Swim Confident: the new era of Body Confident swimming

30 August 2022
back of female swimmer fixing goggles

Body image concerns are a widespread issue that exist at higher rates in athletes and can have a significant negative impact on mental health. A recent independent review for Swimming Australia confirmed that body image is an issue in the sport, and made several recommendations for change in swimming, particularly in relation to the language around bodies. With the support of NSW Health under the Mental Health Sports Fund, Swimming NSW and Body Confident Collective will partner to deliver evidence-based content and activities to swimming stakeholders under the new initiative Swim Confident to enhance body image, and create long term cultural change.

Swimming NSW is proud to announce a new program designed with health, well-being and empowerment at the forefront of its inception: Swim Confident. With the support of NSW Health under the Mental Health Sports Fund, Swimming NSW is delivering evidence-based educational programming that focuses on improving body image for swimmers, and engaging club volunteers and coaches to create cultural change in relation to the way that bodies are talked about and treated in our sport. 

Research developed by Dr Georgie Buckley, Organisational Manager of Body Confident Collective, demonstrated that 60% of athletes have body image concerns and disordered eating, which is a rate three times higher than the occurrence in non-athletes. Dr Buckley’s research has evidenced negative mental health impacts are particularly prominent in young people and have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns. 

All athletes may experience body image concerns and disordered eating, but research shows that women and girls, and particularly those in aesthetically focused sports such as swimming, are vulnerable. 

BCC’s educational resources are based on years of research and have been developed by experts like Dr Zali Yager and Dr Georgie Buckley, who will actively feature in the roll out of this program. 

“The research developed in my PhD was inspired from my own lived experience in sport, where it shaped and changed my own body image for better and for worse,” said Dr Buckley. 

“I know first hand how important it is to get this research out into the world in a way that is meaningful for coaches, athletes and supporters. The Body Confident Collective Sport Guidelines developed from this body of research will be utilised to guide our whole-organisation approach to transform positive body image environments.”

The team at Body Confident Collective have developed a set of five evidence-based sporting guidelines, as part of their advocacy work, that provide practical recommendations to create safe, inclusive and welcoming body image environments in sport. These guidelines are a fundamental building block of the Swim Confident initiative and will be used to improve the body image and mental health of Swimming NSW’s adolescent and teen members, increase the knowledge and skills of coaches and club officials, and create a shift in the culture of Swimming NSW to provide an ongoing mental health benefit.

Swim Confident educational programming will be delivered to all Swimming NSW stakeholders including coaches, parents, committee members, staff and athletes from the grassroots to high performance arenas, primarily via face-to-face training and webinars. A variety of resources will also be made available for stakeholders to access on the Swimming NSW website.

Another key outcome of Swim Confident is to activate change through youth champions delivering Change Maker projects. Swimming NSW’s Youth Advisory Panel will play an integral role in this program, undergoing training to develop their own Change Maker projects which will result in long term cultural change at their home clubs.

“Body image is a massive part of everyone’s mental health and mental health is key to success and happiness,” said Kyla Brown, a 16 year old swimmer, and Youth Advisory Panel member. 

“This project will help create awareness about the issues (athletes face) with negative body image, help the community of swimming, and provide support for swimmers to feel comfortable in their own body.”

Youth-led activations will be a significant part of the Swim Confident initiative, with 50 young swimmers from around NSW set to be selected to attend Swim Confident Leadership Camps which will empower them to take the messages of body confident sport back to their clubs and communities. 

“We are committed to practically implementing the recommendations from Swimming Australia’s Independent Panel investigation into women and girls’ experiences in our sport,” said Swimming NSW CEO, Mark Heathcote.

“Our partnership with Body Confident Collective, through the Swim Confident initiative, is a priority for Swimming NSW. The long-term outcome of this initiative will be to embed positive body image and wellbeing education across multiple levels of our sport across NSW, to achieve positive mental health outcomes for Swimming NSW members inclusive from grassroots to high performance environments.”

The Mental Health for Sport Grant funding has come at a perfect time for the sport of swimming. In the new era of learning to live with COVID, we need to begin to reverse the negative effects of long lockdowns and encourage people to enjoy the mental health benefits afforded by participating in a safe, positive sporting environment.

Swim Confident Program

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