Katrice Rodrigues, 40, works for the Institute of Swimming as a Swim England Tutor, training new swimming teachers up and down the country. Here, Katrice shares with us her swimming journey and the efforts she is taking to make swimming more inclusive and diverse.
Katrice says: “Swimming has always been part of my life. I don’t really remember a time when I didn’t swim. Poolside activities and swimming lessons were a constant of my childhood, first learning to swim and then swimming competitively at my local club.”
Katrice first qualified as a swimming teacher when she was 16 and used her qualification to help fund her university degree. She explains:
“I taught swimming lessons and lifeguarded my way through college. It was great as the flexible hours fitted round my studies, and what was even better was that I was being paid considerably more than my peers doing other ‘typical’ student jobs.
“Although I qualified as an art and design school teacher I never gave up teaching swimming and, ultimately, being a swimming teacher, coach and tutor has become my main job, as I now only do the odd day of supply teaching at school. It’s amazing to think that my childhood hobby has turned into my full-time career.”
Katrice, who is from a mixed ethnic background; her dad is from Jamaica and her mum is white English, says: “Throughout my life of swimming I have always been aware that there weren’t many swimmers or teachers that looked like me. I honestly can’t remember seeing any other black Afro-Caribbean faces when I was competing. Now, as an adult, I’m acutely aware how unrepresented black people are and I know many Afro-Caribbean adults that are terrified of swimming.
“I’m passionate about breaking down barriers and ensuring everyone has access to learning to swim, whatever their background. I am member of the Leicester Black Teachers Group, and I run a Facebook support group called, ‘Black Swim Teachers Network’ for swim teachers and coaches of the black communities including African, Asian and Caribbean. More recently, I am launching a swim group in August called Afro Aquatics in Leicester, which is providing specialist sessions for people from the Afro Caribbean community. Afro Aquatics wants to empower the black community to swim regularly, improve confidence and water safety skills, support each other to maintain wellbeing, as well as saving lives.
“There are many reasons why black people don’t learn to swim and it’s often a generational thing. Parents didn’t learn to swim at pools and so there is no connection to the local leisure centres and pools – sadly this means they often don’t think about swimming lessons for their children either.
“There’s also a lot of issues with the afro hair. The chlorine dries your skin out. Afro hair styling can cost a lot of money, if you get it wet, the hair style is ruined. But there now some hats available to keep big hair dry.
“These types of barriers mean these children are missing out on an essential life skill and opportunities to compete and to work within the aquatics sector. Where are the high achieving Olympic black swimmers? Compare their representation in field athletics; they just don’t exist in swimming and that needs to change. Black swimmers, teachers, coaches and tutors need to be seen. I’ve even been told by other swimming teachers that black people can’t float! Beliefs such as these are deeply ill informed and offensive. That’s why my work is aiming to promote positive role models within aquatics, challenging the negative status quo and tackling stereotypes. This will help people to develop their aquatic skills and / or pursue aquatics to a competitive level, enhancing their career and life opportunities.”