Swimming’s not just a sport, it’s an important life skill

Swimming’s not just a sport, it’s an important life skill
BY Virgin Active South Africa
Posted On 5 January, 2023

The aquatic environment provides a wealth of benefits that can engender a desire for lifelong engagement in physical activity.

Dr Eileen Africa, Courtney van Biljon & Dr Odelia van Stryp of Stellenbosch Kinderkinetics, Department of Sport Science, Stellenbosch University are here to tell us a bit more.

The aquatic environment allows a child to be buoyant which in essence takes the pressure off their joints, creating a feeling of weightlessness, while still allowing them to optimally develop. It in turn, brings calmness to the body, improves a child’s immune system as well as their thermoregulatory mechanism. Swimming offers development and improvement beyond the physical domain. It is also beneficial to the psychological, emotional, cognitive, social domains of a child (Abdullayev & Abdullayeva, 2020).

Physical: Swimming is a low impact sport that provides minimal risk for injury compared to land-based sports (Kim et al., 2018). By ensuring a child is water safe and thereafter learning the different strokes from a young age, benefits one’s physical skills and movements. Children who are water safe automatically feel more confident to play in the water and engage in a variety of activities safely. Moreover, swimming can improve children’s cardiovascular health, physical development, coordination, range of motion, strength, balance and flexibility (Howells & Jarman, 2016; Ardha et al., 2019). According to Abdullayev & Abdullayeva (2020), swimming also enhances blood circulation, improves the vital capacity of the lungs and the respiratory rhythm along with chest mobility.

Psychological: According to Ardha et al. (2019), swimming leads to character development such as discipline in the water; being able to listen and obey the pool rules and the instructions given from the instructor or coach. Furthermore, it contributes to honesty, independence, self-esteem, building confidence, persisting with goals and giving their best, perseverance and diligence (Howells & Jarman, 2016).

Emotional: By introducing water confidence and teaching swim techniques in a calm environment, will aid a child to overcome fears and develop self-confidence and trust (Hedrawan, 2019); giving them a sense of freedom in the water (Hedrawan, 2019; Phytanza & Burhaein, 2019; Olivar, 2019). Therefore, it is necessary to create an optimal atmosphere where a child can connect positivity to their time spent in the water (Olivar, 2019).

Cognitive: Swimming contributes to the cognitive development of children. During the early childhood phase, children start to develop critical thinking in the water as swimming provides opportunities for unintentional academic learning (e.g. mathematics and language) (Jorgensen & Grootenboer, 2011). Participating in water activities can assist a child in the development of linguistic, social, cognitive and physical skills that can support the transition to formal school readiness (Anderson & Rodriguez, 2014).

Social: When a child attends swimming lessons, they engage in social interaction with their peers as well as their instructor. Here children learn from each other by observing and modelling their peers, therefore increasing social interaction, confidence, and their self-esteem. This social environment enhances a child’s ability to play cooperatively which can improve social communication later in life (Howells & Jarman, 2016; Bella, 2019; Hendrawan, 2019).

Tips for parents

– Each child is different and will naturally develop at their own pace.
– Provide your child with the opportunities and space to explore the aquatic environment.
– Educate yourself on the benefits of swimming.
– Be aware that being water confident is not drowning prevention, but it does lower the risk and provides for safer aquatic participation.
– Exposing your child at an early age to the water, allows them to feel safer and confident in and around water later in their lives.
– Trust and enjoy the process.

Swimming at Virgin Active

We have the biggest estate of swimming pools in the country, were water safety and survival skills are taught through learn to swim programmes on offer at the majority of our estate. From babies and toddlers through to teens and adults, we teach thousands of South Africans to swim and stay active every year. Once the basics are mastered, members graduate to solo swimming, squad training, performance coaching within our lap pools and even a bit of floating around in our leisure pools, it’s all good. A Virgin Active kids membership allows children access to our pools, under their parent’s supervision, so go on and find out more about getting your kids in the pool at Virgin Active or book a swim assessment with one of our swim coaches🏊


Abdullayev, F.T. & Abdullayeva, B. P. (2020). Organization of Swimming Lessons in Preschool Institutions. The American Journal of Social Science and Education Innovations. 2(7):322-220.

Anderson, D.I. & Rodriguez, A. (2014). Is there an optimal Age for Learning to Swim? Journal of Motor Learning Development. 2:80-89.

Ardha, M.A.A., Adhe, K.R. & Yang, C.B. (2019). Swimming and Character Development in Early Childhood Education. Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research. 454: 177-181.

Harlow, M., Wolman, L. & Fraser-Thomas, J. (2018). Should toddlers and pre-schoolers participate in organized sport? A scoping review of developmental outcomes associated with young children’s sport participation, International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, DOI: 10.1080/1750984X.2018.1550796.

Hendrawan, D. (2019). Sports Studies Swimming Against the Establishment of Early Childhood Mental: Sports Studies Swimming Against the Establishment of Early Childhood Mental. Journal of Midwifery and Nursing, 2(1), 184-187. Retrieved from https://iocscience.org/ejournal/index.php/JMN/article/view/472

Howells, K. & Jarman, D. (2016). Benefits of Swimming for Young Children.

Jorgensen, R & Grootenboer, P. (2011). Early Years Swimming As new Sites for Early Mathematical Learning. Mathematics: Traditions and [New] Practices. 398-405.

Olivar, A.I.O. (2019). Creativity, Experience, and Reaction: One Magic Formula to Develop Preventive Water Competences. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education. 12(2): 1-17.

Phytanza, D.T.P. & Burhaein, E. (2019). Aquatic Activities as Play Therapy Children Autism Spectrum Disorder. International Journal of Disabilities Sports & Health Sciences. 2(2): 64-71.