Photos courtesy of Grayson Hall Photography/USA Diving
USA Diving, the national governing body for the sport, is a not-for-profit organization with the goal of taking diving and its athletes of all ages to new levels. Thanks to the support of a dedicated staff and other partner organizations, diving continues to be the United States’ most successful summer Olympic sport.
USA Diving selects, conditions and train teams to represent the United States in major diving events including the Olympic Games, World Championships, and the FINA Diving World Cup. Other well-known events include the USA Diving National Championships.
Many athletes begin diving as youths in junior programs conducted through more than 200 clubs nationwide. Some go on to the senior level to become top national and international competitive divers. USA Diving’s master’s supports those who no longer compete at the senior level, but wish to continue diving well into adulthood.
Sports Destination Management: The last few years have been challenging for sports across the board. How was USA Diving affected?
Lee Michaud: It has been an interesting time. Obviously, with the 2020 Olympics not being held until 2021, the calendar of competitive events that followed was affected. A lot of events are crammed together, something that was very tough on our athletes and coaches. It’s a work in progress but we knew this was how it would be. Right now, we’re now 16 months out from the Olympic trials and we’re going along at a great clip.
SDM: How was the organization itself affected by the pandemic?
Michaud: I would say all that downtime made us take a long look in the mirror and realize we had to figure out better ways of doing things. We realized that we could become much more streamlined. We shuttered our office in Indianapolis; we decided to use that money to support the staff and upgrade our technology. We became very small and lean in terms of staffing – the way many businesses did.
SDM: Has it changed the way you go about your work, such as in site selection?
Michaud: Not really. We are putting on events for the elite level of diving and there are very specific requirements about the venues we need. World Aquatics has certain dimensions and specific safety regulations that need to be followed. The event and the facilities need to be world class.
SDM: Apart from that, what makes a venue stand out?
Michaud: We like to partner with communities. Ideally, we have a lot of community outreach. We want kids to come out and watch and get interested in diving themselves. At the same time, we want our athletes to have a great experience. They should be able to talk to their grandkids about how exciting everything was, even if they did not win.
SDM: Do you feel like you have a deep bench of divers for future years?
Michaud: I do. We have a very strong pipeline; our numbers have grown and I expect that to continue. We have adopted a much more inclusive approach with a lot of attention being paid to DEI issues. Some people used to just consider that a checklist item but we are emphasizing it.
SDM: What are some of the challenges that face you in terms of developing new divers from ground zero?
Michaud: Of course, people need to be swimmers. In the past, we didn’t focus on that, but learn-to-swim initiatives are essential. In today’s world, in every aquatic sport – swimming, surfing, diving, anything – they need to be water safe. If we want children to become divers, they also need coaching. They need equipment. We need transportation to get kids to places where there is a pool. They need swimsuits. You have to fix all the problems that exist before you can get to excellence.
SDM: It sounds like an incredibly formidable number of challenges.
Michaud: Something else we’re facing is the fact that some of the major colleges dropped their swimming and diving programs; a lot of Olympians came from those schools so it’s just tragic. They have great pools and great equipment and now they have nobody to use them and nobody to coach them. Kids can learn to dive but they need to be able to continue in school.
SDM: Are more divers male or female?
Michaud: I would say we’re a little over 60 percent female. Girls tend to become acclimated to the pool and become better divers at an earlier age.
SDM: In the ideal world, if you want an athlete to become an elite diver, when should they start coaching?
Michaud: Generally, we’d like to get them into the pool by the age of 10 or so. To build up that kinesthetic awareness, they can start as early as six, seven or eight years old – you’re not really getting a huge advantage by starting kids any earlier. One thing I will say is that when people bring their kids into diving, it really boosts their self-esteem. They’re challenging themselves and it actually changes them when they find out they can do something. They get this big grin on their face; I get goosebumps just thinking about it. That to me is the most amazing thing.
SDM: Some people tend to move between sports; do you find that in diving?
Michaud: Yes, we get kids who have been in tumbling or gymnastics. We get a lot of trampolinists, as well.
SDM: Are they easier to train when they’re coming in from those sports?
Michaud: Yes, we just have to teach them that instead of landing on their feet, they have to land on their heads.