without affecting our individual dives … these shared observations and constant discussions helped us know each other better. We were now at a point where we can just stand side by side without saying a word and we knew how the other one felt. In my opinion, we are at the point of perfect unison in a team.
Over the years, I have seen many types of teams: siblings, physical opposites, good friends, duos who were forced to work together, so I believe there is no right way to build a dream team. It looks far more complex than it actually is, because anything is possible in team building. I’ve seen it.
Obviously there are combinations that don’t work. Personalities can get in the way, as much as different physical abilities. It is really all about trial and error. Mixing capabilities and long-term potential is a challenge itself. But if you want the same things and you have a similar work ethic, that can take you a long way too.
What’s good in working as a team is that you have different strengths and weaknesses. You learn from each other. It allows you to grow. If Meaghan is jumping higher than me, I have to push myself to reach her height so we can be perfectly synchronized. It’s a way to gain power in your own dive. What’s not positive about that?
Army of support
Every athlete, when standing on the starting line, the diving board, or the field, has an army not too far behind, which contributed to the performance: a coach, a physio, a nutritionist, a psychologist, a friend. These people are the reason you are able to stand there on your own, ready to perform. Their knowledge, expertise and advice are what make an athlete.
What I learned throughout the years is that you have to surround yourself with the people you trust and you can rely on. No matter how much effort you put in the training, if your team is not one step ahead of you with new ideas, success will be elusive.
When you start a sport or even a new job, the team is handed to you. You don’t choose anyone, you just go along for the ride. Sometimes it works, sometime it doesn’t. But as you learn from these people, you also get a chance to grow and figure out what you really need as a team and as an individual.
In my 20-year diving career, I’ve worked with many different people. All of them contributed to my development as an athlete and as a person. With time and experience I eventually figured out exactly what I needed to perform, how I wanted to work, and who I wanted to work with. Near the end, I had the privilege to choose the people I wanted to be surrounded by.
I was lucky enough to get everyone on board and start a new chapter. These people really showed me the true meaning of teamwork. Everyone was hands on, and they all understood me and my goals. Yet again, communication was the key. They had my best interest at heart and that’s the reason why I’ve been able to finish on a good note.
Because of them, I know that you can’t underestimate the power of a team. You can go far alone, but you reach the top with a team.