The Evolution of British Swimming

Boys swim underwater

From a modern perspective, swimming was a very British sport. After years or religious and superstitious suppression it was in Britain that swimming reemerged as an acceptable, desirable pastime.

With the birth of the industrial revolution social changes forced swimmers away from their birthright, out of rivers and lakes and into man-made enclosures.

No Swimming at Sparth

No Swimming at Sparth

Even so swimmers were allowed a great deal of freedom indoors, but even these freedoms have now been eroded. Over time the fun of the indoor pool has been quashed by officialdom, our diving boards have been sacrificed to the god of health and safety and many of the social attractions have disappeared.

Kenwood Lido Leicester

Kenwood Lido

The once playful outdoor activity mostly enjoyed by working class boys, has now evolved into a predominantly female sport.

A lack of splashing, jumping and diving means the the rough and tumble years are over. Warm water, private changing rooms and a much calmer atmosphere have meant a decline in male bathers and an upsurge in female swimmers now comprising 64% of the swimming population.

If walking is excluded, swimming remains the number one participation sport in Britain. Sport England’s Active People Survey shows that participation in football continues to decrease from 4.97% to 4.33% of the population with 94% of participants are male. Yet swimming being the number one participation sport is no reason for complacency, swimming still has a very low participation rate.

Only 8.04% of the adult (16+) population swim once a week.

With tighter budgets and a challenging economy what can be done to promote British swimming?

First take a look at how Sport England fund each sport by participant: £38 each for football, £16 for cycling, £11 for athletics but only £8 for swimming, so funding is certainly one issue.

Swimming pools cost a considerable amount of money to build, staff and maintain, yet much could be done to bolster their income. Swimming has always been a social activity, so capitalizing on this much neglected area is one way forward.

Stamford Meadows Bathing Place

Operating a cafe on site that provides a welcoming, quality, value for money meeting place, makes swimming pools much more popular. 

Diving and other sports could be taught and encouraged even if only from the poolside. An ASK ME! tee-shirt could be worn by lifeguards so that swimmers young and old feel encouraged to improve their skills.

Pictures of outdoor swimming in rivers lakes and at the seaside would inspire youngsters to learn to swim well.

The swimming pool should be seen as a stepping stone to bigger and better things. Like schools they are their to inspire their pupils to reach their full potential. A swimmer can never reach his or her full potential in captivity.

The ASA and Sport England are in the driving seat for British swimming. Either they promote swimming or allow it to decline, the future is in their hands!

Discover the rich history of British swimming.

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