Free swimming lessons for young league players

Photo: File image
Photo: File image
New Zealand's high drowning figures have prompted Canterbury Rugby League to offer free swimming lessons for children.

The programme is a collaboration between CRL and UP Foundation, which helps families participate in community activities by putting on free events.

The initiative come as Water Safety New Zealand reported there were 90 preventable drownings across the country in 2023, higher than the 10-year annual average of 82.

Of those deaths, 83 per cent were male and 58 per cent were over the age of 45. There was also a spike in incidents involving under-5s with eight preventable drownings, three more than the 10-year average of five.

Said CRL chief executive Malcolm Humm: "The initiative is based around Water Safety New Zealand’s annual drowning statistics, where the data is clear that Māori and Pasifika are over-represented in preventable drownings.

"As a sport where 75 per cent of its membership is from the Māori or Pasifika community, Canterbury Rugby League believes we have a responsibility to support our rugby league community in learning life skills and keeping our people safe."

Any eight-year-old registered with a CRL club this year will receive free swimming lessons during terms 2 and 3. The programme has been extended to nine-year-olds in some areas and at smaller clubs.

The initiative will also allow eight-year-olds to move to free swimming lessons as nine-year-olds in 2025 when the next group of eight-year-olds come through. 

The programme is supported by the Waimakariri and Selwyn district councils and Christchurch City Council.

"This programme also aligns with our 2023-26 Strategic Plan, where a key goal is that ‘our membership develops holistically through the support of CRL personal development programmes’,” Humm said.

"We recognise that, yes, we are the sport of rugby league, and we deliver as such – however, we have a wider responsibility to support and enhance the lives of our people. This initiative is very much in line with this goal.

“Having UP Foundation support CRL’s campaign to get this under way has been significant – without them this wouldn’t be able to happen. We also acknowledge the support of Rata Foundation, who have supported both Canterbury Rugby League and UP Foundation to deliver free swimming lessons to our community.”

The goal is for every kid playing rugby league in Canterbury to have access to free swimming lessons."

When asked about clubs’ uptake of the opportunity, Humm said they have jumped at the chance and see it as a real benefit to their membership.

Humm said as well as equipping youngsters with potentially life-saving skills, the initiative could also lead to vocational opportunities in the future, including roles as swim instructors and lifeguards.