Feature Article - November 2016
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Begin With the Basics & Build

Aquatic Programming 101

By Dave Ramont

Team USA enjoyed much success at this year's Olympic Games in Rio, with USA Swimming being particularly dominant, winning 33 medals—16 of them gold. And, though they were led by superstars Michael Phelps and 19-year-old Katie Ledecky, a crop of other young swimmers also shared the spotlight. In addition, for the first time in Women's Water Polo history, the United States won gold for the second straight Olympics. These impressive accomplishments will prove to be a shot in the arm for swimming programs nationwide. As the USA Swimming website declares, "When our elite athletes are successful in fulfilling their Olympic dreams, our society benefits from the inspiration these athletes give us."

In the Swim

USA Swimming is the national governing body for the sport of swimming in the United States, promoting the culture of swimming by creating opportunities for swimmers and coaches of all backgrounds through clubs, events and education. But while they're responsible for selecting and training teams for international competition, including the Olympics, they have much broader aspirations, striving to increase their nearly 400,000-strong membership in order to share the sport of swimming with as many people as possible. "The base of our sport is these Olympic athletes and these elite athletes, but that's really just 1 percent at the top of our triangle," said Mariejo Truex, director of programs and services at USA Swimming.

The Make a Splash initiative is the USA Swimming Foundation's water safety campaign, which partners the Foundation with learn-to-swim providers and water safety advocates aiming to provide the opportunity for every child in America to learn to swim. The Foundation has invested millions of dollars to provide grants to qualified learn-to-swim programs. To date, more than 3.4 million children have received swim lessons through the USA Swimming Foundation's Make a Splash Local Partner Network, made up of nearly 700 qualified lesson providers nationwide.

In 2014, USA Swimming partnered with nine other leading organizations within the swimming industry to launch SwimToday, which Truex describes as their "big marketing campaign umbrella," as a way of promoting and growing the sport. Nearly 80 percent of families don't consider continuing the sport of swimming after their child has completed swim lessons, but the parents of kids who do join swim teams quickly see the benefits, such as building self-confidence and focus.

One of the partners in the SwimToday campaign is the National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF), whose mission is to help people lead healthier lives. "We believe we can make a difference by encouraging more aquatic activity, keeping pools safer and keeping pools open. As a nonprofit, proceeds go to fund research and to help create swimmers," said NSPF's Chief Marketing and Information Officer Alex Antoniou. They offer books and online courses, create training programs, and organize conferences. They've provided more than $4 million in grants that have had an impact on policies and practices worldwide.

Regarding how facilities can maintain successful learn-to-swim programs, Antoniou points out that there are two levels of customers to target: those who need to learn how to swim and those who already can swim, so that they'll continue participating. "When done correctly, learn-to-swim programs can be big money-makers for facilities. Even scuba diving shops are tapping into this market, and taking advantage of the swimming pool they have that would normally sit empty during the day and most evenings," he said.

NSPF promotes the Step Into Swim campaign, which aims to create 1 million more swimmers over a 10-year period, including those who can't afford to learn the skill. One hundred percent of the proceeds the initiative raises goes toward children and adults learning to swim, which includes not only providing lessons at reputable facilities, but also supplying swim suits, caps and even transportation. So far, the program has donated more than $300,000 to learn-to-swim programs across the country.

Antoniou thinks getting kids in the pool is pretty fundamental. "First and foremost, learning how to swim at an early age greatly reduces the risk of drowning." Every day, about 10 people die from drowning, three of them children. It's the leading cause of injury-related death for children ages 1 to 4, and the second leading cause among those aged 1 to 14. Participation in formal swim lessons can reduce the likelihood of childhood drowning by 88 percent.

In 1914 the Red Cross Life Saving Corps was formed, and in the past century, accidental drowning deaths are down nearly 90 percent. Today, the American Red Cross Aquatics program reaches millions of Americans through its innovative water safety resources, recommending that everyone learn to perform critical water safety skills, including the ability to:

  • Step or jump into the water over your head.
  • Return to the surface and float or tread water for one minute.
  • Rotate in a full circle and find an exit.
  • Swim 25 yards to the exit.
  • Exit from the water. If in a pool, be able to exit without using the ladder.