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 programs.

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, that activity.

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 Month events.

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 gthill@hanleywood.com. You are also encouraged to join Engaging Minorities — The Aquatics Perspective group on AI Connect for more discussion and ideas.


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.