Bob Hubbard has one major goal: to teach all kids to swim. As president of the United States Swim School Association, he has more than 300 members involved, with about 500,000 students collectively. And in Phoenix, he is a household name, considering about 5,000 kids paddle through the Hubbard Swim School each year. “People are becoming more convinced of the benefits of learn-to-swim programs on a consistent or year-round basis,” 54-year-old Hubbard says.
As president, he’s formed partnerships with the National Drowning Prevention Alliance and the Swim For Life Foundation. He’s also busy supplying members with tools to develop childhood education in the water, as well as ways to run their businesses and operations. Most popular of all, he says, is the infant workshop. Teachers and swim school operators learn about infant physiology and mental abilities in relation to the water.
Hubbard believes in teaching toddlers to swim. He says they develop bilateral motor skills, balance, buoyancy, and even social interaction with the instructors and other children in the pool. “Those skills later will come to the forefront in helping them with their athletic skills,” he says. He maintains “a dialogue” with the American Academy of Pediatrics, whose stance on infant swimming is that children under 4 should not learn to swim because it gives parents and children a false sense of security. Hubbard says researchers are asking the wrong question.
What they should be asking is, “how many children have learned appropriate behavior around the water because they have had swim lessons?”
Hubbard began his swim school in 1999 with 400 children, although he and his wife had been running learn-to-swim programs since 1992. Hubbard himself started teaching at the age of 15, as a New York City lifeguard. Every year, the numbers at Hubbard Swim School keep multiplying as parents rush to protect their kids against Phoenix’s biggest threat to children: drowning. With a student-instructor ratio of 4 to 1, or even smaller, his best form of advertising is through word-of-mouth. About 85 percent of clients come through referrals.
Ideally, Hubbard wishes that the industry could combat the American perception of learning a skill in two weeks. “Any time spent in the water learning is good,” he says, adding that research shows 65 percent of adults are uncomfortable with water over their heads. “But to achieve good skills and comfort is really hard to get in eight to 10 classes in a two-week period. I’d love to see the American mentality change to dedicating the time to have kids gain swimming skills.