I had the pleasure of attending USA Swimming's Golden Goggles Gala. (Think the ESPY's but for swimming.) Now you might think the night was all hot athletes and trophies—and you wouldn't be totally wrong. But what might surprise you is that there was a great emphasis on swimming not just as sport, but as a life-saving skill.
In 2007, the USA Swimming Foundation introduced the Make a Splash initiative in response to the approximate ten unintentional drownings per day that occur across America, according to the CDC. "There is an 88 percent chance that a child will be safer around the water than they would have been if they hadn't taken swimming lessons," says USA Swimming Foundation Executive Director Debbie Hesse.
So why have so many parents neglected swimming lessons for their children? Part of it is certainly funding, which is why the organization has put over 3 million children through swimming lessons and spent over $3.3 million in swimming scholarships to date. Make a Splash local partners such as the YMCA, Red Cross, and Swim America, provide additional funding to kids in their communities. These partners feature lessons with curriculum approved by Make a Splash.
Still a huge problem, aside from funding, is the fact that if a parent doesn't know how to swim, then there is only a 13 percent chance their child will learn to swim. That leaves 87 percent of children carrying on a life-threatening legacy. Currently, 70 percent of African American children, 60 percent of Hispanic Latino children, and over 40 percent of Caucasians children cannot swim.
Four-time Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin is one of the 13 percent to swim, though her mother never learned. "She didn't grow up in the water, so she never had that sense of security around the pool," said Franklin. "She didn't want me to have that same fear." "Every day ten people drown and that was scary," says Franklin's mom D.A. "Just seeing her gravitate toward the water, I just knew we had to get her in lessons."
It's important for children to learn to swim, whether or not they plan to be an Olympian one day. It's tough to know exactly what makes an effective swimming program, so we asked some of the experts to weigh in on swimming lesson basics.
When to start
What to look for
Ruthie Fierberg is an editorial assistant at Parents. Though she does not have children of her own, she's practically been raising kids since her first babysitting job at age 11. She is our resident theater aficionado and can be found constantly running around New York City to find the best new show, the most awesome dance party, or the hottest Bikram yoga studio. Follow her on on Twitter @RuthiesATrain.
Photograph: Missy Franklin at age 7 with her mom, D.A. / Courtesy USA Swimming & the Franklin family