Supplement Feature - February 2011
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The Right Safeguards

Protecting Pool Patrons, Reducing Risk

By Wynn St. Clair

Teaching Safety

Another way to keep people safe in the water is to teach them how to be safe in the water.

Roughly 17 percent of American adults swim at least six times per year, studies show. But even more adults—a jaw-dropping 39 percent—described themselves as being afraid to put their heads under water, while 46 percent claim to be scared of deep water.

These numbers should serve as both an inspiration and a challenge to the aquatic industry. With an estimated 5,000 instructors in the United States today, that means each instructor has a pool of roughly 10,400 potential patrons he or she could be teaching.

"We need to teach adults to swim because more adults drown than kids in the United States," said swim instructor Melon Dash, founder of the Miracle Swimming Institute. "According to the CDC, more than 70 percent of the drownings in the U.S. are by adults. That's staggering."

Tapping adults who are too scared to swim should have a positive impact on other programs, as well. Dash said parents who are frightened by the water often keep their children out of learn-to-swim classes, as well.

Teach aquaphobes to love the water, Dash explained, and they will be more likely to enroll their children in aquatic programs. Ignore the problem, and the kids most likely will inherit their parents' reservations and pose safety risks for the aquatic facilities they visit.

Dash, who has taught more than 3,000 adults to overcome their aquatic fears, has witnessed this phenomenon with her own eyes. She estimates that 90 percent of her students had at least one parent who was afraid of water.

"Parents should learn to swim before their children. They need to know what the water is all about and they need to give correct messages to children as they're becoming learn-to-swim age and older," Dash said.

To address the issue, Dash founded a swimming school in 1983 specifically for adults who were afraid to swim. Her aim isn't to teach them to master freestyle by the course's end. Her initial concerns have nothing to do with whether they can tread water for long periods of time.