Investigating the benefits of the inclusion of an active diving facility in meeting targets for inclusion and active sport for youths.
One of the issues raised by investigations into the use of sports facilities by the youth of the country, is the problem of attracting youths into sports centres, and the problem of getting youths involved in sport of any kind. The recent publication by the Greater London Authority of ‘A Sporting Chance’ highlights this, and comments that “it’s not the lack of facilities, but the problem of offering an environment which is attractive to youths”.
While in certain areas this comment cannot be challenged, in some areas we need to recognize that the closure of certain facilities have actively decreased the attraction of the facilities available. It has also been noted elsewhere that ‘swimming pools are not attracting the number of youths that they used to’ and there are a number of initiatives from the Government and the ASA to get people back into pools.
One area that hasn’t been highlighted is the decline in the availability of diving facilities, especially in the London area and the impact that this may have had. Since my personal involvement in the coaching side of diving started 25 years ago, public access to diving facilities in the London area has declined by approximately 90%. The stock of diving facilities has declined from over 45 pools with diving facilities to under 10, and many of the pools that have retained the diving facilities now have much more limited public access if any. In Redbridge where I coach, the one pool that has diving facilities has reduced the time the boards are available from 60 hours a week to 3, a reduction of 95%.
One of the reasons for the closure of facilities has been the perception of diving as being a dangerous activity, something that is readily accepted, but which does not survive detailed examination. Diving in municipal diving facilities with sensible safety management is a very safe activity. One of the biggest problems is the way accidents in swimming pools are reported, with any incident occurring when someone is entering the water classified as a diving accident: it doesn’t have to take place in either a diving pit, or the deep end. It is a fact that the vast majority of diving accidents take place in shallow water and do not involve diving facilities at all.
This perception and the increasing culture of litigation has led many local authorities to remove diving facilities to avoid any possibility of legal action from this source. Insurance costs too have increased in facilities where diving boards are installed, again through the false figures showing ‘diving’ as a dangerous activity.
So, how could diving help?
In pools where diving boards are retained, and are available to the public for reasonable use, there is a greater number of children using the pool. While no research has been carried out to prove this, some individual cases will indicate the truth of this statement.
In Wales, the closure of the diving facilities at the Aberdare Pool has led to a 60% fall in revenue, and a change in the user profile. The people who have stopped going to the pool are the younger users, the children and youths, the very people that everyone is trying to get into pools. Its not that the pool is closed, the swimming area remains, it is the diving area and the water flumes that are not available. In Deptford, a disability swimming group is finding that teenagers are dropping out as the leisure pool that they use is ‘boring’, there is nothing interesting to do. Some of the children that have dropped out are interested in diving, but there are no public facilities now available locally. If there were they would use them. At present however they don’t do anything.
In Redbridge, an ‘open use’ time has been instituted on a Saturday afternoon in the one hour that the boards are open. On a recent Saturday with the boards due to open at 3.00pm, over 40 young people were sitting waiting for the boards to open. The pool was available, but these youths and children were ignoring the pool and waiting for the boards to open. When the boards closed at 4.00pm they dispersed with many remaining in the pool for another half hour before they left.
Added to these examples are the number of enquiries that are received on the GBDF web site (www.diving-gbdf.com) asking for guidance as to where local diving clubs are located. You can also look at the success of diving programmes in Manchester where they have a full ‘Learn to Dive’ and a full waiting list. Obviously this is financially very positive. In Redbridge there are also full learn to dive programmes, both with the CCL Swimwell programme and with the one run by the Ilford Diving Club. Also many people going into places such as Crystal Palace ask when the boards are open for them to use.
Thus there is a demand for the facilities, but why? What role does diving fulfil?
The answer to this is the same reason that diving has problems with Health and Safety and Insurance, and that is the perception of diving as being dangerous. Diving is one of the original ‘Extreme Sports’. It has much in common with skateboarding, with somersaults and twists. In addition you have the height factor. Diving can give people the great adrenaline ‘rush’ that comes from scaring yourself: diving is a scary activity, it is a long way down to the water. The equivalent of going from a 5 metre board is jumping from a house roof. There is no other way to plummet 5 metres, unaided, without injury other than from a diving board. It is obvious from a study of current growth activities that those which provide young people with a ‘buzz’, that give excitement, fear and a feeling of elation are on the increase. Diving can give all of these and in addition, it is done in a safe, controlled environment.
Additionally, the ability to dive can engender a great deal of self confidence, pride and self worth. Indeed in Southampton it is employed as part of a young offenders programme for this very reason.
With this background, the inclusion of a good quality, well designed diving facility in local pools should be viewed as a safe investment, giving young people a reason to use the local swimming pools, an opportunity for them to increase their self confidence by taking part in an exciting but safe activity. The inclusion of diving would lead to the increased utilisation of the swimming facilities as a whole, people coming to use the diving facility would then tend to remain in the pool for a while after stopping using the boards.
This increased utilisation would have a number of benefits, including the increase in sporting activity by age groups that currently are low users of sports facilities, helping local authorities to meet targets for participation in sporting activities. This then rubs off into improved health, better self awareness and self belief.
Diving is a very undervalued sport. It is increasingly viewed as an elite activity, only undertaken by trained ‘divers’ competing at various levels. Many pools that have diving facilities only have them open to professional diving programmes or for club use. This is to ignore the benefits that access to diving can give the population as a whole. In some areas of the country there is no diving facility available within 2 hours travelling. People will not travel that far for leisure purposes, facilities need to be available within a travelling time of ½ hour. Many divers in the past have come through going from boards in public time, enjoying it and then finding a local club where they could learn to do it properly. In a lot of areas this isn’t now possible, including where one of our recent Commonwealth medallists started in Catford.
Diving should be looked upon as a potential major contributor to meeting the need to get people into swimming pools. It’s a draw to many people who wouldn’t otherwise go there regularly. It needs management, and a proper, enforced, but sensible safety policy, one that enforces safety issues but also allows enjoyment and personal development, but, with these in place it can contribute a great deal to both the financial performance of the pools and the meeting of Government targets.
The number of people using the diving boards when they are open in Redbridge, is usually close to 50% of the total pool users at that time. The drop in revenue at Aberdare with the closure of the diving facility is another indicator and should be a worrying figure, especially to those pools that don’t have diving boards open to the public. How many people do not use London swimming pools regularly since the huge (90%) reduction in the availability of diving boards? If we take the Aberdare figure as being close to an average, we may well have reduced the number of young people using our pools by half since 1980. Which is not what we need to do.
If this drop in use by young people works the other way when diving boards become available, even by only half, the impact would be huge. An increase in the number of youths using pools of only 30% would go a long way to meeting the need to get this group into regular sporting activity.