Seventy percent of African American children and 58 percent of Hispanic children report low or no swimming ability
As the summer pool season begins across the country, a recent study commissioned by USA Swimming and conducted by the University of Memphis exposes some alarming statistics for many of our nation's children. The Constraints Impacting Minority Swimming Participation, Phase II study found that nearly 70 percent of African American children and 58 percent of Hispanic children have low or no swim ability, compared to 40 percent of Caucasians, putting them at risk for drowning. According to the study, parental fear is a major contributor to a child's swimming ability.
The study is a follow up to Phase I conducted in 2008, which exposed the issues and served as a catalyst for widespread awareness on the issue of minority children's low swimming ability. The purpose of the current study was to more clearly understand children's true swim abilities and determine which factors most impact whether or not a child learns to swim.
The "fear of drowning" was found to be the strongest overall predictor of swimming inability among the variables under investigation.While the study revealed children from lower income families* were more inclined to agree that "family budget doesn't include money for me to take swim lessons," focus group research found that many parents wouldn't let kids swim even if lessons were free, a theme that was tested four times in different focus groups.
Overall, fear trumped financial concerns across all respondent race groups in low-income families.According to a mother who participated in a Denver focus group: "You're already uncomfortable and scared. You're like, 'I'm paying them so I can have heart palpitations on the sidelines. It's not worth it. It really isn't. Why should I have to pay money to be afraid?"
Other major variables include lack of parental encouragement in African American and Hispanic families and personal appearance issues (notion that chlorine is bad for African American skin and hair). Minor variables included financial constraints and access to pools.
Results from the study show that while 40 percent of children report they are able to swim, only 18 percent of total respondents have ever taken a swim lesson from a certified instructor. When asked how they learned to swim, 28 percent of Hispanic children and 26 percent of African American children responded, "I taught myself." This false sense of confidence can lead to tragedy as 60 percent of children surveyed with no to low swimming ability plan to spend time in and around the water this summer at least once per month.
"We were awestruck by the focus group participants' stories, which revealed how deeply rooted the 'fear factor' is embedded," commented Dr. Richard Irwin who led the team of researchers together with his wife, Dr. Carol Irwin.
"Using solutions outlined by our focus groups and some minority swimming programs already in place, we can positively affect the fatal and non-fatal drowning rates, and infuse the sport of swimming with much needed diversity," added Dr. Carol Irwin.
The end goal is to create real solutions designed to ensure children are water safe, especially minority youth who are at a higher risk for drowning. The USA Swimming Foundation, African American Olympic gold medalist swimmer Cullen Jones and Make a Splash are teaming up this summer and will utilize the information from the findings as they travel the country to educate parents and kids about the importance of learning to swim and the resources available for families in need. Make a Splash is the national water safety initiative created by the USA Swimming Foundation in an effort to provide access to swim lessons at low to no cost for children across the country.
"The findings from this study reinforce the importance of raising awareness about learning to swim as a life-saving skill," said Chris LaBianco, Chief Development Officer of the USA Swimming Foundation.
"The USA Swimming Foundation, Cullen Jones and Make a Splash are continuing to spread this message to parents and kids at the grassroots level in cities across America. We are also working with hundreds of partner programs to offer low and no cost lessons to families in need. We are hopeful that together we can save lives and reduce the drowning rates."
What YOU Can Do
USA Swimming and Discovery Education have partnered to bring a free program to 35,000 elementary schools nationwide through the Making a Splash program.
Conduct a water safety workshop at your local school.
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Source: USA Swimming Photo credit: Daniel Johnson
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