The duck ditches that her neighborhood is full of have lost their charm in the meantime. When Mellanie van den Bosse (33) came to live in Hoogeveen in Drenthe ten years ago, all that water still had something atmospheric and friendly. But now, two children later, it mainly reflects the threat of drowning. What if one of her children accidentally ends up in such a ditch?
That fear will last for a while, because even though you can start swimming lessons in the Netherlands at the age of four, her daughter Lauren (6.5 years) has not yet received her diplomas. “Actually, she’s at an age where she could only play outside,” says Van den Bosse, “but because of the ditches we dare not.” Daughter Lauren finally started swimming lessons this week after 13 months on the waiting list. “She loves it.”
Like Lauren, there are estimated to be thousands in the Netherlands. People from the swimming world can not remember that the wait was so long before. Although no records are kept of how long children on average have to wait, a statement of NRC, who had contact with more than ten swimming pools across the country that a year of waiting is no exception.
The shutdowns in the corona era acted as a catalyst. Swimming pools had to close for months, making the waiting list longer and longer. Even before the pandemic, children often had to wait a while before they could start swimming because there were not enough swimming instructors. This shortage has only increased due to the current, even tighter, labor market.
Lauren certainly does not go in seven locks at once. But what happens when a ball rolls in the water?
Lauren, daughter of Mellanie van den Bosse, had been given a lesson at a nearby commercial swimming pool in 2021 until that school suddenly “pulled the plug”. It was a protest against the then mandatory QR code check. About a hundred other children in Hoogeveen had the same problem. “It’s awful,” says Van den Bosse, “by that swimming pool they thought their anti-corona name was more important than child safety.”
Later, she was on a waiting list at a physiotherapy center, which also offered tuition. That swimming pool had to close because the energy costs became too high. They hang like “a sword of Damocles” over the swimming pool industry, says Titus Visser, director of the National Swimming Safety Council, which saw several swimming pools closed for this reason. “We do not know how it will develop yet, but I am very worried.”
It is clear that swimming lessons in the Netherlands prevent deaths. In 1950, nearly three hundred children drowned, now there have been an average of seven on an annual basis for a decade. Meanwhile, as a result of the flood disaster (1953), swimming lessons became commonplace, and school swimming became a part of school life in the 1970s.
In other countries, significantly more children drown than here, at Visser. But the National Swimming Safety Council is concerned: Will deaths rise again now that children are learning to swim later? Some pools raise the age at which children can start swimming lessons from four to five, so the waiting lists seem shorter.
The great need for swimming lessons makes cowboys appear in the industry, Visser states. “Because the job market is tight, there are providers who set the bar lower so you can get unskilled on the edge of the bath.” Some agencies offer one-week instructor courses, after which students can begin teaching. “It’s a concern.”
No legal rule
According to the National Swimming Safety Council, someone must have completed at least one relevant MBO3 training. But an education is not a condition for providing swimming lessons. “In the Netherlands, we have no legal rules when it comes to providing swimming lessons.” A study from the TV show Radar showed that children sometimes get a swimming certificate while they are not yet good at swimming. It is not legally defined what a swimming diploma entails. Visser fears an increase in children with inadequate swimming skills.
As long as there are waiting lists, many swimming pools offer free ‘free hours’ to children who have not yet started classes. It can be quite useful, says Visser. “When children are used to watering, they become ‘water-free’. Then they are no longer afraid of water once they start swimming. “But parents should not think that they can teach their children to swim themselves.” It is a profession. ”
The waiting lists can be knocked out if it is made more attractive to become a swimming instructor, Visser believes. “Employers in the swimming industry are doing everything they can to bind people. Better contracts, attractive terms of employment. But there are still many vacancies. ”
Swimming lessons are especially available for assertive parents who want to invest a lot of time or money. Some people with young children move to swimming pools at a distance of more than an hour’s drive, Van den Bosse notes. She has also heard of expensive “holiday courses”. “During the Christmas holidays, there were parents who had their children completed in two weeks. They were taught for a few hours each day. You can not learn to swim safely that way. “
Lauren is certainly not “in seven locks at once”, says mother Mellanie van den Bosse. But what happens when a ball rolls in the water? Does she follow it out of enthusiasm? ” She continues: “We used to joke with our two-year-old daughter. Maybe we should sign her up for her swimming lessons too.”