The amount of people that can’t swim will shock you, and it should.

Swimming is a vital life saving skill, but how confident are you in the water? The answer could be life or death.j

By Molly Dalzell | @mollydoesmedia. Illustration by Charlie Smith

Many of us can remember primary school swimming lessons. Those freezing cold mornings in which an entire class would dive (or get pushed) into the local pool. Everyone knows about these mandatory swimming lessons, but how effective are they?

For some people this is the only formal swimming teaching they’ll get. As a competitive swimmer, this pains me as I know what they’re missing. According to The Guardian in 2020, 242 people died due to accidents in water . These tragedies could have been prevented if the victims had been confident swimmers, however these numbers are reduced due to the pandemic. This limited amount of swimming teaching received by children does not prepare them for real life, where anyone can be dragged down by weeds, or caught in a riptide. A swimming pool does not compare to real life situations where the risks and dangers are unknown. 

A 2018 government study revealed that primary schools received ‘extra support’ to “make sure all children can swim confidently and know how to stay safe in and around water”. Despite this, figures indicate that a total of 585 people lost their lives within this year. There are still too many people out there that have not benefited from this improved governmental guidance and will therefore be less confident in water. 

Fear is a massive factor that prevents people from learning to swim. This could be from a traumatic childhood experience, a lack of fitness level or simply less experience and practice. Swimming is a sport that can make people feel uncomfortable and out of their depth, however these fears can be overcome in time through practice and professional teaching.

I spoke to an expectant mother that already has two children. She explained that her eldest has swimming lessons, however her own fears of “something going wrong” prevents her from watching her daughter’s lessons. After researching this, it became aparent that there are many factors that feed this fear.

“It was clear that the biggest barrier keeping families from learning to swim, whether for water safety or exercise, was the need for gender-exclusive opportunities

Dr. Anisa Ibrahim

In 2022, the UK is a multicultural society and we are becoming more open and accepting of different cultures and values. However, the different attitudes towards swimming could be holding some people back from reaching their full potential. Dr. Anisa Ibrahim, a hijab wearing Muslim, explained to Newsroom that many families are held back from swimming as the lack of modest clothing prevents them from joining in. She recommends a very simple solution: gender specific swimming sessions. This would allow many people to feel safer when swimming and could open up a whole new world to them. This could also be beneficial to others and would help to encourage many more to take the plunge. In addition to this, there could also be age-specific lessons to really narrow it down. I spoke to a reluctant swimmer and she believes that she would “very seriously consider going swimming” if these options were widely implemented. 

Another reason that many children fail to become strong swimmers is due to their families’ financial status. Swimming lessons are sometimes put on the backburner in order to put food on the table or to warm a house.

“Three quarters of parents in STA’s survey admitted that they wish they were better swimmers.”


               It is an unacceptable fact that the government is not providing all children with free swimming lessons. I believe doing so would massively improve public opinion towards swimming and would enable many families to give their children opportunities that they would not have otherwise.  A study conducted by the STA, a leading educational charity dedicated to the teaching of swimming, revealed that a third of parents blamed cost when asked why their children are not currently learning to swim. Other reasons included lack of time and the parents’ own fear of the water. They stated that “three quarters of parents in STA’s survey admitted that they wish they were better swimmers.”

An article by Swim England revealed that 14 million adults cannot swim. There should be a promotion in adult swimming lessons and more information out there that will not only encourage but also educate adults about the importance of swimming. Much like other skills, learning to swim is much easier to learn as young as possible. This is due to children not having that fear factor and also due to the fact that babies are not unaccustomed to floating around in a body of water. In fact, babies can naturally float in water with their eyes open for the first 6 months of life. Therefore, when people try to learn as an adult they may feel discouraged as they are not developing their skills quick enough and become frustrated when they haven’t made much improvement.

These figures sadden me as I look back on my past as a swimmer, something that is filled with lifelong friends and comradery at weekly competitions supporting my team. As an adult, I continue to receive the benefits of the sport – whether it be the physical or mental gain – and will ardently motivate all to give it a try. Everyone needs to have confidence to swim; it is an imperative skill. It is not about being the fastest to the wall anymore. It is about saving lives.


Magazine and website celebrating Nottingham's stories.

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