Overcoming The Fear of Swimming
Many people are afraid of the water, and this fear, is what keeps many from learning to swim. Some have had scary experiences, like almost drowning or being pushed in the water without knowing how to swim. Even if you are not afraid of the water, and it seems irrational, it is very real for people who have this fear. Never throw a child into a pool and expect them to just automatically swim, this will traumatize them and may make it even harder for them to learn in the future.
We teach children and adults who are afraid of the water with a compassionate and factual approach. We start at the shallow end of the pool, at the stairs or at the shoreline if we are teaching at the ocean. Next, we begin with straight leg kicks in a sitting position and transition onto the belly, supporting the swimmer in shallow water while they kick. As confidence builds we add a pool noodle and have the student practice kicking across the shallow water, supported by an instructor, until they feel comfortable enough to kick across the pool with the pool noodle unsupported. We invite the student to get their face wet on the stairs, to put their face, including eyes and forehead underwater in shallow water next to the instructor. We practice holding our breath and blowing bubbles out while underwater until they feel comfortable. One step at a time, and we repeat daily as we add on new skills.
Because our bodies are made up of water, around 80%, we are very buoyant. When the body position displaces more water than their own weight, the swimmer will float. The same way that large ships can float on top of the water, our bodies if put in the correct horizontal position, can also float. We teach our students how to float on their backs, relaxing with deep breaths, head back with ears underwater, chin high to the sky and belly pushed up. Arms open, legs relaxed and feet can be underwater. Learning to float is a very important skill, to aid swimmers when they are tired and need to rest, especially when they are in deep water. Treading water takes a lot of energy and is a more advanced skill, so we encourage learning to float on the back before learning to tread water. We also teach swimmers to float face down with arms stretched out in the "super-hero" pose. This pose helps swimmers understand how buoyant their bodies are, and helps them get over the need to put their feet down while learning to swim.
It's very important to be extra patient with fearful swimmers, and encourage frequent practice and exposure to the water as long as they need to feel comfortable. Many parents get frustrated when it takes their child longer than some to learn to swim. We recommend practicing swim skills together with your child, children watch and copy everything parents do, so demonstrate and encourage them to show you what they have learned and praise them each time they try. Everyone has their own timeline when it comes to swimming. People who grow up surrounded by family members who swim, and are exposed to pools and the ocean from a young age, tend to learn faster because they are more comfortable and familiar. Alternatively, people who have had negative experiences or non-swimmers in their immediate families may take longer to learn to swim. We believe that swimming is a life-saving skill that everyone should learn and have patient, compassionate instructors who are here to teach and support them on their journey.