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Aquatics Pros Push Lessons as Drownings Increase

Andy Berg

An increase in drownings has aquatics professionals across the country stressing the need for childhood swimming lessons.

The number of kids in Massachusetts who received swim lessons in the last year was down because of the pandemic. In the wake of dozens of drownings in the state, water safety professionals are say swim lessons are critical.

“We have an incredible responsibility to make sure every child in the commonwealth can swim,” YMCA of Greater Boston CEO James Morton told the Boston Herald. “We’re all doubling down on our commitment to make sure that everyone, no matter their age, can swim.”

The Herald reports that a Worcester Police officer recently drowned as he tried to save a drowning teenager, and Massachusetts has seen 47 drowning deaths so far this year — 18 of which happened just last month.

The 47 deaths are up significantly from years prior, prompting public officials to increase lifeguard pay and urge residents to exercise caution.

“It becomes our responsibility to make sure swim lessons are accessible and affordable across every community,” Morton said. “We are trying to do our part to provide as many lessons as we can to prevent some of the tragedies we’re seeing across the commonwealth.” 

A similar scenario is unfolding in Texas, which ranks second to Florida in the United States for fatal drownings.

Leaders of the largest YMCA chapters in Texas are now leading the charge with a new push to make swimming lessons more accessible for all.

“We teach the most swim lessons nationwide. We’ve had a huge impact on those families that have small kids that are walking around their backyard pools,” Eric Tucker, president and CEO of the Arlington-Mansfield YMCA, told the Dallas NBC affiliate

“Sometimes people and sometimes kids can build some confidence that might not be merited. They’re not quite ready yet. They don’t understand how deep water is and they don’t know how to use their bodies or anything like that. That’s why the YMCA is here to help alleviate that issue,” said Tucker.

Texas has also seen a drop in swim lessons due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the backlog on access to swimming lessons, there is now a waitlist for swimming lessons at some YMCA locations.

“So now we see this huge demand of families coming back just for that instruction. Because quite frankly, they’re worried about their kids, especially as they go out and the summer months progress,” said Tucker.

Another effort to end drowning is the Fort Worth Drowning Prevention Coalition, which hosts low-cost water survival training for kids and adults to teach them lifesaving skills. During the pandemic, they kept the lessons going virtually.

“Floating, treading water, getting back to the side of the pool if you fall in,” said Jaquelyn Kotar, a board member the coalition and vice president of aquatics for the Fort Worth YMCA. "It’s not like riding a bike. They have to keep going, they have to keep learning how to swim."

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