Concerns are being raised over the dramatic drop in the number of children who took swimming lessons over the past year in Alberta.
Swim lessons at YMCA Calgary have dried up since the start of the pandemic. Only 15 per cent of the usual number of kids attended lessons over the past year.
“It is a concern, absolutely,” said Ken Lima-Coelho, vice-president of marketing and communications for YMCA Calgary.
“Swimming is a life skill. It is a very important part of growing up. The pandemic has put some people behind in learning some of those key skills.”
It’s a concern for the Lifesaving Society of Alberta and Northwest Territories too. It normally provides instruction to around 260,000 people per year. Last year, only 17,000 people took part in its life-saving programs.
“It’s really detrimental that there is a significant portion of the population that hasn’t been able to go through swim lessons in the last year,” said CEO Kelly Carter. “Even from a booster perspective, to sort of refresh their knowledge and their skills, to know how to be safe around water is important.
“It tells us that there is a group of children that are out there right now that haven’t had any of that basic water safety knowledge passed down to them. They haven’t learned basic swim survival skills in regards to how to survive an unexpected fall into water, how to float and how to get back to safety.”
YMCA Calgary won’t be starting lessons until the fall. It needs time to hire and retrain staff, and wants to make sure limited pool spots are available for the general public.
“The reason why we have delayed lessons until fall is partly to give enough opportunities for safe access to water,” said Lima-Coelho at the Remmington YMCA location.
“For instance, if the pool was full of lessons, that would benefit those kids but then there would be a whole bunch of people who couldn’t access the pool, and on a day like this, you want as many kids and families in the pool as possible.”
Carter said municipalities are having difficulties getting trained staff back to provide lessons.
“It’s going to be really difficult for facilities across Alberta to catch up because we are still going through the impacts of the pandemic and reopening,” Carter said.
“There’s a shortage right now of swim instructors and lifeguards that are out there, and that’s mainly due to the fact the majority of them across the province over the last year and a half have been laid off.”
Calgary Outdoor Swimming Pools Association said its lessons are full and will be releasing its August schedule in mid-July.
A city of Calgary spokesperson said lessons at city swimming pools will start on July 3.
“We are offering a reduced number of lessons based on anticipated demand. As demand increases, we will add additional lessons,” the city said.
“We are still in the process of recalling aquatic staff laid off during the recent provincial closures.”