Realistically, getting swim parents to show up for a meet isn’t all that challenging. But getting the community excited – and even the media – can be more difficult. The World’s Largest Swimming Lesson, a free water safety course offered to the public on June 21, just might help event owners shine a light on their sport – and maybe even inspire others to come into the sport.
The World’s Largest Swimming Lesson (WLSL), the brainchild of the World Waterpark Association, is an annual global public relations event supported by aquatic facilities, waterparks, pools, swim schools, YMCAs and other venues. The event began in 2010 and now, as it closes in on its first decade of activity, it can claim a place in the Guinness Book of World Records, first appearing in 2014 with 36,564 participants in 22 countries.
And for an event that can be as short as 30 minutes, it has made quite an impact.
"We’ve had more than 235,000 children and adults participate over the years,” says Aleatha Ezra, Director of Park Member Development at the World Waterpark Association. “And registration for this year is going really well. We were hoping to have 600 facilities signed up but right now, we’re closer to 700. The event just keeps getting bigger every year.”
The fact that event owners and managers can incorporate a WLSL session into their day easily makes it all the more attractive, Ezra notes. Venues are encouraged to have at least one certified instructor on duty for the event. The goal is to get people comfortable with the water and to teach them basic water survival skills. A 30-minute course covering just the basics can be fit into any event, she adds. These include general safety, safe entry into water, submersion breathing, survival floating, treading water, coming to the surface and stroke skills, as well as alternative arm strokes.
“We have 119 swim schools signed up right now and we have several segments we track, including facilities with competitive swim events. They might host one swim lesson in the morning, one in the middle of their day and one in the evening. It encourages different groups to come out, and it makes for a larger outreach and service event.”
The website notes, “Per the Center for Disease Control, drowning remains the leading cause of unintended, injury-related death for U.S. children ages 1-4, and the second leading cause for children under 14; drowning is an even greater threat in other countries around the world.”
And make no mistake: the image of multiple people in a pool learning basic water skills is an extremely powerful one – not just for the media but for potential participants who might worry about feeling awkward or isolated in their lack of knowledge. Event owners should take pullback photos to show the scope of the event. Photos can be used for post-event publicity as well as for pre-event work the following years (Ezra notes the program has about a 70 percent return rate to venues year over year.)
Event owners publicizing a WLSL session should be certain to note it is for both children and adults. (Children are far more often encouraged to learn to swim while adults who have not learned often suffer from a sense of embarrassment about not knowing the same skills).
But, Ezra notes, have staff members try to concentrate on the idea that “We learn things all the time as adults and swimming should be no different.”
Another obstacle has long been having access to pools. Many individuals have never learned because of economic barriers, not having a proximity to a pool, or never having been encouraged to take lessons. An increasing number of initiatives are trying to combat the problem, specifically among minorities, where it is more prevalent.