How Learning to Swim has Changed Since the 60’s

There is a famous scene in the 1953 John Wayne movie “Hondo” where he encounters a six-year-old boy fishing. Upon learning the boy can’t swim, The Duke takes it upon himself to remedy the situation in the most direct way possible—throwing the boy into the water.

Today we know throwing a child like a sack of potatoes into water is a bad idea – what’s funny in movies could cause physical harm or actually make a child more afraid of water. But in the days before the science of swimming was well figured out – and before the extreme safety risks of not knowing how to swim were understood – learning to swim was a haphazard affair, often taught casually by a family member during a trip to the beach or maybe a short session with a life jacket on at the community pool. As a result, many baby boomers and even Gen X parents never learned to swim properly.

Making things better for the next generation

As the science of swimming and teaching kids how to swim has evolved, parents and grandparents are recognizing the opportunity to give their children and grandchildren a gift they themselves may have lacked: the ability to swim.

Dedicated swimming lessons have been around since the early 1900s, but for much of this time they were either private lessons, or group lessons put on by local community groups. These options continue today and are a good fit for many families. More recently, professional swim schools like Foss Swim School have emerged, putting additional resources into developing:

  • Thorough, comprehensive curriculum, which in the case of FOSS has now been refined and validated over 25 years
  • Instructors with extensive training as educators, not just the technical aspects of swimming
  • Purpose-built teaching pools and facilities that are set up just for learning and that make the family experience more enjoyable
  • Advanced water and air filtration, which has undergone its own technological revolution, for health and safety

Coupled with a recognition that swimming is meant to be fun, kids today have an opportunity to become competent, confident swimmers in ways previous generations rarely did.

Swimming opens more doors than ever

It’s not just swimming lessons that have improved. A number of trends in recent decades show that more people are swimming for health, competition and fun.

  • More public pools: There are now 300,000 public swimming pools in the U.S. The construction boom began in the 1960s when there was a major investment in public and community recreational space. Today, in addition to public pools, there are more health clubs featuring pools than ever before.
  • More private pools: The boom in homes with pools began in the 1950s with the suburban housing boom and continues to this day; there are over 10 million residential pools in the U.S. today. Between public and private pools, our children and grandchildren will have more access to pools than generations before.
  • Expanding interest in swim teams: High school and college swim team participation continues to grow. High schools have seen a rapid increase in interest lately, and Division 1 colleges have added many swimming programs over the past decade – 91 for men and 77 for women.
  • Demonstrated advantages for swimmers: Swimming popularity has grown at the same time as several studies have shown correlations between learning to swim – especially at a young age – and improved cognitive, social and emotional growth.


More than a skill – a lifelong gift

At FOSS, our founders Jon and Susan Foss are parents as well as swim educators. So we take a broad view of swimming and how it changes lives – not only improving safety and well-being, but as a source of fun and healthy activity. Even better, it is an activity that brings families together. And what better gift is there than that? We hope your family finds a way to enjoy the gift of swimming too! See you at the pool!
Photo Credit: Bill Stevens Creative Commons

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