About black people learning to swim

Of course black people can swim. So why discuss it? Every week we get an email from our web hosting company with a graph and a list of popular search terms. Amazingly, over 50 per cent of people who come to the Swimming Without Stress website for the first time are searching one of these terms:

1. can black people swim

2. black people swimming

3. black people can’t swim

4. why can’t black people swim

5. black swimmers

Black kids learn to swim just the same as white kids.

Black women learn to swim just the same as white women, often more easily.  How much fear of water you have determines how quickly you progress and black people tend to have less, as I’ll explain.

Learning to swim is all about relaxing in the water. White adult non-swimmers often didn’t learn to swim as children because lessons didn’t cater for their particular individual needs, possibly related to balance and reflex problems their teachers didn’t understand. The ‘sink or swim’ approach didn’t work for them. So white non-swimmers who come to us are often quite fearful of the whole learning to swim business, like they were as kids. Black people who come to us on the other hand don’t tend to have problems with fear of water, they just never learnt to swim as kids. This does tend to be a UK thing.

One thing I would say based on my own experience of teaching adults is that young muscular men are the least buoyant group. Black men do tend to be more muscular than anyone else so floating without doing anything can lead to total sinking. But this is fun and in no way means you can’t learn to swim.

Women float better than men. Virtually all men, when lying face down in the water and doing nothing, will soon find their legs start to sink. So men in deep water will tend to float vertically, not horizontally. Black men learning will often, when relaxed enough to experiment, find that, when doing nothing, everything slowly sinks to the floor, including the head. But because the legs sink first, and the head and chest sink slowly, this is an enjoyable experience, not anything to fear. As a starting point, it’s always good to find out what happens when you do nothing, rather than to try and avoid sinking or to feel you have to do something to make yourself float, like for example, stretching everything out to make a star shape. Let it all go and see what happens!

So, letting yourself sink is fun. But what about swimming? If you’re someone who, when doing nothing, sinks, you still need to relax into the water when swimming (tensing up never works) but at the same time you have to do just enough to keep yourself moving forward. Any man who has learnt to swim on the back knows this. You lie back in the water and your legs start to sink. You’ve got to do something with the legs fairly quickly or they’ll drag you down and you’ll have to start again. All of us have to learn to direct ourselves and move through the water. It’s a bit like learning to ride a bike.

But this is all good fun, none of it needs to be stressful. And yes, of course black people, all black people, can swim. If you’re an adult non-swimmer though, the first step is learning to relax and enjoy being in the water, playing around in the water, which ideally you would have done as a kid.  

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