Learning to Swim
For the past three years I have been scratching my head wondering why so many parents have trouble getting their kids to go into the water. My oldest boy was swimming the crawl when he was three and had finished the Red Cross level 4 swim classes when he was 4. I thought “wow! I’m a great teacher!” But no, it wasn’t my teaching. It was that my kid is a natural. I have been slowly discovering just how natural he is because I am in the process of teaching my young son, Alan, to swim. He’s 5 and he has trouble in the water. He likes to splash and play as long as he can touch the bottom or someone is hanging onto him. But, it’s a nightmare to try to get him to float face down by himself; he won’t stick his head in the water (much). I could go and get him involved in swim lessons. That is if he wouldn’t cry bloody murder when I even suggest sending him to a professional. I just don’t have the heart to do it. So, I have taken it upon myself to succeed at this teaching thing no matter how long it takes. I am happy to report that the boy has made admirable progress, but he still is quite timid in the water. This is what I’ve been doing – and I welcome input on the subject. Everyone seems to have their own stories to tell, and most of them are reasonably illuminating.
I have decided that our swimming day is Wednesday. Every Wednesday we go to our local pool and spend an hour playing. My goal here is to acclimatize the boy to the idea that water is a part of life and inevitable. My basic philosophy on most teaching is that when presented with the opportunity to learn, people learn. I want to teach him, but I want to do it at his pace. When he sees that we go to the pool every week then maybe he won’t feel like there is any hurry, thereby making him more relaxed and receptive to instruction. We spend half our time playing and half our time learning. I have experimented with play-time being before learning, and we have also tried making it after the learning. I’ve found that he prefers to get the learning over with first.
I have drawn a comparison in my mind between swimming and climbing. The number one mistake new climbers make is that they neglect the use of their feet to propel themselves up the rock-face. They then get tired quickly and start thinking climbing is an overly difficult sport. In swimming people who do not kick properly get tired quickly, exactly like climbing. Therefore I’ve decided that kicking is priority number one. I put him on the wall and have him kick for a few minutes while I hold his hips level with the surface. This is the area in which he has made the most improvement. On to floating…
I have been successful on a few occasions in getting him to stick his head in the water for a float. But, he still has to see my hands or he panics. He is, however, good at floating while facing up. I’ve seen that because of our practice with kicking that he is able to keep his hips high in the water and maintain air in his lungs for a good float.
Kicking with Head Down
Much like with floating, he can do it as long as my hands are under him and he can see them. Hanging onto the wall is a big help. My ultimate goal is to get him kicking with a kick-board and without me. We aren’t there yet.
Strokes on Dry Land
It looks goofy, but I think it’s working. I remember learning like this when I was a kid so I figure it’s still a technique in use. He is able to combine the strokes with the proper kick nicely. I can’t have him do it in the water yet because that would require enough confidence to attempt it out of sight of my hands. Trust me, I’ve bribed him with candy – nothing.
This is, so far, the end of my story. I have worked out that after I can get him doing a proper stroke (and who knows how long that will take) in the water by himself that I will try some diving rings. He’ll gain confidence with holding his breath and being completely submerged. That is probably the final step before actually refining the stokes and complete independence. We aren’t too far off. I’m happy with our progress so far, and I am learning that swimming, as with all aptitudes, can be either natural or learned. I’m not counting the boy out yet. Who knows? He might surprise everybody and become the next Michael Phelps. Well…