Learning to swim: 3 major challenges for Western countries

Each year, a significant amount of drownings could have been avoided. Teaching everyone to swim is a necessity, but pool market faces several challenges.

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Today, too many people cannot swim: 1 in 6 adults in France (1), 1 in 4 adults in the United Kingdom (2) and almost 1 adult in 2 in the USA (3). Every year a dramatic number of people drown. In most cases these deaths could have been avoided. Teaching everyone to swim is a real planetary need and the swimming pool market faces several challenges which slow the rate of this training down.


The crucial lack of lifeguards

Many countries currently have difficulties in recruiting qualified lifeguards and some public swimming pools have to shut during the summer. 

The first reason is the lifeguards’ working conditions. As most public swimming pools are outdoor, people working in and around pools are victims of seasonality and, as demand for their services is very high in summer but low in winter, their annual income is irregular. Additionally, it is a profession at risk because prolonged contact with chlorinated products can cause asthma and/or allergies. This is why some lifeguards prefer to find other jobs. 

However, with the appearance of new ways to use pools - which are now becoming standard fitness center equipment (such as aquafitness), lifeguards’ have evolved to become fitness coaches, renewing the interest of young people in these qualifications and providing more work opportunities all year round. In France, 64% of lifeguards coach aquagym and aquabike (4). In an interview, racing swimmer Fabien Gilot, Guest of Honor at Piscine Global Europe 2016, said that wellness is now an integral part of the training for competitive level swimming.

Ranging from a few hundred to several thousand Euros, the cost of certification is an obstacle that many would-be trainees cannot pay. To attract new lifeguards, some public authorities have decided to make training and certification free, successfully!

National laws can also slow lifeguard recruitment. For example, in the United States, work visa quotas often prevent swimming pools from recruiting lifeguards from abroad to compensate for the lack of professionals locally (5).

Improve public swimming pool availability

The private pool market makes it easier for young people to learn to swim, but this pleasure is not for all. Many have to use public pools. But they have to exist!

In France, 50% of children in rural areas cannot swim vs.10% in urban areas (6). Not all primary schools have access to swimming pools – and even fewer to pools with specific zones for their age groups. In fact only 50% of public pools can be used by schools all year round (7). 

The problem is that public authorities do not have the budgets for investments in building new or revamping existing pools, but they can increasingly count on innovative technologies to amortize their investments - for example innovative and ecological heating systems.

Public pool heating: 
two case studies showing how to reduce costs and save energy

High price pool admission ticket slow access to swimming lessons for the underprivileged. A study In the US found that 79% of children from families with annual incomes under $50,000 cannot swim (8). Specific programs for these groups, like the French “J’apprends à nager” program, support swimming lessons.

Pool opening hours are sometimes ill-adapted for schools. Either schools cannot get a slot in the pool schedule guaranteeing the full attention of a lifeguard or they are quite simply not open during school hours. 

Convince parents that learning to swim is important

Surprisingly, many children don’t learn how to swim quite simply because their parents don’t understand why they should. Only 30% of children whose parents cannot swim are likely to learn to swim themselves (8)! Non-swimming parents just do not have the reflex to sign their kids up for lessons if their school doesn’t.

For this reason, it is vital to teach children to swim so that they pass swimming on to their own children in the future - not only as a survival skill, but to share unforgettable poolside quality times as a family! To get parents to sign their kids up for swimming lessons, public pools could organize open days with the lifeguards to make them aware of the importance of learning to swim.

Swimming lessons and the pool market are closely linked. The more pools there are, the easier it is to teach swimming. And the greater the number of swimmers, the more people will want private and public pools. Pool suppliers have to work closely with public authorities to meet these challenges!

Will you be at Piscine Global Europe 2018?
Come and discuss these challenges with other professionals in our Commercial Pools Village, our new space dedicated to public pool specialists!

(1) BEH : Capacité à nager des 15-75 ans de France métropolitaine. Analyse des données des Baromètres santé 2010 et 2016
(2) YouGov : A quarter of British people don’t think they could swim to a primary school standard
(3) American Red Cross : Red Cross Launches Campaign to Cut Drowning in Half in 50 Cities
(4) Elsport : Quel métier pour quel avenir ?
(5) Fox5 : Shortage of lifeguards causing some local pools to remain closed as warm weather arrives
(6) Vousnousils : Natation à l’école : « la grande difficulté, ce sont les équipements »
(7) Sport.gouv : Promouvoir l’activité physique et sportive pour tous et tout au long de la vie : Des enjeux partagés dans et hors de l’école
(8) USA Swimming Foundation : USA Swimming Foundation Announces 5-10 Percent Increase in Swimming Ability Among U.S. Children

Crédit photo : Xusenru / Pixabay

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