Meet Kelley Durkin: Kids’ Diving Coach at Pure Dive NY

Kelley Durkin Flushing PoolNext time you’re at the Flushing Meadows Corona Park Aquatic Center, look for a trampoline next to the pool where kids are bouncing and flipping. Watching over them is Kelley Durkin, a local diving coach with 40 years of experience coaching divers throughout the tri-state area. Working with kids from beginner levels to elite competitions, Durkin enjoys calling himself a “diving artist,” a term coined by a journalist years ago, developing technical skills and artistry in young divers.

A successful competitive diver in his youth, Durkin is serious about the sport, training 40 young divers through his program, Pure Dive NY, with practices six days a week on boards and platform. Over his career, Durkin has produced four top-ranking U.S.A. Diving Junior Olympic World Team members, 25 U.S.A. Diving Junior Olympics national qualifiers, and eight NCAA all-American collegiate divers, among other accomplishments at the novice, high school, college, and AAU amateur levels.

While competitive, Durkin also has fun with the kids in his program. Recently, after falling in while hand-spotting a diver, Durkin surprised his kids by getting right back up on the board and doing some diving himself, all while fully dressed and wearing sneakers. The kids also feel comfortable joking with him: Durkin recently asked three pre-teen Chinese divers to teach him how to say, “Hello, how are you today?” in Chinese. After five weeks of practice with them, he tried it out in the real world. Turns out they taught him to say, “Hello, you are a big fat goat!”

We caught up with Durkin to find out more about diving for kids and his program.

What is the best age for a child to start diving lessons?
Most parents think about starting diving after a kid can swim. However, I do a vast “dry training program” on my team: trampoline, trampoline spotting belt, basic gymnastics, stretching, strength training, learning dives on the ground, etc. So, kids can start diving with me even before they can swim or get in the water. Further, my dry program is extensively used on my advanced/competitive divers , so it is not just a beginner thing.

I have divers as young as five. And it is good to start as early as possible so kids can learn fundamental skills slowly and properly without the rush to get into competition before they are ready.

Is there anything that naturally makes a child a more successful diver?
Body type is important in the long run —muscular, lean, and good natural toe point are keys. Some kind of athletic experience helps a lot, especially gymnastics, dance, skating, or martial arts.

What happens at your diving practices?
Generally, we spend a half-hour in dry training before we get into the water for a one- to two-hour diving workout. We spend a great deal of time on fundamental drills and board work and then, of course, the actual dives. Also, in addition to springboard diving, we go to Eisenhower Park pool in Hempstead three to four times per month where we train on platforms. There are three events in diving: 1 Meter (low board), 3 Meter (high board) and Platform, all of which have competitions and dive in college. High school is strictly 1 Meter.

In addition to diving, what skills does diving develop? Self-esteem, coordination, confidence?
Diving is unique in that it develops all of the above. It is both independent—a diver executes the dive alone—and team oriented—divers work out, compete, and travel with their teammates. Diving is superb for learning the lesson of overcoming something one does not think they can do. Interestingly, diving also helps with math in that the kids are calculating math equations their whole career since they are always calculating scores and competition requirements via the multiplications of scores times Degree of Difficulties (D.D.) in decimals.

Why such a rigorous six-day-a-week training schedule? What would you say to parents who are concerned this is too intense for their child?
Good question. I am coaching six to seven days a week right now because I am having fun, but most of my divers are diving one to three times a week. My advanced kids, who started from scratch four years ago at age nine, are going five to six days a week, but I am constantly forcing them to take a day off— they just can’t get enough. That said, all sports today on competitive levels are high octane; there is always someone else doing more than you. Even if we go six days a week at 2.5 hours each, there are teams in the world doing far more. China goes six days at six to nine hours a day! At what point is enough enough? I think in today’s sports-crazy and college-entrance world, our kids are already being pushed too far in everything. All I can do is watch my kids closely and force their parents to give them days off. But generally, the kids love to dive.

When do kids start diving competitions and what travel or time commitment does that require? Can divers train with you without competing?
Diving has novice or beginner events that run simultaneously with regular events at meets. They have easier requirements—drills are allowed, so it helps get kids introduced to competitive diving before they are ready for the regular events. It’s a very nice competition starter.

For 90 percent of divers, they can get a full array of competition events within the New York and Connecticut area. I also run in-house mock meets. For the elite meets, qualifiers and nationals, we are generally on the East Coast but can end up anywhere in the country for nationals.

Yes, kids can learn to dive without competing, but they generally all want to compete once they get started. It’s fun!

For more information about his program, email Durkin at

Ellen Sturm Niz is an editor and writer parenting, living, and working in Jackson Heights, Queens. Follow her on TwitterPinterestTumblr, and Google+.