Coach Elvin Foreman is the Head Coach Elite Rays Swim Club and the Head Coach of the Fort Washington Sharks. Coach Foreman was our daughter’s first swim coach in the U.S. after living overseas for 2 years. He and his assistant coaches guided our family through the, sometimes intimidating, world of competitive swimming. Although we have switched teams a few times to find the right fit for our family, Coach Elvin remains interested in our daughter’s progress and we see him frequently cheering for her at swim meets. As the black swim community is very tight knit we consider Coach Elvin as part of our family and it was an honor to interview him as the first coach featured on BlackKidsSwim.com.
BKS: How were you first introduced to the sport of swimming?
EF: When I was nine years old I started swimming with DC parks and recreation. When I turned 11 I began swimming year round.
BKS: Did you earn an athletic scholarship to college through swimming?
EF: No, I earned a full academic scholarship to the University of Maryland College Park. My freshman year my grades dropped. My mom realized that my problem was too much free time. Without the physical and time demands of swim practice I felt like I had all the time in the world and was not prioritizing my classes and assignments. So, I walked on to the swim team and later switched to water polo. Swimming gave me a schedule. It kept me focused and busy. Returning to a team helped my social life and my grades.
BKS: When did you start coaching?
EF: I started as a high school assistant coach in Prince George’s County Maryland public schools. Later, I was promoted to head coach and I did that for 7 years. I enjoyed coaching for Friendly, Suitland and Crossland high schools. I was also a summer league coach for Prince Mont swim league. Sometimes kids join the high school swim team with basic swim skills and you spend a lot of time teaching them how to swim instead of developing existing swim skills. But my favorite part of coaching is taking a child who knows nothing about swimming (and has no interest in the sport) and turning them into a swimmer and then sending a responsible adult off to college. I love helping kids do something they thought they’d never be able to do.
BKS: 70% of African American children don’t know how to swim. Black kids drown more often than any other race in the United States. How do you react to these statements?
EF: It bothers me. And, I don’t know how accurate or true those statements are. I do know that it’s hard in some inner city neighborhoods to get kids interested in swimming. Sometimes kids like to play in the pool – but it s a very different thing to be on a swim team. Sometimes kids don’t have access to a pool and others don’t have the funds to pay the swim club fees. Unfortunately there are parents who don’t know how to swim and they are afraid for their children so they don’t encourage them to try the sport. Also, swimming isn’t really a money making sport. Unlike basketball, football, and track; it’s rare to make a living from swimming. When I was growing up I knew a lot of talented swimmers. And they were my role models. And swimming was free when i was a kid – that’s no longer the case.
BKS: How do you think we can address this issue?
EF: We need more pools in areas where black people live. For instance, the state of Virginia has pools everywhere so there is easier access to the sport. VA Park and Planning offers swim lessons. And these lessons are much more than just teaching kids how to stay afloat and avoid drowning. They are teaching strokes and technique. We need to teach our kids how to swim across the pool not just survive in the water.
Prince George’s County Maryland doesn’t have a lot of large indoor pools – at least not when compared to counties in VA. We can address the issue by building more pools that can be used for serious swimming. Many of Prince George’s county pools are too small or too shallow to host real swim meets. Unfortunately, outdoor pools in black neighborhoods are built for fun – to cool off during the summer. They are not the right length or depth for serious swimming.
In Washington D.C. there are a lot of pools that go unused because the children don’t go or because there are no available instructors.
BKS: What can we do to help more black kids swim?
EF: Add swimming to the school system so that all children can be introduced to proper instruction at an early age. It should be a part of the school’s physical education curriculum – and it should be free. If we are losing lives because children can’t swim then it’s important enough to be a mandatory skill. In Charles county there are 3 high schools with pools. No school in Prince George’s County has a pool. Things have to change, and I think that change should begin in the school system.
BlackKidsSwim.com applauds black children who swim and encourages black children to join the sport. We want to make the sport of swimming ‘cool’ for black kids.
EF: That’s important. Track, basketball and football bring in money, and kids see these sports as cool – so those sports are pushed harder than swimming. If swimming were perceived as cool then more kids would gravitate towards it naturally.
BKS: Do you have any advice for parents?
EF: First look into swim lessons for your children. If they like it, then try to find a swim program that can develop your child’s abilities. And it doesn’t have to be a traditional swim team. Any sport that requires swimming – water polo, surfing, anything – will work. Children benefit from knowing how to swim properly. It opens doors to a variety of opportunities and life experiences. If you don’t know how to swim how will you feel comfortable going water skiing, surfing or scuba diving?
BKS: Do you have any advice for young swimmers?
EF: Kids have to ask themselves if this is something they really want. There is a price to pay: lots of hard work and dedication. But if you want it, it’s there for you. Either way, it is important to learn how to swim.
Coach Elvin Foreman is the Head Coach of Elite Rays Swim Club. The club holds practices at several locations including Prince George’s Community College in Largo MD, Allentown SplashPark Pool in Ft. Washington MD, and Providence Recreation Center in Falls Church VA.
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