Through the efforts of recreational programs, city pools and large organizations (including USA Swimming), most children, especially those living in warm climates, learn to swim. However, participation in swim clubs and teams has plateaued, with other sports gaining the interest and participation of pre-teen children and their parents. USA swimming wanted to understand the perceived benefits and challenges, from the parents’ point-of-view, of a child’s participation in organized swimming programs.
In Denver and Phoenix, we conducted intercept interviews with parents of recreational and club swimmers. These short interviews took place poolside, with children either splashing around in the pool or working on their strokes as part of an organized swim practice.
With the former, we discussed their perceptions about organized swimming: who participates, availability in local areas, perceived time commitment, benefits for children and comparison of swimming to other organized sport options. With the latter we discussed the overall experience of being a “swim parent” including how that experience compares to other sports their children have tried (or may be actively participating in concurrently with swimming). Importantly, we explored how the parents’ perceptions of swim team were confirmed or adjusted once their children began actively participating and how their children benefitted from joining a swim team.
We learned that many of the benefits of swim team, for children, were unimagined by parents until their children began to actively participate. This was confirmed by talking to many parents of recreational swimmers who were either unaware of swim teams for children or who thought of swim team as a place where kids could get good exercise, but understood few benefits beyond the physical element. Parents of current team swimmers, however, see swim teams as offering a range of benefits for their children beyond the physical. They see swim teams as helping their children develop higher self-esteem, a healthy experience with competition, success in setting and meeting goals, a sense of improvement and the overall benefit of competing both as an individual and as part of a team. These findings are expected to be implemented across a variety of USA Swimming platforms and programs.