USA Swimming News

Thursday, May 25, 2017

USA Swimming Foundation Announces 5-10 Percent Increase in Swimming Ability

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With Memorial Day Weekend and the traditional opening of summer swimming season approaching, the USA Swimming Foundation today announced a 5-10 percent improvement in overall swimming ability from its previous findings in 2010, according to a new study regarding swimming ability amongst America’s youth conducted by the University of Memphis and University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

However, there is still much work to be done as nearly 64 percent of African-American children, 45 percent of Hispanic children and 40 percent of Caucasian children have no/low swimming ability, putting them at risk for drowning. A concerning finding was that 87 percent of swimmers with no or low ability plan to go to a swimming facility this summer at least once and 34 percent plan to swim 10 or more times this summer.

The study, aimed to establish children's swim ability levels and determine motivating factors that lead to a child learning how to swim and participate in the physical activity of swimming, reveals a number of factors that contribute to the overall lack of swimming ability.

  • Socio-Ecomonic and Race/Ethnicity Differences
    • 79 percent of children in families with household income less than $50,000 have no/low swimming ability
    • Children who qualify for free or reduced school lunch programs are 63 percent less likely to have good swimming ability
    • 76 percent of parents reported that their children would be more likely to want to participate in swimming if they saw a talented swimmer that looked like them
    • 65 percent of African-American children would like to swim more than they do
  • Family is Significant
    • If parent specified good swimming ability, their children are 4.3 times more likely to have good swimming ability
    • If parents have no/low swimming ability, there’s a high likelihood their children won’t have good swimming skills (78 percent for African-American children, 62 percent among Hispanic/Latino children and 67 percent for Caucasian children)
    • Children who swim with their family are 2.7 times more likely to be good swimmers


  • Fear
    • Children who are afraid of drowning are 67 percent more likely to have low/no swimming ability
    • African-American children and their parents are three times more fearful of drowning than Caucasian children and parents
    • Children who know how to be safer around water are 3.7 times more likely to have good swimming ability


"We’re thrilled that the study revealed improvements with more children getting into swim lessons and in the attitudes on how important learning to swim is for children. That indicates we’ve made progress by providing low- and no-cost swim lessons and water safety education to families across the country,” said Debbie Hesse, Executive Director of the USA Swimming Foundation. "The data, especially with 79 percent of children in low income families having little or no swim ability, shows there is still room to grow. We need to keep a sustained effort to introduce children to swimming and drive the important message that learning to swim can save your life.”

As part of its mission of Saving Lives through swim lessons, the USA Swimming Foundation annually activates the Make a Splash initiative which aims to provide every child in America the opportunity to learn to swim – regardless of race, gender or financial circumstances. With more than 850 ‘Make a Splash’ local providers across the country, the USA Swimming Foundation has provided swim lessons for more than 4.9 million children nationwide since 2007 with free and reduced-cost swim lessons. The USA Swimming Foundation has set a goal to provide at least 1 million children with swim lessons in 2017 through its Make a Splash Local Partner network.

USA Swimming Foundation ambassadors and Olympic medalists Missy Franklin, Cullen Jones, Simone Manuel, Nathan Adrian, Elizabeth Beisel, Rowdy Gaines, Jason Lezak and Mel Stewart help lead the effort by giving clinics and educating families on the importance of learning to swim.

The 2017 study is a follow up to two studies, Constraints Impacting Minority Swimming Participation, Phase I and II, conducted by the University of Memphis in 2008 and 2010, which served as a catalyst for widespread awareness on the issue of minority children's low swimming ability. The 2010 study results showed that 70 percent of African-American children, nearly 60 percent of Hispanic/Latino children and 42 percent of Caucasian children had little to no swimming ability.


"Using trends outlined by the results from all three studies will help communities initiate strategies and programs to protect their children from the horrific tragedy of drowning," said Dr. Carol Irwin, Ph.D. University of Memphis, the study’s principal investigator. “The end goal is to create real solutions designed to ensure children are safer in the water, especially minority youth who are at a higher risk for drowning.”


Survey Methodology


Data collection sites used in the 2017 study were identified in collaboration with representatives from USA Swimming Foundation and comprised five markets with significant minority populations (Houston,  Jacksonville, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Memphis). Within each market, the research team worked with representatives from the 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 and previous assistance with the 2008 and 2010 studies. Site visits were scheduled for data collection and staff training between March and May 2017. A mixed method approach involving quantitative (survey) and qualitative (focus group interviews) measures was used. 

A final report of all survey findings will be posted on the USA Swimming Foundation website in late summer 2017.

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