Diving is essentially a means of entering the water head-first but there are many different ways to do so. A basic dive for casual, recreational swimmers involves toppling forwards into the water, sometimes springing off with the feet to create a higher arc through the air. In competition swimming, a racing start involves diving from starting blocks, which are approximately half a metre from deck level. The aim with a racing start is to cover as much distance through the air as possible (which is faster than travelling through water) in order to gain the biggest advantage in the race. Upon entering the water, the racing dive is shallow, travelling horizontally through the water to transition into the swimming stroke. Competition diving is a separate discipline from swimming but comes under the umbrella of “aquatic” events in the Olympics and is regulated by the same governing body. In competition diving, athletes demonstrate skill with gymnastic-type moves (somersaults and twists) aiming to perform complex moves as perfectly as possible from diving boards which are either 3m or 10m from deck level. In competition diving, divers will travel vertically through the water, directly towards the pool floor. For this reason, diving pools (also called diving pits) are usually much deeper than most swimming pools.

What is Diving used for?

For the recreational swimmer, diving is a fun way to enter the water. It feels liberating and exhilarating to launch through the air and enter the water head-first. It can be beneficial for improved mood and mindfulness. For competitive swimmers, a racing dive is essential for most regulated pool-based events. Competition-style diving from springboards or high platforms helps to develop agility and gymnastic skill and can help people to overcome a fear of heights. There is much to be said for the mental health benefits of challenging and overcoming fears. Competition style diving skills are often sought-after in the entertainment industry for circus-style displays and for stunts in film and television. Cliff diving is an extreme sport that progresses competition diving to greater heights of up to 50 or so metres into the sea.

athletic man crouching on a starting block about to dive into a swimming pool


Skills that help to improve Diving:

Development of Diving from Beginner to Advanced:


Diving is a high-risk activity, so it is important to ensure young children are aware of poolside safety before encouraging them to dive into water. Without this awareness, children may dive into water unexpectedly, without thinking about water depth or their surroundings, putting themselves and other swimmers in danger. The act of going head-first into water goes against our natural instincts and nervous divers can bail out of a dive by uncontrollable reflex reactions, leading them to land flat on the water (bellyflop). From height, a bellyflop is painful, so the starting point for beginner divers is often a sitting dive from poolside. Once the diver has learned to overcome the sensation of falling head-first, and has shown a safe entry to the water (using the arms to protect the head) they can begin to increase the height and move from a sitting dive to a kneeling dive. When a kneeling dive is performed safely and confidently, the height can increase again to a squatting or standing dive.


When a diver can enter the water safely, head first, from a standing position, they can improve by adding more spring from the feet to gain height and power, and focus on neat, sharp arm positions. For recreational swimmers, this may be as far as you wish to develop the diving skill.


Just like swimming strokes, diving can be refined and adapted to suit the individual’s needs. Learning how to perform a racing dive from a starting block and working on making it fast and powerful is one direction a swimmer can go with this skill. Exploring a variety of dives from springboards and high platforms in a diving class is another direction a swimmer can go. These skills can be progressed all the way through to competition for either children or adults (even adults who are new to diving can progress to masters competitions). When it comes to diving, as a high-risk activity, it is important to learn under the supervision of a qualified instructor in an environment specially-suited to the style of diving you are interested in. For children who wish to compete in either swimming or diving, it is important to work with a club to develop the right technique alongside a training development plan in order to have the best chance of progressing through competition.

woman sitting on a diving platform in piked position ready to roll off

Skill-specific Hazards for Diving:

Besides the general inherent dangers involved with water-based activities, Diving has its own specific risks:

  • Entering the water head first carries a high risk of injury. If the water is too shallow, if the diver travels too deep and if the head is not protected by the arms, then impact with the pool floor can lead to serious spinal damage including paralysis.
  • Acrobatic dives including running up to the water’s edge before diving, somersaulting and going in backwards are very dangerous and usually prohibited in a general public swim session. It is easy to slip on the wet floor or hit the head on poolside when attempting these types of activities. Running dives, backward dives and acrobatic dives should only be done in a dedicated diving class under the supervision of a diving coach.
  • Nervous divers attempting to dive from a standing position can easily bellyflop. This can cause redness or bruising to the skin, or a feeling of being winded. A diver who has been winded may find it difficult to breathe, or may inhale water, either of which puts them in difficulty in deep water.
  • Confident divers may act recklessly outdoors. Tombstoning or unregulated cliff diving is extremely dangerous, can cause serious injury and places unnecessary burden on sea-rescue services (which are usually funded by charitable donations)
  • It is not recommended to dive into water outdoors, whether sea, river, lake or canal. Open water is not usually very clear and it is difficult to gauge the depth. There may be underwater hazards such as broken glass and fishing line that may cause injury to the swimmer, whilst rescue and medical facilities may not be as readily available as they are at the swimming pool.

Because diving is a high-risk activity, it is recommended for all swimmers to learn under the supervision of a qualified teacher or coach.

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