Exercise Science | Health and Physical Education | Kinesiology | Leisure Studies | Other Rehabilitation and Therapy | Public Health | Sports Sciences | Sports Studies


Drowning represents a leading cause of unintentional deaths among children. Concomitantly, while formal swim instruction often incorporates water safety practices, the efficacy of these messages remains largely unexplored. This qualitative-based study sought to evaluate how youth apply learned water safety concepts when posed with a hypothetical aquatic scenario. Semi-structured interviews, augmented by use of a visual illustration prompt, were conducted with 29 participants of a youth Learn-to-Swim (LTS) program. Interviews assessed participants’ expressed water safety behaviors and were coded based on emergent themes. Findings indicated that most participants were able to identify a “struggling” swimmer in the dramatized illustration. When questioned regarding their hypothetical behavioral response to that swimmer in trouble, participants ultimately yielded appropriate behaviors (e.g., extending one’s reach) with prompting, revealing they would eventually enter the water. Additionally, participants also frequently mis-conceptualized or reported hesitancy in other behaviors; for instance, “calling” for help was sometimes misinterpreted to exclude contacting 911. Results also indicated that other sources, such as television, were important sources of water safety knowledge among participants and that relationships with social agents played a role in water safety messaging. Given these results, LTS programs and public health agencies should work to further improve the prioritization, practice, and communication of water safety behaviors.