Noelle Singleton: The Coach with the Fro
Tell us about your background in aquatics. How long have you been involved in Love Swim Coaching?
Aquatics have always been a part of my life. As of 2016, it became my life. I have been a certified lifeguard and water safety instructor for 14 years. I have been teaching swim lessons since I was 15 years old. I used to teach for free. I was going to the pool anyway and if you wanted to learn, I would teach you. I didn’t know I had a gift until some of my clients brought it to my attention. I have the ability to calm people in the water. I work with students who are afraid of water. The students may have phobias, injuries; anxiety and most importantly don’t trust the water. Most people who don’t normally trust other people put their trust in me. In March of 2016, I left my job in healthcare, and created Love Swim Coaching by April. The rest is history in the making and a work in progress.
What are some of the major stereotypes of swimming when it comes to African Americans?
Some of the biggest stereotypes I hear often:
· Black people sink because their bones have more density.
· Black people are not buoyant
· Black people “don’t do water”
· Black women don’t want to get their hair wet
· Black people don’t swim.
These generalizations and stereotypes cause so much damage as they place people into a mental prison and the only thing that can release them is knowledge. There is a negative story line within the United States that explains the reason behind why 70% of African Americans don’t know how to swim. Not knowing HOW to do something is not the same as NOT doing something. Knowledge is power and the ability to use knowledge is wisdom. You can’t stereotype person when they know who they are.
What was the deciding moment for you with starting the social media campaign for #AfroSwimmers and how did you come up with the name?
Originally I created the Instagram page for my business, Love Swim Coaching. I noticed that the only hashtags for black swimmers were non-inclusive an outdated. We (black swimmers) are scattered everywhere and it felt very random. There are handles for black girls and not boys or hashtags that still perpetuated stereotypes such as “#blackpeopleswimtoo.” I wanted to create something for everyone that didn’t isolate my cause due to my race and promoted positive images. The purpose of #Afroswimmers is to increase black participation in aquatics by saturating the internet and media with positive images of black people and people of color swimming. I started swimming as an infant, when my parents would take me and my siblings to the pool. It is my hope that every child has this experience and all the opportunities that come with it. Thus, #Afroswimmers became relevant because other people were looking for something like this too. The two most powerful symbols of black unity in America are the fist and the Afro. I use them both daily.
To piggy back on the social media handles. On your Instagram, you posted a video that highlighted the lack of diversity on major swim handles on social media. What makes #Afroswimmers different and how have you managed to connect African American swimmers around the world to share their pictures through your handle?
I created #Afroswimmers to be the window that some people refuse to open. In my research on social media and swim handles, ALL of the major swim accounts are predominately white. Now this is not a shock, African Americans have always been underrepresented in aquatics, but it is an issue when you continue to perpetuate this image as if we aren’t involved. #Afroswimmers is proof that we are here. I spend hours searching the web for amazing people who aren’t afraid to live in their passions. We are coaches, we are triathletes, lifeguards, divers, surfers, water safety instructors, aquatic directors, water polo players, competitive swimmers, Olympians, rowers, open water swimmers, and I find someone new every day. I recently found an underwater pole dancer! How cool is that?? I have Afroswimmers in Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Scotland, Australia, United Kingdom, France, Indonesia, Russia, China, and literally all over the United States. So this leads me to believe that these other accounts just aren’t looking for us. #Afroswimmers will always look for us. That’s what makes it different.
What are challenges that you face as a swim coach when it comes to encouraging children and adults to learning how to swim?
I call this the three C’s of challenges. Commitment, Convenience, and Control. I am constantly meeting people that say they want to learn how to swim, but they don’t act. Some of this is fear, some is financial, but mostly it is an inability to commit to something that is not an obligation. You are the most important person in your life. You must search for your reason to marry your goals and dreams. Secondly, greatness is not convenient. When transforming a non-swimmer into a swimmer, I have to constantly remind my students that no one rolled out of the bed as an Olympian. It takes work and sacrifice. And even if you are just learning the basics, there is cost to everything. What is it worth to you? And my final C is control. When learning to swim, regardless of age, the student must learn to trust the instructor and learn to trust the water. To do this, one must relinquish control of the situation in order to learn how to control their bodies in the water. I have always found that it is easier to teach a child to float rather than an adult. Once I gain the child’s trust, they will attempt any skill I teach them. With adults, they require more reasoning and logic behind each skill and proof that it is possible. Trust your coach, trust the water, and trust yourself.
You use the hashtag #CoachWiththefro in your social media post. As an African American woman, how important is it for you to highlight your healthy natural hair although being involved heavily in swimming.
I am not just a Black Coach. I am a very Black Coach. There are no apologies for being what and who God created me to be. My swimmers started calling me “Coach with the Fro” last summer and I realized that they saw me and my hair while swimming. They saw that wearing my hair as it naturally grows out of my scalp does not change my ability to swim confidently. It is a sad thing when wearing your natural hair is seen as taboo. So not only do I wear it, I teach others how to wear it, and take care of it both in and out of the pool.
What personal short term goals are you setting for yourself and #AfroSwimmers in the new year of 2017? How can people stay connected with you on social media and be a part of your movement?
#Afroswimmers is my baby. I am very protective of her. Every time I set a goal, she surpasses it. We are in the process of incorporating and launching our website. Our main focus is to continue to grow and expand our reach all over the world. We want 2, 000 post on #Afroswimmers by May 2017. And so it shall be. We have an open invitation for sponsors, advertisers, and funding supporters of the #Afroswimmers movement. We encourage everyone to share your swim photos and videos with us on Instagram and Facebook, both recent and old. If you use the hashtag, I will see you and the world will see you too. Black people swim.