Six weeks ago, my wife gave birth to our first child—a baby girl. There are seemingly infinite abilities our daughter needs to develop, starting with lifting her head and tracking moving objects. But as soon as she can, I want her to learn to swim. Learning to swim will make her safer and allow her to access the many benefits associated with being in and around water. But perhaps most importantly, this skill will give her the confidence to believe she can thrive in any environment.
To start, being able to swim reduces the risk of drowning. This is the primary reason why everyone should learn to swim. My daughter is white, but swimming lessons offer the greatest potential benefits for non-white children. Due in part to historical inequities, Black and Hispanic children are less likely to be competent swimmers than white children. And Black children are far more likely to drown at a swimming pool than their white counterparts. Obviously, I want my daughter to be safe in and around water, and learning to swim will go a long way in giving her that protection.
The Benefits of Water
Water safety is especially important because of the many benefits of being in or near water. These benefits include increased clarity of thought and interpersonal connection, reduced anxiety and depression, and improved mood. Whether you’re swimming laps, floating on your back or sitting in a hot tub, water provides a calming, meditative space, and I want my daughter to be able to take advantage of that. Swimming is also a direct reminder that we are physical beings living in an unstable environment. We cannot always control our surroundings. But we can control how we handle ourselves in response to environmental challenges.
Surviving and Thriving
It is this ability to navigate an unforgiving environment that I believe offers swimming’s widest-ranging benefits. Humans aren’t built to survive in water. We have no gills or fins or blowholes. Our bodies aren’t streamlined or buoyant or insulated. Learning to swim is a matter of taking the limited physical tools we possess and deploying them in the most efficient manner possible. It is a lesson, not only in moving through water, but in negotiating all the swells and currents of life.
The immediate outcome of learning to swim is the ability to stay afloat in the water. The secondary outcome is the boost in confidence that comes from surviving and thriving in a place where we do not belong. I do not want my daughter to suffer a preventable injury or death. But I also want her to believe that she can hold her own in any situation, that no matter what life throws at her, she is capable of handling it. As a woman-to-be, I believe it is even more important that she gain this self-assuredness.
Swimming is a lesson, not only in moving through water, but in negotiating all the swells and currents of life.
The Double Lesson of Swimming
As a new parent, it seems that many lessons we teach our children have this two-pronged effect. We teach our children to look both ways before they cross the street so that they can avoid injury, but also so that they can independently explore the world outside their homes. But in swimming, the secondary benefit is inextricably linked with the primary one. The act of swimming can immediately make a child safer and more confident at the same time, whereas crossing the street safely is a key a child can use to unlock future intangible benefits.
I want my daughter to be safe. I want her to be happy and healthy. But beyond that, I want her to be strong and capable and self-reliant and confident in her abilities. I want her to swim because if she can thrive in an environment where she is not designed to survive, the challenges of a classroom, a playing field, a debate stage, an office or an operating room look a little less daunting.