As promotional opportunities go, this might be even better than the Olympics (gold medals and all) for organizers of swimming and diving events. The World’s Largest Swimming Lesson (WLSL), a global initiative for water safety, comes around on June 22, and is attempting to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records once again. (It’s already there; it just wants to break its own record.)
And since, after all, everyone loves the idea of being part of a Guinness Book attempt, the event has undeniable crowd appeal, and can help attract new attention to swimming and diving programs. It’s also a great opportunity for some media coverage for a sports event, provided event owners act soon enough.
Swim meets, diving competitions and more can set aside time at any point during the day; all they need to do is register the event with WLSL here and download the host location guide. (The website also offers a toolkit and other resources.)
There’s definitely a large pool (see what we did there?) of possible participants; the WLSL site notes that in 2014, a survey completed by the American Red Cross found that more than half of all Americans (54 percent) either can't swim or don't have all of the basic swimming skills. Even scarier: According to a SafeKids Worldwide 2016 report, despite the fact that lack of supervision plays a role in the majority of drowning deaths, less than half of parents (49 percent) indicate they remain within arms' reach of their child in the water.
On the whole, adults are more resistant to learning to swim; in addition to having built up a fear of water over several decades, many are simply embarrassed about not knowing how and won’t seek out lessons. There are also plenty of excuses given: I don’t go near water…I can’t do it because of my contacts/sinuses/hair/skin… Someone pushed me under once and I had nightmares for years… the list is extensive. Children, by contrast, might be afraid of being pushed in, but have not had the time to build up the same fears; they’re also less self-conscious, particularly if they see other children taking lessons.
The WLSL concentrates on promoting the kind of skills that allow individuals to be comfortable in the water: survival floating and simple strokes. Organizers note that it is essential to reassure individuals that they will not have to jump into the water, dive headfirst or even put their faces in, if they don’t wish to. Strokes like the basic backstroke and dog-paddle, for example, are easily learned and don’t require any special breathing techniques.
A recent study sponsored by USA Swimming uncovered stark statistics. Just under 70 percent of African-American children surveyed said they had no or low ability to swim. Low ability merely meant they were able to splash around in the shallow end. A further 12 percent said they could swim but had "taught themselves." The study found 58 percent of Hispanic children had no or low swimming ability. For white children, the figure was only 42 percent.
"It is an epidemic that is almost going unnoticed," says Sue Anderson, director of programs and services at USA Swimming.
A community swim lesson, therefore, is a great attempt to bring diversity to the swimming and diving community. In addition, encouraging participants to stick around after the lesson and cheer for the competitors just might inspire people to become more involved in the future.
It's also a media opportunity that can help promote your event, particularly if you provide plenty of advance notice, and take time to make sure the community is aware of the event as well. (And since it takes place when most schools have let out for summer, it's an even better time to get kids' - and parents' attention.)
And, yes, when all else fails, there’s that Guinness Book factor: TEAM WLSL™ (as everyone is collectively known after participating) holds the current Guinness World Record™ for the largest simultaneous swimming lesson conducted at multiple venues. The official record was set in 2014 with 36,564 participants in 22 countries. In 2013, Sun-N-Fun in Naples, Florida, set a Guinness World Record™ for the largest swimming lesson conducted at a single venue with 1,308 participants.
The event, which is supported by over 50 national water safety groups, also has a huge social media presence, with communities, aquatics facilities and more challenging one another for the most participants.