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Ottawa National Diving Digest: Gymnastics can provide a springboard into world of diving

By Ottawa Sports Pages, for Ottawa National Diving Club

Mary Villemaire was a gymnast for 17 years. She competed at the top provincial level and knows the life and the lingo of competitive gymnastics. She understands the toll it can take on your body — and the difficult landscape for Canadian gymnasts to make top teams or earn post-secondary opportunities in the sport.

Villemaire also knows how much gymnastics overlaps with diving. She’s seen many gymnasts transition rather seamlessly into diving during her 15 years of coaching with the Ottawa National Diving Club.

“There is a huge crossover,” Villemaire underlines. “Gymnasts’ spatial awareness is a huge asset to being a diver and their aerial skills transfer very easily. They come in and they can learn extremely quickly.”

ONDC is on the lookout for gymnasts and other athletes who are interested in taking up diving. Those who are interested can email the club at for more information.

Villemaire explains that the biggest challenge for gymnasts entering diving is simply learning to plunge into the water hands/head first, instead of trying to land on their feet like they’re used to.

As a coach, the sports differ, too. Gymnastics is very hands-on, with coaches physically showing what an athlete should do. On a diving board, it’s the opposite.

“You can do a hands-on portion when they’re on the ground, but as soon as they get in the water, it’s all them,” Villemaire signals. “It’s extremely different coaching techniques, where it’s a lot more auditory. Ninety per cent of it is all by the feel of their own body.”

Villemaire started coaching at the club when her mother, Montreal 1976 Olympic gymnast Kathleen Murphy, first opened it 15 years ago.

“They’re the highlight of my day,” Villemaire says of the young athletes she coaches at ONDC. “It’s an absolute pleasure. I mean, we have hard days, but at the same time, watching them succeed – those are the best moments for me.”

Villemaire is a Level 1 and Level 2 certified coach in gymnastics, trampoline and diving. She loves coaching former gymnasts.

“They’re already kind of speaking my language,” highlights the daytime veterinary technician. “There’s already an immediate connection from that background, and then it’s about convincing them this is the sport for you.”

Villemaire is a big believer in the pros of diving. Career longevity is a big plus, as are the abundant chances to advance in the sport. ONDC athletes have earned numerous NCAA scholarship and national team opportunities in recent years.

Villemaire also believes strongly in the Ottawa National Diving Club.

“We make sure that this is a very positive environment, and that’s often what sticks out to parents with kids who come from other sports – they’ll tell us they feel so included and that they’ve never been happier. It can be a big turnaround pretty quickly,” she indicates. “This is not just a sports team. This is a family.”

Learn more about opportunities with the Ottawa National Diving Club at

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