USA Swimming releases Diversity in Swimming Study
As Memorial Day Weekend approaches marking the traditional opening of the summer pool season 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% of African American children and 58% of Hispanic children have low or no swim ability, compared to 40% 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.
Fear Trumps Finance as a Major Factor
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 side-lines. 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.
40% of All Children Surveyed Said They Are Able to Swim While Only 18% of Total Respondents Have Taken Lesson From Certified Instructor
Results from the study show that while 40% of children report they are able to swim, only 18% of total respondents have ever taken a swim lesson from a certified instructor. When asked how they learned to swim, 28% of Hispanic children and 26% of African American children responded, “I taught myself.” This false sense of confidence can lead to tragedy as 60% 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.
The Constraints Impacting Minority Swimming Participation, Phase II study was conducted by the University of Memphis between February 1, 2010 and May 26, 2010 and surveyed more than 2,000 children and parents in six cities across the U.S, including Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Memphis, Minneapolis and San Diego.
"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.”
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.
*low income qualified as those who reported free lunch or reduced lunch program status
Data collection sites were identified in collaboration with representatives from USA Swimming and comprised of six (6) urban markets (Atlanta, GA; Boston, MA; Denver, CO; Memphis, TN; Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN; AND, San Diego, CA. Within each market the research team worked with representatives from the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) to identify appropriate data collection venues. The YMCA was chosen as the primary data collection source due to the organization’s access to diverse youth populations (swimmers and non-swimmers), keen interest in the topic under investigation, and previous assistance with the 2008 study. Site visits were scheduled for data collection and staff training between February 1 and March 31, 2010. A mixed method approach involving quantitative (survey) and qualitative (focus group interviews) measures was used.