Development Work To Do In The USA
May 2, 2008
Craig Lord

There is a development programme run by FINA to help developing nations take up swim and water safety projects and work on catching up with the wealthier more developed world. One of the most recent calls to arms was from Dr Julio Maglione, Hon. Sec of FINA, who appealed to richer federations of well-developed countries to assist their developing cousins.

The aims of the programme and some of the work that is being carried out around the world is very worthy but what follows below explains why even the biggest, wealthiest and most successful of swimming nations - one that already coaches many hundreds of the best swimmers from the developing world at its colleges - has work to do at home.

The following from USA Swimming:

Colorado Springs, CO - A national, first of its kind survey found that approximately six out of 10 African-American children are unable to swim, nearly twice as many as their Caucasian counterparts. Similarly, 56% of Hispanic and Latino children are unable to swim.

The USA Swimming study, titled 'Constraints on Minority Swimming Participation' and conducted by the University of Memphis in January and February 2008, surveyed 1,772 children ages six to 16 years old in six U.S. metropolitan areas. The results revealed a significant gap in swimming ability between races, and proved that parental influence is the major contributing factor to children's ability or inability to swim. The USA Swimming Foundation is actively working to break this cycle by providing the resources to teach these children how to swim through its national Make a Splash initiative.

'We were aware of the drowning statistics, and the disproportionate number of drowning in ethnically-diverse communities,' said Chuck Wielgus, USA Swimming's executive director. 'We recognized this as a vital issue for our organization, and for the last year, we've been reaching into these communities with our Make a Splash initiative. Now, through this study, we've gained a better understanding of the challenges we face, and we are ready to address them. Ultimately, we will break the cycle and reduce the drowning rates by ensuring that children from all ethnic and economic backgrounds have the opportunity to learn how to swim.'

Family Legacy Is an Obstacle, but Stereotypes Are Not

According to the study, children do not buy in to the stereotype that minorities don't or can't swim. When asked whether they believed swimming was 'just for white people,' over two-thirds of African-American and Hispanic/Latino children aged six to 16 disagreed (68% and 71% respectively), more than 40% of each group disagreed strongly.

The major factor in children's inability to swim comes from their parents. The survey indicated that African-American and Hispanic / Latino children are six times more likely to be part of a family in which neither parent nor child can swim. In those families, 91% of African-American children will not learn to swim. Among Caucasians and Hispanic / Latino children, that number is closer to 70%. Overall, only 13% of children who come from a non-swimming household will learn to swim.

'The message here is that we absolutely must break this cycle,' said Wanda Butts, founder of the Josh Project, a Toledo, Ohio-based learn-to-swim program created in honor of her son who drowned in August 2006 at the age of 16. 'I didn't know how to swim and my son never had swim lessons. If he had, he may not have drowned. We need to take action. I don't want any other parent to live with the regrets that I have in something as preventable as a child drowning.'

The study also revealed an economic barrier in that children on a free or reduced lunch program are twice as likely to be non-swimmers.

Drowning Rates, Fear of Drowning and Pool Access Continues to Be a Barrier

Drowning incidence among minorities, particularly African-American youth have occurred at disproportionate rates. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), fatal unintentional drowning rates for five to 14 year-old African Americans are 2.6 times higher than those for Caucasian children of similar age. The USA Swimming research study shows that 46% of parents of at-risk swimmers said they are afraid that their child will drown or become injured by swimming.

Role Models Crucial for Encouraging Swimming

Aside from the numerous barriers which the study revealed, there are discoveries that may help to encourage at-risk kids to learn to swim. For instance, children who have a role model were twice as likely to learn how to swim.

'According to the research, children are more likely to learn to swim if they have awareness and admiration of a competitive swimmer,' said Cullen Jones, the United States first African American world record-holder, and 2008 Olympic-hopeful. 'I hope that I can be that role model. This is why I first became involved in the USA Swimming Foundation's Make a Splash program.'

Survey Methodology

A survey instrument, drawn from previous physical activity constraint studies, was designed to query participants. An expert panel comprised of specialists in the area of adolescent studies as well as aquatics, reviewed the proposed survey instrument. The survey's Cronbach alpha, a measure used to ascertain a survey's reliability, was found to be .80. Given that previous studies have found acceptable alpha levels between .50 and .70 for adolescent respondents, the .80 found for the current instrument indicates a very high level of reliability.

Data was collected from children between the ages of 6 and 16, from six metropolitan markets including: Chicago, Houston, Memphis, Miami, Oakland, and Philadelphia. The YMCA was chosen as the primary data collection source due to the organization's access to diverse youth populations (swimmers and non-swimmers) and keen interest in the topic under investigation.

All data were entered systematically into the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS). The data set was cleaned to ensure accurate results prior to analysis resulting in a usable sample of 1,772 surveys.