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How to Encourage an Adult to Learn How to Swim

The best way to support your friend who is learning to swim as an adult is to encourage them, but to also stay in your lane.

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You and your friend are catching up like old times when the conversation turns to your goals for the year ahead. Your friend leans in and whispers: “I think I want to learn how to swim. Is that weird, learning to swim as an adult?”

As a triathlete, this probably makes you happy. After all, swimming is something you do on a regular basis when preparing for races, and who doesn’t want to have some company during those long swim sets? But pay attention to the second part of what your friend said: Is it weird to learn to swim as an adult?

You can reassure your friend that it’s not weird at all—plenty of adults take swim lessons. But there may be more to your friend’s apprehension than simply being an outlier. To best support your friend, it’s important to listen carefully and consider the reasons they might be scared to learn to swim as an adult. Consider this article your secret weapon in helping your friend learn to conquer their fears and accomplish their learn-to-swim goals.

RELATED: A Beginner’s Guide for Learning How to Swim for Triathlon

Why should adults learn to swim?

Why should people learn how to swim? Simply put: It is a life skill. Swimming is the only sport that can save your life. Conversely, not knowing how to swim is detrimental.

In fact, according to the CDC, there are 3,960 drownings every year. That’s an average of 11 deaths per day. If you’re Black or live in a low-income community, the stats are much higher. Black people drown at higher rates than any other race due to a history of discriminatory pool access, which continues to lead to little to no access to pools, and high barriers to entry, like expensive swim classes. As a result, it is not unusual for an adult to not know how to swim. It’s also not unusual for people to seek out swim lessons for adults, even later in life, because they recognize the necessity of this life-saving skill.

But swimming is also fun! Having this skill set in your back pocket opens you to the adventures life has to offer without living in fear. Who knows? After learning to swim, maybe your friend will start to join you for lap swim workouts, or even sign up for their first triathlon with you.

Ask your friend for the reasons why they want to learn to swim. This will help you support them and encourage this new journey of theirs. It will also open the door to asking why they haven’t learned to swim yet, so you can address their concerns and provide the right kind of support. Here are a few reasons why people steer clear of learning how to swim, and how you can help them take the plunge.

Reasons why adults are scared to learn to swim

Too many close calls

Witnessing a drowning, or even experiencing a close call firsthand, can make an individual extremely apprehensive about the thought of dipping their toe in the water. As their support system, say that you hear them and remind them the only way to avoid that circumstance is by taking the swim class.

Body insecurity

While the body positivity movement is going strong, gaining the confidence to wear a swimsuit to swim class is a journey in itself. Your friend may feel uncomfortable about their weight, have an ugly scar, be missing a limb, battling body dysmorphia, or maybe none of the above, but they just don’t feel comfortable wearing a swimsuit in public. Whatever their reason, it is vital to empathize with them. Remind them this doesn’t define them. Encourage them to find swimsuits that accentuate what they love most about their body. From gender-neutral swimwear, like TomBoyX and Beefcake Swimwear, to lines for the everyday person like SwimSuits For All, there are options.

It’s too expensive

As they say, it’s all about the Benjamins. Swimming can be an expensive sport when considering the cost of adult swim lessons and pool memberships. Depending on your friend’s budget, they may say that swim classes are expensive. If that’s the case, ask the swimming facility if they offer discount classes or programs. If you have the means, as a gift, offer to pay for a class or two.

Limited access to pools

Lack of access to pools nearby is a real problem, especially if you are a person of color. Luckily, there’s an app for those who don’t have a municipal pool nearby and/or do not want to pay for a private pool membership: Swimply lets you book a private pool at a person’s home, with rates as low as $20 per hour. As for swim instruction, there are a plethora of companies, like AquaMobile Swim or Sunsational Swim School, where you can hire swim instructors to come to you. (This is not the recommended option for those on a budget.)

Offer to help, but stay in your lane

Conquering your fears is scary. If you see your friend showing signs of backing out, offer to take the class with them. Even if you already know how to swim, being present might help make your friend feel more comfortable and less self-conscious.

However, it’s vital to note there is a clear distinction between  encouragement and force. Be mindful of not pushing too hard, and stay in your lane (pun intended). When your friend tells you what kind of support they need, honor that. Remember, everyone’s journey won’t look the same.

Finding a reputable adult learn-to-swim program

Now that you have the skills and tactics to help your friend or family member conquer their fears, here are a few ways to find reputable and local learn-to-swim programs for adults.

Start with a quick Google search of “local swim programs near me” so you can find swim programs in your area. Community-focused programs, like The YMCA or the Boys and Girls Club, which have been the cornerstones of many communities are a great place to start.

Another great resource in finding local swim programs is heading over to the American Red Cross site. Thanks to their Red Cross Learn To Swim Provider Map, you can find American Red Cross aquatic programs that are offered near you by simply entering your zip code. Consider other swim programs like Saf-T-Swim and British Swim School.

If you plan on attending swim classes with your friend, be sure to do your due diligence and ask questions like: what is the instructor-to-swimmer ratio, what are the refund policies, and do they offer make-up classes? Life happens. Make sure that all your bases are covered and that you get your money’s worth. The average instructor-to-swimmer ratio is one to eight per the American Red Cross, yet it varies across programs. Some aquatic programs don’t offer refund policies, however, they should offer make-up classes in the event you can not attend a class.

Equipment for adult swim lessons

Now that your friend has signed up for their swim classes, here are a few must-haves they should have in their gym bag:

  • Two swim caps
  • A towel
  • Goggles
  • Sandals
  • A comfortable bathing suit
  • A bottle of water

Most pools have a swim cap policy. The reason for having two is in the event the swim cap breaks, you have an extra to spare. Having a towel, goggles, sandals, and a bathing suit or trunks is a no-brainer for swim lessons, but why a bottle of water? Even though you are swimming in the water, that doesn’t take away that you can still get dehydrated. Learning how to swim is a workout in itself!

Do your best, and forget the rest

Now, we’re at the moment you and your loved one have been waiting for: showing up for swim class. As they’re getting ready to start their swim lessons, remind them of one thing: “Do your best, and forget the rest.” When learning a new skill in a group environment, it’s easy to compare yourself to others or beat yourself up for taking a little longer to grasp the skill. Extend yourself grace on this new journey of yours.

Showing up was the hard part. Celebrate that with them! Then go and enjoy the process of learning how to swim as an adult.

Paulana L. Lamonier is the founder of Black People Will Swim, a black-owned and women-owned organization on a mission to smashing the stereotype that Black people don’t swim. Established in Nov. 2019, the organization has been supported by American Express, Adidas, ESSENCE, and a plethora of other brands. Paulana is also a social media strategist and freelance journalist who loves telling compelling stories. She has written for Forbes, Fast Company, Complex, and more.