Drowning Rates Starting to Increase While Swim Schools Work to Rebuild Capacity

Unfortunately, we are starting to see an increase in drowning numbers. Industry experts have feared that lack of access to swim lessons combined with increased access to pools and use of open water would be a deadly combination. As more and more people purchased pools of all types over the last year, in addition to an increased use of open water with pools not being opened there is inherently an increased risk of drowning. And as the weather heats up and restrictions are being lifted across the country, we are unfortunately starting to see that increase.

According to Total Aquatic Programming’s monthly drowning tracker we started to see the increase in February of 2021 with a total of 79 drownings, as compared to 35 in 2020 and 66 in 2019. That increase has continued with March 2021 seeing 96 drownings as compared to 78 in 2020 and 80 in 2019. The trend in April with 120 drownings as compared to 95 in 2020 and 142 in 2019 is a little better but we are still headed in the wrong direction. Historically May, June, July and August see a significant increase in the number of monthly drownings as more people enjoy summer water activities.

Swim schools across the country have been reopening and slowly increasing capacity while following local guidelines. The challenge now is to hire and train staff to meet the increasing demand as local restrictions are lifted and parents are ready to get kids back in the pool. Prior to the pandemic, swim schools were challenged to find staff to meet the demand for swim lessons. Now faced with having to rebuild a team after months of being closed has proved to be an obstacle to offering the swim lessons needed in communities across the country. Swim schools are competing with other local job opportunities while also working with a smaller pool of applicants currently looking for a job. Increased efforts by swim school owners to attract and retain the quality staff they need has been a focus these last few months. The United States Swim School Association (USSSA) recently released a Hiring Toolkit for USSSA members to provide guidance and best practices to support their efforts.

Swim schools are looking for people that love kids and have a passion for learning. They want individuals who want to help create family memories, build self-confidence and be a role model. It takes a lot of love, a splash of dedication and a lot of passion to unlock the potential within swimmers and help save lives. If you know someone who is looking to make a difference, please encourage them to consider applying at their local swim school. The USSSA Job Board has thousands of opportunities and swim schools provide the training needed to be successful.

Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning and Other Facts Parents Should Know

As a parent there are many things you need to know. How often does your child need a doctor’s check up? When is the best time to start solid foods? How do you properly fit a car seat? When can you move from rear to forward facing? And as kids get older, it still continues. It can be hard to stay on top of it all. 

So with all the demands on parents, it is easy to overlook these important facts. Drowning is the number one cause of accidental death for children under four and it is the second leading cause of accidental death for children under 14. While this information is scary, you can educate yourself to help prevent a tragedy. 

First, a few things to understand about drowning:

  • Drowning is silent, it is NOT like the movies with splashing and screaming.
  • It can happen in an instant. One minute your child is by your side and the next moment they are under water. Nine out of ten drowning deaths happen when a caregiver is supervising but not paying attention. And 77 percent of those involved in a home drowning accident had been missing for no more than five minutes when found in the swimming pool.
  • Drowning happens when you least expect it. 70 percent of drowning victims weren’t expected to be in or near the pool at that time.
  • Drowning does not discriminate. A drowning can happen to anyone, no matter your socioeconomic status or swimming ability.

The good news is, there are steps parents can take to better safeguard their families from drowning:

  • Formal swim lessons between the ages of one and four have been shown to reduce the risk of drowning by 88%. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends swim lessons for all children starting as early as one year of age.
  • Undistracted adult supervision when kids are around or near water is critical. Assign an adult to be a “water watcher” when children are in and around water. At all times the water watcher should be within arms length of non-swimmers.
  • Caregivers should know how to swim and know CPR. CPR started quickly on drowning victims has shown to improve chances of survival as rescue personnel take time to arrive and access the scene.
  • Blow rafts, rings, water wings and floats are NOT safety devices. They have no safety requirements and can fail.  In fact, they can lead parents to have a false sense of security which can actually increase drowning risk.
  • Pools should have complete four-sided isolation fencing with a self-locking gate. Fencing could prevent 50 – 90% of child related drowning events. And don’t leave any toys in the pool area as it can attract the attention of a wandering, curious child.
  • Keep simple but effective lifeguard equipment poolside such as life rings, telescoping poles, shepherd’s crooks or lines with buoys.  Some are as inexpensive as $10 and can prevent a rescuer from getting pulled under creating a double drowning.
  • Wear a US Coast Guard-approved life jacket around open water even if you know how to swim. An injury while swimming in open water could prevent you from being able to swim to safety.

Enjoyment of the water doesn’t have to be scary. There are many great benefits to swimming, including physical health and development, as well as cognitive benefits for our brains and minds. Swimming offers the opportunity to exercise and use all of the parts of the body. Young children learning to swim have demonstrated increased cognitive skills compared to their peers. Swimming is an extremely low-impact activity, so it’s benefits are not just for the young. Swimmers at any age can enjoy stress release and improved quality of sleep. Swimming offers time away from screens and a chance to connect with family and friends, allowing for the development of social skills and meaningful relationships.

There is a lot swimming has to offer each of us. With a little knowledge and planning, you and your family can appreciate a lifetime enjoyment of swimming and water activities.

Parts of this article appeared in the May 27, 2021 Mediaplanet Home Safety and Security insert in the USA TODAY.

Swim Schools are Vital to the Community

The United Nations recently declared July 25th at World Drowning Prevention Day, encouraging all countries to take action to prevent drowning, which has caused over 2.5 million deaths in the past ten years. The World Health Organization (WHO) Global Report from 2014 on Drowning stated that “every hour of every day more than 40 people lose their lives to drowning.” Drowning is a public health crisis.

Strategies to prevent drowning have been identified by many organizations. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) shared in their 2019 updated position statement on Drowning Prevention that “five major interventions are evidence based: 4-sided pool fencing, life jackets, swim lessons, supervision, and lifeguards.”

As identified by the AAP, learning to swim is an important layer of drowning prevention. Learning to swim has been shown to reduce the risk of drowning by 88% if children participate in formal swimming lessons between ages 1 – 4*. With learning to swim being an essential life skill, swim schools play a vital role to their community.

Swim schools offer dedicated services with instructors specifically trained in child development and learn to swim instruction. Many swim schools offer lessons in pools that have been designed specifically for teaching swim to young students. Pool designs include warm water temperatures, pool depths designed specifically for the purpose of swim lessons and facilities with a focus on everyone’s safety.

In addition to the benefits offered for drowning prevention, swim schools provide an opportunity for many other benefits to students and families in the community. Parent and baby participation in infant aquatic programs offer excellent parent bonding opportunities. Small class sizes allow for highly engaging activities in which the learner develops skills through fun, safe interactive programs. Swim lessons also offer a great social opportunity for young children, which for some starting at a young age may be their first group social experience. This social experience can further enhance wellbeing and offer better preparedness for other learning environments. Learning to swim has also been shown to increase cognitive and language development. Young students are exposed to important speech elements and useful concepts like shapes and colors. An as a student continues to work in swim lessons with new words, it can improve their own use of language.

Swimming offers the opportunity to exercise and use all parts of the body. It is an extremely low-impact activity, so its benefits are not just for the young. Swimmers at any age can enjoy stress release and improved quality of sleep. Swimming offers time away from screens and a chance to connect with family and friends, allowing for the development of social skills and meaningful relationships.

With the alarming data around drownings, there is an extreme global need for effective teaching of quality swimming and water safety. Swim schools are an important piece in the puzzle of drowning prevention, making them a vital and essential resource throughout the world and in your own community.

What to Look for When Visiting a Swim School

Learning to swim can reduce the risk of drowning by 88% if children participate in formal swimming lessons between ages 1 – 4*. It can also improve sleep quality, increase cognitive skills development and offer a healthy activity for growing bodies+.

Sounds great, but where do you start? It is important to find a swim school that fits the needs of the student and your family. Here are some things to look for as you search to find that fit.

Look for:

  • developmentally and age appropriate activities and learning
  • positive and fun environment that focuses on the needs of the learner
  • small class sizes for young children and beginners as well as shorter lessons in warm water for young children
  • progressive development with rewards along the way to keep your swimmer motivated and excited to learn, remember learning to swim is a process
  • friendly and helpful staff that is inclusive and strives to meet your family’s needs, one that includes parents in the process
  • safe environment with vigilant supervision by staff with completed background checks, proper use of equipment and water safety training included in lessons
  • well qualified staff with ongoing training
  • clean facility that includes clear, well sanitized water
  • professionalism, including participation in a national association such as the US Swim School Association

Here are some questions you can use to get you started as you visit swim schools in your area:

  1. What is your instructor to child ratio?
  2. How long is each lesson?
  3. How do you determine what level my child should start at?
  4. What tools do you use to keep students motivated and excited to learn?
  5. How often do you review water safety with students and with parents?
  6. What first aid and safety equipment do you have onsite?
  7. Can parents watch the lesson (or if a young child, do the parents participate with the child in the lesson)?
  8. Are all staff over 18 background checked?
  9. How often do instructors receive training? What certifications do instructors hold?
  10. How often is your pool water checked for proper levels to maintain clean water?
  11. What organizations does your swim school participate in?

There are many swim schools that offer year-round lessons, so today is a great day to start your search and get signed up. You can find a list of schools in your area by visiting: https://www.usswimschools.org/find-a-school/


*Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine 2014
+Griffith Study 2013

COVID-19 Impact on Private Swim Schools


It has been quite a year and as we reflect back, the United States Swim School Association took some time to learn from our members the impact this past year has had on their ability to teach swimming.

While about three months was the average time our member swim schools were closed, we still have a handful of schools that remain closed. Those still closed are located in California, Hawaii, Toronto, as well as Arizona, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington and Florida. Some closures are a result of the location of the pool space used by a member, in other words if the location where they held lessons is not open, they have not been able to resume lessons.

One of the most alarming numbers to come out of our survey is the fact that more than 77,500 kids are no longer getting swim lessons. With about 1/3 of our members completing the survey, the actual total is much higher. It does bring to question, what the future holds for drowning rates across the country. Drowning is already the number one cause of accidental death for children 1 to 4 and a leading cause for older youth.

Why are so many not back at lessons? Over 60 percent of schools are still operating at reduced capacities, meaning less lessons are available. We are also seeing a trend among swim schools trying to rebuild and hire new staff. Staff shortages will make it more challenging to rebuild back up to pre-COVID lesson levels.

Schools have also noticed over this last year a significant increase in newly enrolled swimmers. Over 40 percent are seeing 21 – 40 percent of their enrollments coming from new swimmers and nearly 20 percent are seeing 41 – 60 percent new swimmers. We can speculate that as parents looked to find a safer activity for their children, they learned about the safety measures in place at private swim schools, the CDC statement that the virus has not been spread in chlorinated pools and that the air ventilation rates are some of the best for indoor spaces.

Over this past year private swim schools needed to get creative with almost 15 percent offering shorter lessons, but only about half of them are planning to keep the change in place in the future. This year also found an increase in private lessons with nearly 93% offering private lessons. While more than half made no changes to their private lesson rates, a majority of those that did make a change had to increase their rates. Members also added new programs this past year including family swim, swim team, aqua fitness and home lessons. New technology was also added this year including Zoom meetings, check-in kiosks, an app for parents and SpotTV for lesson viewing outside the building.

There were a number of COVID-19 safety protocols added this year, the most popular right now is all staff wearing cloth masks outside the water, all staff wearing face shields in the water and all customers wearing cloth masks in the building. Staff temperature checks at the start of their shift also remains high on the list along with only allowing one adult in the building with the swimmer. We asked our members if there were any of these protocols they planned on keeping in the future, with the top choices being hand sanitizer used upon entry to the building and staggered start times for classes. There are also almost 23% that plan to continue use of the face shields in the water by instructors.

Consistent with earlier surveys, there continues to be almost ZERO cases of COVID-19 being traced to swim schools. With over 53,500 students, instructors and staff involved in weekly swim lessons there have been only 8 cases or 0.014% traced to a swim school.

Swim school owners are resourceful and passionate small business owners. They are working hard each day to serve their communities and offer the lifesaving skill of swimming. They will continue to learn and work to rebuild into an even better swim school than a year ago and USSSA is here to support them every step of the way.

You can review our full survey report here.

And if you are interested in starting a career in learn to swim, you can find our job board here.