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Krystal Lara is one of very few Latinas in her class at Stuyvesant High School, and in the pool. She’s backstroking her way toward the Olympics.

From The New York Times:

Her Parents Thought Swimming Lessons Were a Good Idea

Krystal Lara is one of very few Latinas in her class at Stuyvesant High School, and in the pool. She’s backstroking her way toward the Olympics.…

Former Yale swimmer Siphiwe Baleka

Good video about former Yale swimmer Siphiwe Baleka


Can African Americans Swim Well Enough to Save Themselves?

Culturally speaking, most African American men and women do not swim well enough to save themselves, and for those who can swim, most do not participate in organized water sport activities. Why is this? Can the culture of non-swimmers be reversed? How?

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Welcome to our discussion, James. So sorry it has taken me so long to acknowledge your participation. You are a role model of the first order. And your parents are to be highly commended for stepping up in the fulfillment of their parental duties in such a positive way. You benefitted! Where did you go to college? Just curious!
I wonder if my husband and I have stumbled upon another piece of the puzzle? The black notion that if you're not immediately good at something, maybe it's not for you. I wrote a blog post on it. Let me know what you think.

Ahh! The instant gratification theory. Sorry, Angela, it really does not explain why too many of "our tribe" do not swim. The "other tribe" will love to hang their hat on that one. This argument can also be generally applied to low esteemed individuals who drop out of high school. And you know where they are going! But back to your notion. I want to take you on a memory trip to a certain period in the 1960's. There was a famous swim coach from Indiana (who shall remain nameless), who went around the country jokingly telling all who listened that black folks cannot swim because of bone and muscle density - remember that put down about "our tribe"? Do you think your notion might carry the same weight? Your notion does not explain why a 20 year old, who never learned to swim and who always believed that they (and other Black folk) cannot learn to swim, takes a swimming class in college and learns to swim. I taught college swimming for 21 years at Hampton University, and this experience was typical of the non-swimmer who took swim lessons. I believe that the Black experience and swimming is lack of access to quality swim lessons. Obviously some pockets within the Black community are more affluent in their thinking and social lifestyle than others, and therein lie the difference. I believe your notion is probably true for some people, but not limited to a race of people. Black folks drop out of the mainstream of learning life skills for other reasons, and this includes swimming, and we do not have enough time, nor is this the place, to discuss these issues.
You make some good points, Errol. I have mulled over the issue, and I agree with you. I wrote a post about it here and on my blog: http://imswimming.net/2010/07/08/why-dont-blacks-swim/. I will e glad when this is no longer an issue.

Coming into this thread months late... but thanks to the bump from the FB post!


Did anyone watch The View last week? Sherri Shepherd learns to swim.

Part 1:



Part 2



I thought this was a tremendous piece of swimming promotion/media but have not seen many publicize the feature.

Is there some reasoning or do people just not see the value?


I coach masters swimming and often take on learn to swim level adults. I have never found a link between race and the ability to learn to swim. Even in adults.


It is ALWAYS easier to teach a child than an adult. But my motto is, it's never too late.



Hi Ashlee,

Thanks for your contribution to this forum.  I missed the segment of "The View" in your discussion, so sorry to say, and you were the first to bring it to my attention.  I agree, this is excellent promotion, but it went to the wrong audience.  If Sherri had tried this on BET, or discussed it with Tom Joyner, it for sure would have gotten more deserved attention.  Without belaboring the point, most viewers of "The View" are more likely already knowlegable about water sports and I will bet that most already know how to swim.  Sherri obviously was demonstrating her uneasiness about swimming, and her willingness to try it.  Kudos to her for taking that first important step.  There is always a beginning, and it is never too late to learn to swim. 

If there is no link between race and learning to swim, why then is there such a disproportionate number of Black folks who do not know how to swim?  This question has always fascinated me!  I suppose there is reasoning for this.  Read the forum in its entirety and draw your own conclusions.  Take care, and thank you for participating.

Thank you Errol.


When I wrote that I have never found a link between race and learning how to swim, I meant that I have had no less success in teaching any race over another.


The key here is opportunity and access. If desire to learn is added, there is literally a 100% success rate.

But you know that already.


My opinion is there are not enough swim coaches.

It is very difficult for a coach or swimming teacher to make a living at this occupation. And so, it isn't a highly sought after job for an adult. Especially at the learn to swim level.


Most great or good coaches/swim teachers work for the love of the sport. But they have difficulties like many low paying positions. No health care, benefits, and other problems associated with working in the elements. 


That said, I am an avid recruiter of swim coaches. I look for individuals who love the water, technique and demonstrate patience.

I have also witnessed a lack of nurturing by head coaches of their assistants. And a lack of general mentoring.


We all need to look around at swimmers, parents, teachers and other potential new swim coaches and encourage them to get involved with us to teach swimming. Seriously.


I'm attending a swim coaches clinic in Napa, CA this weekend. I hope to meet some of you there.



Your points are well taken.  And I agree with you because I know that teaching and learning knows no race boundaries.  We can all learn from excellent teachers, and there are never enough "excellent teachers".  And you are so right about not enough swim coaches, who in my opinion also make for the better teachers.  Best wishes in Napa.

Errol:  I was fascinated by your swimming history.  Yes, let's go to the pool and get yourself back in the water, and when you do:  


Could you please post a video of YOURSELF Winging-It?  So we can see that and add to our bag of tricks teaching everyone to swim?


Another fascinating, utilitarian stroke is the so-called combat sidestroke because it's a survival stroke and it's the one the SEALS use and it's a great way to teach sculling, you can do it with your face out and you can really talk about reducing swimmers' drag in the water.  Slice and glide. I try to have some different things to do when people are getting bored and need something else to focus on, and with the ones who can make it two lengths or so, this could be a good one to try.


Happy Martin Luther King Day tomorrow, everyone!

Before I start quoting:  who gets the credit for "EACH ONE, REACH ONE, TEACH ONE" ?


I so agree.  I had so much fun teaching my Adult Beginner class yesterday at the Lynn YMCA in Lynn, MA!


One brave lady told me, after she started kicking over the shallow end with a kickboard, "I nearly drowned 4 times and I am afraid," but she put all her stress into determination, relaxed her body and floated and glided and kicked up and down that pool.  She is going to succeed! 


To start the class, I just took her hand and we walked doing circle swim in the shallow end and talked about how scary it is, and how deep the water gets, and how to use her free hand to scull and pull herself through the water.  All it takes is the time and the caring for EACH ONE REACH ONE TEACH ONE to be true.

Wow!!! This is awesome.

I appreciate the conversations that I have read and have found a new place to visit regularly.


The topics you are discussing informs others and brings what is hidden to light, as well documenting it through articles can help to inform folks while giving thought and ideas to remedy these situations.  The references below are some readings that may provide some food for thought.   (See reading material below – If it is duplicated, I do apologize as I did not go through and read through all the previous posts). 


One thought for me to add in the conversation relates to finding opportunities in the community to work toward developing swimming skills with folks of color. 

 In the community in which I live, a local YMCA and Headstart preschool program are partnering to provide 6 weeks of swimming instruction for the preschool children.  This is the second year for the program (I helped instruct as a volunteer last year) and what was remarkable about the program is that it was COMPLETELY funded from transportation to swimming equipment.  It takes the excuse "I don’t have the money, suit, or stuff to swim to allow my child to swim" and it is makes it pretty hard for the parents to say NO.  The preschoolers were provided a bag, towel, water shoes, swimsuit, swim caps, transportation (provided by a local Wal-Mart), and access to the pool for a three hour session at the YMCA (Group of 30 split in two, physical activity session and pool session).  The cool part is that eliminating all the barriers gave parents to only option to allow their child to participate – there was 98% participation among the preschool children which is outstanding.   The YMCA provided three instructors, while the preschool encouraged volunteers and teachers to get in the water. 


Thankfully, my wife (a preschool teacher at the facility) told me about their opportunity and about some of the concerns of her TEACHING colleagues.  “Oh, I can’t get in the water, I am afraid”; “Should these kids get in the water they may drown!” 

The teachers own fears were depressing and when my wife asked me to help,  I jumped at the chance to volunteer my time for the program.  It was a success last year and I am looking forward to helping again this year.    The class, helped many of the teachers who were there overcome some fears of the water and getting in as well as encouraged the children to learn that “They won’t drown in the pool” which was a common phrase among the kids on the first few sessions. 


I would encourage those of you in your local areas to investigate and see what opportunities are available.  When I asked about the program and how it was funded, I understand it was funded through a  grant from the local YMCA (a predominate African American Y).  There may be opportunities in your area to help or even organize something similar for a specific location or if you have resources and know of people in your area, approach a facility and ask them if they would be interested in hosting a learn to swim class for children of color in your area.  


Educating children at younger ages will encourage them to be less fearful, more comfortable and confident in the water.  The difficulty is access to pools in communities where folks of color live and continued development of swimming skills beyond their initial learning sessions. 


There are many other things I could write about relative to the posts I have read, however, from my background as Physical Education  and training in the area of Teacher Education (PhD) focuses on promotion of lifelong physical activity (PA). To me one of the easiest ways to teach PA is through water activities, i.e. swimming and movement activities.   Water activities are the perfect conduit to improving the physical health and other parts of self (concept, confidence).  This is especially true in communities  of color where the prevalence of hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, etc…. is extremely high and can be relieved if not eliminated through regular exercise.  The promotion of learning to swim and developing confidence in the water among all people, but especially folks of color, is a passion that I wholeheartedly embrace and something that I support others to do as well.

I hope to get more chances to visit and share some thoughts on the topic as I work to finish my degree within the next few months.

To all who have shared responses on this topic, Thanks.

To Mr. Duplessis for starting this important discussion  and to those who initiated the diversity in aquatics site – Many, many thanks. 

This is a blessing to me to know there are others out there with the zeal to be a role model, mentor, teacher, promoter, and advocate for swimming among people of color.



Reading material:

The Mythology of Swimming: Are Myths Impacting Minority Youth Participation?

Carol C. Irwin, Richard L. Irwin, Timothy D. Ryan, and Joris Drayer

International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 2009, 3, 10-23


I Am Not My Hair...Or Am I?: Exploring the

Minority Swimming Gap, Dawn M. Norwood (PhD)

August 2010 -- University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Trace: Tennessee Research and Creative Exchange


You have already made a most significant contribution to eliminating swimming ignorance in your community.  Your YMCA and community is definitely light years ahead of most communities that I know of, and I was truly impressed with your innovative approach to go after the funding necessary to make it happen.  Teaching children to swim at an early age is most important, but reaching the parents early is really the key.  I taught college students how to swim for 20+ years at Hampton University, and the stories some of the students shared was amazing.  Some students were forbidden by their parents to take a swimming class out of fear of drowning.  So educating these folks is part of the equation.  It can be done several ways, I am sure. 

Can the model program your community designed work in other communities?  I believe it can.  I may want to visit your location sometime in the near future.  Share your information, do not keep it a secret.  With your permission, I will share your program information with "My Friends" on DAP, to include Shaun and Jayson who started  this magnificent program for folks like you and I to exchange ideas.  How did you hear about us?  Take care, you are doing an outstanding job.  My email address is Errol@LakeRawlings.com - please stay in touch!

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