Since it's officially summer now, and many more kids are swimming at the pool, I wanted to take a few moments and review the "basics" of beginning swimmers from an instructor's perspective, and how it applies to real life.
- Fear. The first point to make is that you cannot learn to swim while you are afraid of the water. Whether you are an 18 month old or a 60 year old in my class, we will talk about the water and perform activities to reduce your fear. There are two different methods to eliminate fear, but I've always encourages parents that the best way to remove the fear is to build trust. You might be terrified of going underwater, but if you trust in your parent (or instructor, or God) and take the plunge, you will eventually get it. You might get water up your nose, you might bump your head on something or someone, but you will eventually figure out that going underwater is okay. If you don't trust in that person, you will never go under the water. Something to think about the next time you're afraid. Who should you be trusting?
- Float. This is the second hardest thing to teach a new swimmer. They have to learn about their natural buoyancy in the water. They need to be able to feel when they rise and when they fall. This involves a lot of topics that are difficult for young children to understand (relaxing their muscles, keeping air in their lungs without holding their breath too tightly, and proper form for front and back float). Usually we focus on back floating with young children, or holding on to the side of the pool. I would encourage an adult to try this too, if you have access to a pool this summer. Don't think about it too much, just get in your "floating" position and feel your limbs and body rise up to the surface (the more muscles you have the harder this will be, so use a float device or hold on to the side of the pool or a step if needed). It's an amazing feeling to feel your muscles relax so completely that they rise to the top of the pool. It's also amazing how the tiniest changes in position or breath can cause you to rise and fall. Something to think about the next time you make a "small" decision that's not something you would normally do.
- Kicking and Paddling. These are usually what I focus on after fear and floating (and breath control and water safety, but I usually at least mention these next). The tricky thing about kicking and paddling is that if the kick or paddle is not "effective" it could look impressive and take a lot of energy, but you won't go anywhere. If you are slapping at the top of the water, but your fingers are open and you aren't pulling that water, you won't go anywhere. If your legs are moving up and down or like a bicycle, or even kicking your heels towards your rear end with a sharply bent knee, you won't go anywhere. You need to straighten out, point your toes, and use the bottom and top of your feet to really push the water away. I will often have students sit on the edge of the pool and practice different types of kicks to "race" and see who can "push" a float away from the wall the fastest. Is there an area of your life where you're floundering? Are you working hard and going nowhere? Maybe try looking at what you're doing from a different perspective and try coming at the problem from a slightly different angle (pushing instead of pulling, or working together on a team).
On a final note, water safety is always important in the summer. I won't apply this to real life, but prevention is the # 1 way to keep your kids safe this summer. If it's been awhile or you're at a new pool, go over the basic rules, show them how to enter/exit the water safely and make sure they know where the deep sections are and just as importantly where the shallow ends are so they don't jump off the wall into a 2 foot section of the pool. Make sure there is no running, no glass containers, and bring plenty of water and snacks. Make sure kids and adults know not to go in after a floundering swimmer unless they've been trained (or the swimmer is unconscious), instead grab a towel or noodle and perform a reaching or throwing assist. Enjoy your summer!