Jumping in is a fun way to enter water. Like diving, jumping in has its own hazards and in some situations, jumping into water is extremely dangerous. However, in general jumping in to a swimming pool is a fun activity that children and adults enjoy. Where diving into water involves entering the water head-first, jumping in always enters the water feet-first. For recreational swimmers, a simple leap into the water feels liberating, however in a swim school curriculum, certain methods of jumping in are used to develop agility and foundation skills for future competitive diving. The most common jump shapes encouraged in a learn-to-swim programme are “pencil jumps”, “star jumps”, “tuck jumps” and “pike jumps”. A “straddle jump” is also taught as a survival and rescue skill.
The pencil jump is a simple, streamlined jump. It teaches swimmers to hold a narrow, streamlined shape which is useful in both swimming and competitive diving, where divers are judged on how neatly they enter the water. A pencil jump makes little to no splash and the swimmer travels rapidly towards the pool floor as a streamlined jump has little resistance through water. For young children or nervous swimmers who are concerned about going to the bottom of a deep pool, achieving a good pencil jump demonstrates confidence. Arms are held above the head, meeting at the middle to make a point (like the tip of a pencil). Legs are squeezed together as the swimmer enters the water.
A star jump introduces agility skills as the swimmer must make a wide star shape in mid-air, then quickly move into a pencil shape before entering the water. A star jump demonstrates confidence. It is slightly harder than a pencil jump but slightly easier than a tuck or pike jump.
A tuck jump develops agility skills as the swimmer must tuck into a tight ball in mid-air before quickly stretching into a pencil shape to enter the water. This big movement requires more speed and confidence than a star jump. It is also a foundation for future somersaults in competitive diving.
A pike jump requires more advanced agility compared to a star or tuck jump. The swimmer must fold at the hips, keeping the legs straight and reaching down towards the toes. Legs should move to a horizontal position before returning to a pencil shape to enter the water. This requires good hamstring flexibility and hip flexor strength as well as good reaction speed. It is a foundation skill for future piked somersaults in competitive diving.
Gymnasts will recognise a straddle as being a wide V-shape with the legs, however in swimming a straddle jump is something entirely different. It is hardly even a jump, but more of a step down from the poolside into the water. The aim of a straddle jump is to enter the water without submerging the face and is a survival skill. In cold water, a straddle jump preserves body heat by not submerging the head. It also allows the swimmer to jump into water whilst maintaining sight of a casualty (man overboard situation) or to prevent the swimmer from submerging into contaminated water. As the swimmer steps down into the water, a strong downward kick and sculling hand action counteracts the downward force and brings the swimmer to a stop at the water surface.
Skills that help to improve Jumping In:
- Confidence to submerge the face
- Surface dives
- Water safety and pool rules
- Treading water
- Breaststroke (a breaststroke kick for a straddle jump)
- Float shapes (pencil, star and tuck shapes)
- Picking up sinkers (submersion confidence)
Development of Jumping In from Beginner to Advanced:
As one of the more high-risk activities, it is essential to establish safety routines right from the beginning. Children can get especially excited about jumping into the pool and they are more likely to have an accident unless safety routines are reinforced at all times.
- Swimmers should stand at the poolside edge and wait for further instruction. Toes should be hooked over the edge to prevent slipping.
- A competent adult should check for safety. The water should be deep enough that the swimmer will not make hard impact with the pool floor. Ideally the water should be deeper than the full height of the swimmer when the arms are stretched overhead. The competent adult should also check that there are no underwater hazards such as ledges or steps and that there are no other swimmers about to enter the area.
- Children should be reminded to land feet first (excitable and overconfident children often unexpectedly decide at the last minute to try a head-first dive or to land on their bottoms)
- Children should only jump on the adult’s say so, by either counting down or waiting for the adult to say “jump”.
For beginners or nervous children, the first time jumping can be a big milestone in overcoming fear. Fear may be simply to do with taking that leap of faith through the air, but it may also be tied up in a fear of deep water, a fear of getting the face wet or not being confident to swim back to the side once they have jumped in. It is important not to pressure children into jumping in but try to work through their fears incrementally until they feel confident to jump in. Jumping from a shallow in-water step or ledge, and working on submersion confidence can help. Having an adult stand in the water to catch a child or to hold their hand as they jump so that they know they will not disappear to the bottom of the pool can help build confidence too. For beginners, just getting the confidence to jump into water whether with adult help or with armbands/noodle floats is enough.
When a swimmer has built up confidence to jump into the water and submerge, they can start experimenting with shapes. For young children, any safe shape will do. They can pretend to be animals or monsters if they like. After that, they can think about making clear shapes like pencils and stars and working on being neat and tidy. Holding a pencil shape as they enter the water can be tricky as we all have a natural reflex to brace ourselves for impact by spreading our arms and legs out. Holding a pencil shape requires us to override that reflex reaction.
When a swimmer can make a basic pencil and star jump, they can work on tucks, pikes and straddles. If they really enjoy jumping in, then confident children might enjoy trying out a competitive diving class and jumping from springboards or higher platforms.
Skill-specific Hazards for Jumping in:
Besides the general inherent dangers involved with water-based activities, Jumping in has its own specific risks:
- Jumping into water that is too shallow and making hard impact with the floor can cause compression injuries in the knees, hips or spine and can hurt the feet. Water should be deep enough for the height of the swimmer and the legs should bend on impact, absorbing the shock just as you would when jumping on dry land.
- Poolsides can be slippery, so swimmers should never run and jump into the pool. Swimmers should hook their toes over the poolside edge to prevent slipping and to enable forward propulsion into the pool.
- Extremely nervous swimmers have a tendency to bail out of a jump halfway through and rather than jumping forward into clear water, will often twist round and try to land holding on to the poolside or will jump towards a hand rail to hold on. This is extremely dangerous as a misjudgement of distance means a swimmer could knock their chin onto the poolside edge or handrail. If a swimmer is that nervous of jumping in, then the activity should be scaled back to something more manageable, or an adult should get into the water and encourage the swimmer to jump towards them.
- Many swimmers enjoy “cannonball” jumps (also called “bombing”) where the swimmer tucks into a tight ball and remains in that position as they enter the water. These are dangerous jumps because if a swimmer hits the pool floor in that shape, they expose their spine to impact injury. If another swimmer happens to swim into the space and the person cannonballing lands on them, then it could cause severe injury.
- Confident swimmers who enjoy jumping in 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 jump into water outdoors, whether sea, river, lake or canal unless necessary for survival/rescue purposes. 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.