Math, numbers and statistics were never my forte. However, in our
industry, numbers often reflect more than just calculations.
Numbers can tell us how much free chlorine is available in our
pools, whether our pools are properly balanced, and whether our
pools and programs actually make a profit.
In Prince George’s County, we serve more than 820,000
residents, with 79 percent of those residents representing
African-American and Hispanic/Latino communities. So, if the
swimming abilities of these two populations have been proven to be
significantly lower than other groups, what does this data mean to
our department’s aquatics facilities and programs?
Well, it could mean the potential exists for a higher rate of
emergency responses to near-drownings at our pools, prompting the
need for increased focus on staff training and lifeguard vigilance.
It also could mean lower registrations and participation in
learn-to-swim programs, prompting the need for additional outreach
and resources to support the community’s need.
What does this data mean for your organization?
Over the past two years, our industry has been presented with
startling statistics around minority participation in aquatics and
their abilities to swim. Nearly 70 percent of African-Americans
have low to no swimming ability, and nearly 60 percent of
Hispanic/Latinos have low to no swimming ability, according to the
Minority Swim Constraints Phase II/University of Memphis, May 2010,
study as presented to USA Swimming. What these statistics meant to
me and my organization was a “call to action.” That
meant a shift in how we prioritize and fund aquatics programs for
youths, and making these services a part of our department’s
core recreation program.
Specifically, I began working with my team to develop outreach
programs targeting minority populations. I began writing this
column for Aquatics International to bring more attention
to this issue within the aquatics industry. I also began presenting
at national conferences to further educate professionals on the
need to engage minorities in aquatics programs and services within
the parks and recreation and aquatics industries.
Last fall, while presenting with my colleagues at a national
conference, we received very positive feedback regarding the need
for more information and tips on engaging minorities in aquatics
programs. One of the main points of the presentation was to discuss
several statistics surrounding minority swimming abilities and also
to relate this information to the expected population changes in
the United States over the next 30 to 40 years.
This was my first time presenting this information, and I expected
positive as well as “constructive” feedback from
attendees. Fortunately, most of the feedback was positive. But
there was one constructive comment from an attendee that stuck with
me the most: “Too many statistics mentioned.”
My initial thought to this feedback was, “Wow. … I
wonder which statistics this person felt were too much? And how
could they not look beyond the numbers to understand the potential
impact of these statistics on their organization or
After thinking more about this feedback, I realized that I have
much more work to do to translate these statistics into more
relatable information and situations for our industry.
It’s not enough for me to say that minorities are expected to
become the majority in 2042 and that the nation is projected to be
more than 54 percent minority by 2050, according to U.S. Census
projections. I have to break the statistics and information down
further and work to make the connections to real-life experiences
for our industry.
I realize that not every community is currently as diverse as
Prince George’s County. However, over the next 30 to 40
years, the makeup of our nation’s communities will begin to
look much different and reflect greater diversity. What is your
organization doing to prepare for this change? Have you begun to
look at ways to increase outreach to minority communities and
engage them in your programs? The greater our outreach, the greater
potential we have as aquatics professionals to reduce national
So, the next time you are reading or listening to a presentation
that contains what you think are “too many statistics and
projections,” try to look beyond the numbers and really
generate a connection for how these figures will impact your
organization, aquatics facilities, and community.
The numbers really do tell a story and can inspire change for how
we engage minorities in aquatics programs. Let’s not wait
until 2042 or 2050 before the statistics begin to actually mean
something more than just numbers and percentages.
Improving minority participation in aquatics is not just an urban
issue — it is a national issue. As aquatics professionals, we
have the power and resources to reduce these statistics. One lap at