We all know the latest national statistics regarding the lack of swimming ability and participation in aquatics programs in the African-American and Hispanic communities
According to the recent study conducted by the University of
Memphis, 69 percent of African-Americans and 58 percent of Hispanic
respondents reported low swimming ability. The study cited a number
of potential reasons for these startling statistics, including the
lack of certified instructors conducting swim lessons, fear of
injury and drowning, family and parental encouragement, and the
effects on physical appearance (for example, hair).
Now that the industry has established better clarity on the
potential reasons for this phenomenon, what steps are we taking as
aquatics professionals to combat this issue?
As an African-American woman, swimmer and aquatics professional, I
understand both sides of the coin. Fortunately, my family
understood the importance of water safety and devoted time and
resources to ensure I learned to swim at an early age. When I was a
teenager and college student, I remained involved in aquatics as a
lifeguard and swim instructor, and I now supervise the same
aquatics program in which I participated as a child. I
realize this is not the norm. However, in my current role, I
recognize that I am in a much better position to serve the
community and help improve the swimming abilities of
African-American and Hispanic participants through the use of
targeted programming and marketing efforts.
As managers begin to prioritize their programs and marketing plans,
it is imperative that diversity initiatives be incorporated into
their organizations’ overall business plan to increase
minority participation and revenue within your aquatics
To assist in reaching this target audience on the local level, a
number of national programs have been established and are available
to managers working to better educate parents and children on the
importance of water safety and learning to swim. What better way to
market your local program than to associate it with a nationally
recognized organization or initiative? Managers are encouraged to
take advantage of national programs such as the USA Swimming
Foundation’s Make a Splash Initiative, the U.S. Consumer Product
Safety Commission’s Pool Safely Campaign, and the
National Water Safety Month Campaign when attempting
to reach minority participants.
The Make a Splash Initiative works with locally run aquatics
programs to provide low-cost or free swim lessons and water safety
information to parents and children. The program also provides a
number of resources to its local partners to include statistical
data, water safety posters and information,
promotional DVDs, giveaways, swimsuits and funding to help support
an organization’s management of the program. Because of its
national reach and focus, the Make a Splash program has picked up
quite a bit of local and national media coverage for our aquatics
program in Prince George’s County, Md.
Additionally, contact information for all local partners is
featured on the Make a Splash Web site for parents seeking
learn-to-swim programs in their areas. The local media coverage and
national Web site have been very effective in marketing our
aquatics program within the community, and ultimately increasing
minority interest and participation.
Another national resource available to managers is the CPSC’s
Pool Safely Campaign. This national public education campaign was
developed in response to the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa
Safety Act, and works to reduce child drownings and entrapments in
swimming pools and spas through the use of water safety events,
marketing collateral and partnerships with local organizations. The
Pool Safely Campaign offers a complete Communications Toolkit to
assist managers with developing press releases, giveaways and
customizable brochures, as well as print and TV ads featuring
African-American and Hispanic children and adults.
One thing we’ve learned in our department is the importance
of incorporating diversity into our marketing pieces. Whenever
possible, we include photographs of minority children and adults in
print, Web and program brochures advertising our aquatics programs.
This method should be applied not only when marketing to
African-American and Hispanic groups, but also to reach whatever
ethnicity you are targeting.
To increase minority participation in your aquatics programs, be
sure to include images and culturally sensitive messages in your
marketing campaigns. Take on the perspective of a patron: When
pursuing a new program or challenge, it’s always encouraging
to see someone who looks like you participating in, and enjoying,
Finally, take advantage of the opportunity to promote your current
aquatics programs or introduce new programs during National Water
Safety Month in May.
Over the past few years, a number of national organizations —
the National Recreation and Park Association, the Association of
Pool & Spa Professionals, the World Waterpark Association, the
Independent Pool & Spa Service Association and the
International Swimming Hall of Fame — have collaborated to
bring industry program ideas and marketing assistance to local
markets and help spread the word about water safety. These efforts
emphasize the need for parental supervision while swimming and
communicate the importance of swim lessons.
The National Water Safety Month Campaign in May will provide
excellent marketing resources and also is a great vehicle to
generate exposure for your aquatics programs prior to the start of
the summer season.
Over the past two years, our department has used this national
campaign to market free learn-to-swim clinics and water safety
workshops, and to promote “learn how your neighborhood pool
works” information sessions. This is a great way to bring in
new patrons, especially minorities, by giving them free access and
exposure to your aquatics programs.
Remember to work with your local public schools — especially
those offering the free/reduced lunch program — to help
distribute fliers to students and parents. Also, be sure to have
plenty of community-friendly brochures available to advertise
year-round aquatics programs during your National Water Safety
Improving minority participation in aquatics is not just an urban
issue — it’s a national issue. As aquatics
professionals, we have the power and resources to reduce these
statistics one lap at a time!
This marks the debut of Minority Report, a periodic column that
will be dedicated to improving minority outreach in aquatics.
Please send your feedback or ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You are also encouraged to join Engaging Minorities — The Aquatics Perspective group on AI Connect for more discussion and ideas.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tara Eggleston is countywide aquatics coordinator for The Maryland-National
Capital Park and Planning Commission’s Department of Parks
and Recreation in Prince George’s County, Md. She has 15+
years’ aquatics experience and holds American Red Cross WSIT,
WSI, LGIT and LGI certifications. She's also on the Supervisory
Committee of the local American Red Cross chapter.