From USASwimming.org, By Mike Gustafson:
A few weeks ago, I received an email from a swimming coach in Compton, California named Louis Pecot. His complaint as a coach for over 30+ years in the area was that, despite earlier claims from someone featured on this website, there was swimming in Compton – at least when he was growing up. I interviewed him about his background growing up in South Central LA, as well as future challenges he foresees in the area. Here is Part Two of our interview.
What are some obstacles getting minorities into competitive swimming?
They don’t start swimming young enough. If you visit here during recreational swimming, you’ll see a sea of black kids. But you’re not going to see a 6 or 8-year-old swimming by themselves. The kids that come for recreational swim are 11 years old. Before that, they have to come with a big brother or a parent. But the best time to learn to swim is when they’re 6, 7 or 8. If you want to get black folks in, you have to look at swim lessons. And you have to get them in the pool before they turn 9. If you can educate parents to get them swimming at 6, 7 and 8, then you got something to work with.
But once they start turning 9, 10, 11, they’re talking basketball and football. Black girls tend to be real good swimmers, but once they turn 13, its’ a real problem getting them in the water. I’ve seen it happen. High school is a real change for the kids. Once they hit high school, they have to make decisions. You get a parent with a kid who is 15-years-old, who is overweight, and wants to swim on the swim team. They’re not going to be able to swim with kids their age. They have to swim with the younger kids who are their speed. If you think you can just recruit some 12 and 13 year olds to get them swimming, it’s not easy. But it’s much easier when they are 6, 7 and 8, because the kids really want to swim at that age.
I have a philosophy. I don’t recruit anybody older than 10. Especially when I’m trying to build a team. If you take a kid who is 8 and make them fast, their self-worth is tied up to how fast they are swimming, and they stick. “I’m good at this, I’ll keep this up.” A lot of times the kids are coming in at 10 and 11, and it’s more recreation. They’re not serious.
How young is too young?
I don’t like them much younger than 6 because then they can’t stand up in the shallow water. Then you have to have an instructor in the water with them. But if they’re beginners and tall enough, 6-years-old is the best time for swim team. But if you wait longer, the other sports are going to get them. Especially if they have athletic ability. Swimming is good because they can compete at a high level at a young age. I have a 7-year-old who is blazing fast, a black girl, and she’s going to be great. She’s going to stick with it.
So in your opinion, what’s the best way to get swimmers to “stick with it”?
By high school, you already decided what sport you want to do. The outreach has to be before high school. So you start swim lessons.
A 6, 7 or 8-year-old doesn’t come to the pool by themselves. They come with a parent. They have to pay for lessons now. 20 bucks for 10 lessons. But swim lessons does this: The parent is already in the mode of paying if your team is not free. The kid is already linked to a parent. They’re already young enough. All you have to do is teach them how to swim and tell them that the swim team is available. Because they don’t know unless you tell them you are a candidate. “We’re looking for you to be on the team.” I’m always looking for youngsters. Sometimes they criticize me for taking them onto the swim team too quickly.
They need direction. The parents need information. When things come across my email, I share it with them. One of my swimmers met Cullen Jones, took a picture with him. Without educating the parents, nothing actually happens.
Black swimmers are getting more rare. My son swam for a Catholic high school around here. They told him, “I never saw a black swimmer before.” Where we come from, there’s nothing but black swimmers. That’s why I responded to your email. They just didn’t know. They didn’t even know – they could have swum for free when I was a kid.
If you have a diversity story to share, please email Trials.Tribulations.email@example.com.