When I was in my mid-twenties, I decided to take ballroom dancing. I should tell you, I don’t like dancing. I am never sure what to do with my arms or legs and I feel as though there is a spotlight on me as I flail through space. I went to these lessons without a partner and stumbled through dance moves stepping on the instructors’ toes and bumping into them. I couldn’t practice at home as they suggested because I couldn’t figure out which direction I was supposed to move in class; knowing which way to move at home was hopeless. I never did learn to ballroom dance. I stopped going after four classes.
I have a lot of respect for adults who come to me and want to learn to swim. Sometimes I have adult clients who never learned to swim because they had a bad experience when they were younger; sometimes they never had the opportunity to learn; sometimes they can swim, but have a hard time with the breathing or want to learn better technique; and sometimes I think they feel like there are too many steps to remember them all.
Adults have a tendency to overthink things. Children generally are more willing to just give it a go. Adults want to know exactly where to place their hand, how much to kick, how to breathe, how to not get water up their nose, and how to stay afloat. I have learned, in teaching adults, to break down the elements of swimming into very small parts. Once I had a lady who could kick on her back with a kickboard very well, but when it was time to stop, she didn’t know how. I told her, “Just stand up.” I helped her up and then decided to try it myself. The truth is, you don’t “Just stand up.” You have to tuck your chin, bend forwards at the waist as though you are going to sit down, right yourself by using your arms to push yourself vertical, and then get your feet on the pool bottom. I simply took it for granted because it was something I never “learned.” When teaching adults, a good teacher will break down a skill into parts that a student can practice outside of the lesson time. It must be something a student can remember and something he/she is comfortable practicing. Not everything done during the lesson is safe to practice alone, so a good instructor always make sure the student knows which things they should work on before the next lesson.
Adults who really do want to swim (unlike me in ballroom dancing) and who practice their assigned “homework” on their own, generally learn to swim in a short amount of time.
My mother was a non-swimmer. Really, she could swim, but only in water shallow enough for her to stand. I remember as a child, trying to coax her into the deep end, telling her that swimming in the deep end was exactly the same as swimming in the shallow end. To her it wasn’t. It was not the same because she was afraid. Having never experienced any fear of the water, I couldn’t understand the problem. After many, MANY years of teaching, I have not experienced that fear, but I have learned to work around it and help others overcome it. If my mother were still living, I have no doubt she would be swimming! I hope that any adult who wants to experience the joys and benefits of swimming will have the opportunity to do so (and more staying power than I had in dancing).
Coach Mandi has been teaching and coaching swimmers at the USA, summer league, high school, and Masters