Why Free Swim Lessons?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately two children ages 14 or younger die from unintentional drowning each day. The CDC is doing its part to lower those numbers by advocating for water safety through its voluntary model aquatic health code (MAHC), designed to help public pools minimize drowning risks. Water Safety USA, a roundtable of nonprofit organizations, is also at the forefront of decreasing the number of drownings by providing public education on water safety.

Parents can also change the grim statistics of accidental drownings by ensuring their children take swim lessons and learn basic water safety. Though there are many opportunities for children to learn to swim through casual or informal encounters with family and friends, parents are strongly advised to take children to formal swimming lessons at locations where the instructors are accredited or certified and properly trained.

The USA Swimming Foundation, deeply affected with the reality of children dying in accidental pool drownings, became motivated to do their part to reduce the CDC statistics. The foundation created a Make a Splash Initiative which partners with national learn-to-swim providers to offer swim lessons to every child throughout the United States, regardless of the ability to pay. The foundation also offers thousands of dollars in grants to numerous state-based recreation centers and sport facilities to operate the Make a Splash program.

One of the participants of Make a Splash is Nathan Adrian, a five-time Olympic gold medalist who has become an ambassador with the USA Swimming Foundation. At the age of 29, Mr. Adrian has already been competing in swimming for 24 years, but remembers his first swim experience when he was just 2 years old. He grew up in an area of Washington state that has a coastline and recalls his family coming up with a plan to ensure he could get to a ladder if he fell in the water. According to Mr. Adrian, it was definitely a "water safety thing" for the need to learn how to swim.

The Make a Splash Initiative succeeded in offering swim lessons to one million children in 2017. To further increase this number and give even more children the opportunity to receive swim lessons, the USA Swimming Foundation is celebrating its 10th anniversary tour of Make a Splash with a kickoff in Washington, D.C. in June 2018. Several Olympic swimmers, including current ambassador Nathan Adrian, will participate in this tour, traveling to cities to promote the Initiative, get families excited about water safety and, ultimately, to spread the word that swim lessons are available nationwide. For more information about Make a Splash, visit: usaswimmingfoundation.org/home/make-a-splash .

Swim Instruction in the DMV

In the DMV area, parents have several choices in picking places to take their children for swim lessons. One great opportunity is through the American Red Cross. Red Cross swim lessons are offered to infants and children of all ages. The lessons begin with the instructors helping each swimmer learn the basics, such as being comfortable in the water, water safety rules and a few basic movements. As children progress through the swim lessons, instructors offer more advanced skills, including stroke refinement and improvement and efficiency in the water. For those parents who are particularly connected to technology, the Red Cross even offers a free swimming app that tracks progress and helps students stay motivated in between lessons!

The YMCA is another wonderful choice for children's swim lessons. So important is the CDC's alarming statistic of accidental child drownings that the YMCA created a program to address this problem. The "Safety Around Water" program is an 8-class instructional program designed to give children comfort, confidence and improved control in the water. In each session, children participate in various exercises designed to test and motivate them to be comfortable in the water and also receive specific rules on what to do if children find themselves unexpectedly in water.

Most government-operated recreation centers throughout the DMV also offer an assortment of swim classes that vary based on the age of the child and the skill level. Recreation centers are committed to water safety in their pools by offering swim classes, ensuring lifeguards are actively monitoring all depths of the pool and enforcing periodic 15-minute pool breaks.

Instruction and Competitive Swimming

Parents may wish to offer swim lessons to their children beyond the basics. Swim clubs and swim teams are scattered throughout the DMV, giving children ages 5 - 18 the opportunity to swim competitively. One such example of a local swim team, and a Make a Splash Initiative partner, is the Fort Belvoir Swim Team. This swim team offers a unique approach to swim instruction in its "the system" swim model, which teaches young swimmers to swim in a systematic way, to further enjoyment, enhance efficiency and prevent swimmer burnout.

The Northern Virginia Swimming League (NVSL) is one of the largest DMV-area swim clubs, ranked 6th largest in the United States, according to Nancy Jessen, head of the coach clinics at NVSL. The NVSL is a nonprofit created specifically to facilitate swim meets among competitive swimmers. It hosts a whopping 102 teams with nearly 17,000 child swimmers! The league seeks to encourage children to love the sport of swimming while they learn advanced aquatic skills and the principles of sportsmanship and teamwork.

No matter how advanced children are in their swimming skills, at a minimum, all children should learn the basics, plus be comfortable with water safety. Swim lessons will surely decrease the CDC's heartbreaking statistics of children accidentally drowning.


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Amanda M. Socci is a freelance writer who lives in Alexandria, VA with her husband and two daughters. Amanda is passionate about many things, including school fundraising, Girl Scouts and recycling with art. Amanda can be reached at SocciWriter@gmail.com.