Strengthening Our Swimmers: Insight of a Black Female Swimmer. By: Coach KailahShawn Slevin
Photo of Coach Kailah
I have been a participant of the Swim Strong Foundation since I was still perfecting my own swimming techniques. However, through my training and dedication, I was able to become a swimming coach and gain experience in teaching various ages of students at various swimming levels. While I was younger and training under the head instructor, Shawn Slevin, I never fully understood the opportunity in which the foundation gave historically disparaged groups of people until I became an instructor. As a student, I was able to have access to better facilities, equipment, and training experiences while staying within diverse communities to outreach those who may not be able to normally get these opportunities compared to other privileged counterparts.
There is a history of a political system that kept minorities disadvantaged relative to their white counterparts, so they were not able to attain the same opportunities. Segregation affected public facilities such as pools and beaches, causing other minorities to be limited to lower-quality facilities compared to their white counterparts. As a result, segregation discouraged minorities to utilize these facilities like pools and beaches thus causing a cycle of minorities to be uneducated in water safety. From this period in history, there has been little to no representation of African American swimmers, especially Black female swimmers. I knew of segregation from what they taught me in school when I was younger, but I never realized how much of an impact it had on the modern era, let alone in swimming. As of today, younger kids can look up to Simone Manuel, a Black female swimmer at the forefront of the sport, yet when I started my swimming journey, I did not hear about Black swimmers at that time like Lia Neal or Alia Atkinson but constantly heard about Micheal Phelps, Ryan Lochte, and Katie Ledecky. Although I was in awe at their talent in the water, I didn’t resonate with those swimmers simply because they did not look like me. While I as a female Black swimmer am still a minority within the swimming community, the Swim Strong Foundation educates other minorities on water safety, to bridge the gap created by systematic oppression and creating more opportunities of representation for swimmers of color.
As a student in Swim Strong Foundation, I came from a Parks and Recreation Department team which was a good introduction into the realm of competitive swimming but did not have the facilities needed to push me to the next level. However, Swim Strong Foundation propelled me in my swimming experience due to the training I received, thus causing me to become better in tune with my body and confidence as a swimmer. One of my most notable experiences with Swim Strong Foundation was when a camera crew that did swimming analytics came to one of my practices. I always remembered seeing the underwater cameras studying Olympians and having commentary on their magnificent technique, so for a camera crew to analyze my swimming underwater made me feel like an Olympian myself and was a source of motivation for me to continue to work on my technique and become a better swimmer. Before that experience, I never thought I would have that I would even be close to sharing the same training methods as a professional swimmer just because of the facilities I have trained in before. I thought “those things wouldn’t happen to me, I don’t have the money and this doesn’t happen for people like me”.
However my years of training with coach Shawn Slevin taught me otherwise. I was granted the opportunity to take on the responsibility of becoming an instructor. I learned how to teach younger children and toddlers how to swim, techniques to gain confidence and comfort in the water, and methods their parents can use to progress their children’s swimming. Through that training, I was able to learn patience, how to deal with children of different ages and understand the enjoyment of observing progress in my students. I currently teach advanced material and create drills and lesson plans to implement during practices. Through my coaching experiences, I saw more minority swimmers breaking stereotypes and stigma that once held our predecessors back. To see more representation as an older swimmer made me even more proud to be a Black female swimmer, and it was easier to gain a connection with my students that I did not have with my white teammates and coaches because I looked like them. To be in the shoes of a student and now a coach has broadened my perspective and feels like I can reach one of my students with the same knowledge that I obtained from my journey in swimming with the hopes of them carrying it on to others within their community.
Kailah Hyndman is a Coach at Swim Strong Foundation She has been competing for a Brooklyn based swim team for the past 7 years. She can be reached by email: email@example.com