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Gould: Learning to swim in rivers, lakes will save lives

Gould: Learning to swim in rivers, lakes will save lives
April 12, 2010

Swimming legend Shane Gould believes that swimming lessons for high school students should take place in lakes and rivers to reduce the number of people who drown in them.

The multiple Olympic gold medallist says secondary school swimming lessons should take place in natural environments instead of the local public pool, to reduce the incidence of people drowning in lakes and rivers.

If it was not possible for a school to hold lessons in a natural environment, public swimming pools should be designed to mimic nature - with sloping banks, slippery uneven floors, rocks, overhangs and moving water.

Gould (pictured), who has spent more than 40 hours interviewing and observing 30 adolescents in four swimming pools in Tasmania as part of a masters thesis at the University of Tasmania, also says the role of public pools should be reconsidered as not just places where people swim laps, but as social hubs that foster community connections.

In an interview with The Age before this week's Healthy Parks Healthy People conference in Melbourne, Gould said most drownings of people over the age of five did not occur at public swimming pools but in lakes and rivers and beaches. This is because many people have not had swimming lessons in water that is not static.

Gould explained that "kids need to have more compulsory lessons in high school, so the swimming lessons consolidate what they might have learnt when they are 10 or 11.

"But then they need to go to natural environments, like the river or a lake or a beach, and swim in those locations as part of their swimming lessons.

"If a class had 10 lessons, maybe three of those could be in a natural location."

Gould said some schools already simulated boating accidents in a safe controlled environment while the children were wearing life jackets. The children had to get out of the boat and back to âshoreâ. She believes that more lessons like this might help save lives, adding "one of the ultimate social tragedies is an accident like drowning."

Gould believes that public pools are often designed more for serious lap swimmers rather than catering to adolescents who want to use their local pool as a meeting point with friends.

Her interviews with adolescents found that most of them went to the pool to meet friends and have fun, leading her to conclude "every swimming pool is hoping that one day a Shane Gould or a Grant Hackett or an Ian Thorpe will walk through the door and be swimming around their swimming pool and become the next golden fish (but) adolescent (and) play swimmers aren't being catered to."

For more information on the Healthy Parks Healthy People conference go to



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