How to Dive with a Fear of Heights

One of the first big thrills many kids encounter is getting to jump off the high dive at their local swimming pool. A summer diving experience is often the start of a diving career; some kid dares you to jump off the board and the next thing you know, you are up about nine feet in the air wondering how in the world you’re going to get down.

An odd phenomenon often occurs while on the high dive. Even though nine feet may not sound too high, and when looking up from the pool deck it may not appear that high, once you are up there it is a whole different story: Suddenly the board seems narrower, the water looks miles away, and the people on the deck appear much smaller than you anticipated.

The high dive (or the 3-meter) has caused many a kid (and adult for that matter), anxiety. If you have experienced a fear of heights, don’t worry—you’re not alone.

However this fear is not a reason to give up. There are many ways to overcome those nerves so you can experience the true adrenaline rush of the high dive!


Acrophobia (fear of heights) manifests in different ways; some people are clearly anxious while others are simply terrified. Those that have true acrophobia should always seek help from a professional. But for most people, the fear of heights is simply an anxiety that does lessen with time and experience.

It sounds simple, but the best way to get over the fear is to slowly become desensitized to the height. While it may sound impossible, if you start low and go slow, the 3-meter height will actually not bother you as much.


Most diving coaches acknowledge that diving is a sport riddled with fears and anxiety. A good coach will keep you out of harm’s way by teaching you the skills you need to know and providing you with helpful tips along the way. That, in turn, will make it easier to stay calm and relaxed on the 3-meter board.

Amazingly True Story

A little more than a year before the 1996 Olympic Games, Mary Ellen Clark, a national platform champion, had developed vertigo. The vertigo caused her to lose her balance and feel disoriented whenever she attempted the 10-meter platform.

For nine months, Clark stayed out of the pool and received intensive therapy. Her chances for competing in the ’96 Games seemed impossible. But in December 1995—eight months before the Olympics—she returned to diving and ended up placing 3rd on the 10-meter in the Olympic Games.

Learn the Fundamentals

Understanding the fundamentals will greatly increase your confidence, ease your fears, and promote success in the sport. Go back and look at the guide “The Fundamentals of Diving” to get a greater understanding of the essential skills needed to progress in diving. Once you have a solid grasp of the fundamentals and a good coach leading the way, you will be more effective at addressing your fears.

Step by Step

Don’t expect a simple solution to overcoming your fear. It will take some time, and you may always hold a certain amount of trepidation. But if you commit to overcoming the fear, the anxiety will lessen over time.

The best way to combat your phobia is to start on the 1-meter diving board. By taking it step by step, you will gain confidence and feel more comfortable in your ability to move up to the 3-meter and higher.

Here is a good way to get started:

  • Try a standing jump off the 1-meter into the water.
  • After you’re comfortable with the standing jump, try the jump with a hurdle.
  • Begin jumping in different positions (tuck, pike, and straight).
  • After you are comfortable with the jump, move onto the dive. Start with a standing dive and then move to the dive with a hurdle.

When it is time to move up to the next level, you must trust yourself and trust your coach. Take a breath and start slow.

  • Again, start with a standing jump off the end of the 3-meter.
  • Progress to a jump with a hurdle.
  • Then move into a standing dive and then a dive with the hurdle.

The 3-meter may feel high at first. But once you jump off multiple times, the height will not seem as scary as it did the very first time; the height doesn’t change, but the effect it initially has on you diminishes. By pushing through your fear in a slow and repetitive pattern, the height will not bother you nearly as much as it did in the beginning.

Hot Tip: Take a Seat

When moving up to the 3-meter or higher, scrunch down or even sit on the end of the board or platform. Sitting lowers your line of sight and makes the height seem more manageable.


If you progress slowly through the skills and have a competent coach leading the way, you can tackle your fear. Just remember to take it step-by-step and gradually increase the height. In time your confidence will build and you too will be able to dive successfully–even from the 10-meter platform.

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