Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management

Committee Member

Dr. Elizabeth Baldwin, Committee Chair

Committee Member

Dr. Skye Arthur-Banning

Committee Member

Dr. Cynthia Pury

Committee Member

Dr. Brent Hawkins


The mission of any learn-to-swim program is to equip individuals with the skills and confidence to safely participate in water activities. Many of these programs primarily focus on children, but little is known about the effectiveness of these programs with respect to adults. Drowning deaths among adult populations are not as proportionately significant compared to children and adolescents but still equally staggering. Researchers conclude more emphasis should be placed on drowning prevention and evaluation of preexisting physical and psychological conditions that create barriers to swimming and water safety. Not much information currently exist for adults with a serious fear of swimming or water, called Aquaphobia. One of the key difficulties in answering the question of whether or not drowning incidents can be reduced through prevention strategies is to understanding why individuals do not participate in prevention strategies. What constraints do these adults face, external and or psychological? The uniqueness of this particular swim program addresses not just the mechanics but also seeks to identify, examine and overcome preexisting fears or phobias associated with swimming. The purpose of this project was to evaluate an Aquaphobics program by identifying common themes unique to the Aquaphobia phenomenon to assist in transitioning adult non-swimmers to swimmers. This study adopted a pragmatic paradigm, with its focus on solving the problem of loss of life through the largely preventable act of drowning. Both a phenomenological and phenomenography explanation of the data were performed to achieve a deeper understanding of the "essence" of the phenomenon, lived experiences of the non-swimmers and the different ways in which they transition to become confident, or at least comfortable swimmers. The data for this study came from participants in an Aquaphobics program ran from 2013 to 2016. Over the 3 years there have been 117 participants in the program. This study focused on in-depth interviews of 11 participants. It became clear early on that all external barriers, I as the instructor/ researcher was in control over, were removed. Therefore I made this class free, and instructed on a rolling basis, so people could start when they wanted, come when they wanted, for the reason they wanted. There were some people that did not seem to have a phobia of water, more a fear related to an unlearned skill they now wanted for some purpose. The research did reveal that the majority of participants were participating due to a deep fear of water and swimming. Unlike the individuals that were there to improve their swimming ability and did not have a phobia, came, got their skill and left the program, the group that stayed in the program to conquer a fear never left the program for the most and began to build their social lines around other participants. As a programmer this knowledge can help facilitate continued involvement in other recreation programs based on peer motivation. Towards the end of the program many participants expressed an interest to attempt other water related activities and encourage others within their social group to join, for example, padding boarding and scuba diving.



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