Op-ed: The importance of having strong swimming skills


As we knock on summer’s door, I am reflecting on the overwhelming number of people I speak to on a daily basis who STILL don’t know how to swim! The American Red Cross conducted a recent survey and discovered that nearly half of American adults cannot swim. Their definition for the purpose of the survey: “Adults should be able to float or tread water for about a minute, then be able to turn yourself so you can orient to a position of safety. Then you swim at least 25 yards and then get out of the water,” said Connie Harvey, a water safety expert of the American Red Cross.

Why is this the case? It’s true — the statistics are scary. In the U.S. on average, every day, 10 people die due to drowning. Drowning is the second largest cause of death for children ages 14 and younger, with kids of color drowning three times more than their Caucasian peers. Amazingly, it is the leading cause of death for children 5 and younger, with many of those tragedies happening around the home! And on a global scale, drowning is the second largest cause of death, period.

On the flip side, swimming is one of the most beneficial activities you can do ALL of your life! It is the best cardio/pulmonary and skeletal friendly exercise bar none. It’s a total body workout, working every muscle group, but with low impact. Embracing swimming as part of your exercise regime will help you avoid chronic health issues like obesity, heart problems and diabetes. From a cosmetic point of view, swimmers rarely look anywhere near their actual ages. It is the true fountain of youth.

The benefits of taking the skill to a competitive level certainly transcend the pool. Swimming is a sport that challenges the individual, for the benefit of the team. As a member of a community-based swim team advancing through participating as an elite swimmer on a national team, you will learn self-discipline, goal-setting, commitment, teamwork, perseverance, resiliency, and organizational and leadership skills. I often speak with educators from the primary school level through postgraduate levels who reflect that competitive swimmers do very well academically. Why? Because it takes a laser-like focus, self-discipline and the organizational skills needed to multitask so that you can successfully manage your time to swim multiple workouts during the day while going to school, doing homework and, in some cases, also going to work. Naturally, these skills will benefit individuals from their academic lives into their careers, family lives and into the community as well.

Strong swimming skills enhance your life in many ways. Once you have them, you can explore 32 other water-based sports. In some cases (water polo, competitive swimming and diving, rowing) there are college scholarships available. In other cases, like surfing … not so much! However, each sport is both physically and mentally challenging and you will meet people with similar interests and expand your social circle in a great way.

There are also career opportunities available in the aquatics industry and the military, hospitality, sports and entertainment fields that utilize these skills.

So, why are you waiting? For safety, health and recreation, there is nothing like it. The younger you start, the better, but it’s never too late to learn to swim.

Water Safety + Swimming Skills = LIFE Skills

Shawn Slevin is the founder of Swim Strong Foundation, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit, saving and changing lives through swimming in NYC.