Why Swimming Will Never Be a Major Sport (And How We Can Change That)

At the 2014 Club President’s Summit, USA Swimming’s Chief Marketing Officer Matt Farrell put on an enlightening presentation where he primarily discussed the way that non-swimming parents view the sport of competitive swimming.

These are some of the key takeaways from the video (the presentation is at the bottom of the post), as well as some thoughts on each point:

  • Approximately 80% of parents “don’t consider continuing in the sport of swimming for their child after swim lessons.” To say that this is a huge market that is ripe for graduating from lessons to club is an understatement. To even get an additional few percentage points would be a massive influx of new kids at the grass roots level.
  • A surprising fact about swimmers who quit: 86% of swimmers who leave the sport continue to do so in a recreational context afterwards. As Farrell says, it appears to be the experience, and not the sport.
  • The team aspect of swimming isn’t readily apparent for outsiders. Only 16% of non-swimmer parents view swimming as a team endeavor.
  • Swimming has a high entry barrier. Body issues, the bathing suits, the embarrassment of not knowing where you fit in at the beginning, are all strong reasons that hold new participants to the sport back.
  • Non-swimmer parents see dollar signs when they hear about swimming. A year long competitive schedule, travel (especially if you are in a small town!) and lots of meets can add up quickly. In particular with small town clubs, there is a huge cost involved once you get to a competitive level. Summer leagues are one thing, but if you are swimming year round, things get progressively more expensive the better you get. (But really, is this much different than most sports?)
  • The briefs are a problem. A whopping 97% of non-swimmer parents are not comfortable with their sons wearing briefs. (The disapproval sinks to 70% when jammers are involved.) Not too surprising here; I cannot count how many times I was chided (and still am on occasion) by non-swimmer friends for wearing a Speedo. There is a distinct stigma about the swimming brief that is hard to shake among non-swimmer parents and youths.

Watch the full video below. (It’s a quick 30ish minutes; Farrell is an engaging presenter, it will fly by.)

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Olivier Poirier-Leroy Olivier Poirier-Leroy is the founder of YourSwimLog.com. He is an author, former national level swimmer, two-time Olympic Trials qualifier, and swim coach.

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