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Learn to Swim Without Fear

Take the Plunge

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I recently read an article in the Plain Dealer on how a swimming teacher taught people who are nervous or afraid of the water. I was somewhat surprised at his method of swimming instruction. "He told me to get into the water. His voice had a commanding edge to it, one that had no patience for hesitation or whining or I can't or the water's too cold." Is it surprising therefore that with this kind of teaching children and adults stay away from the water, or they learn to to swim with tension and frantically scramble across to the other side of the pool feeling exhuasted?

More than 25 years ago, I qualified in England as a swimming teacher and since then I have been gaining knowledge to help me in my quest to teach adults with skill, empathy and humor. My understanding of a swimming teacher is they need to have a proficient knowledge of scientific principles, physiology and psychology; coupled with the ability to apply them to the individual is vital. Thoroughly understanding these elements allows the teacher to work within the capabilities of the non-swimmer or swimmer both physically and mentally, adapt the strokes, and achieve a comfort level within every session.

As adults we feel emotions of inadequacy, and this is fully exposed in a swimsuit, so it's important adults feel safe before they can relax and learn. When working with people who have had traumatic experiences they first have to accept their fear, and then they need to learn how to trust themselves in unfamiliar territory. This takes time, patience and understanding from the teacher.

When teaching adults the pace can be slow but must be dictated by the individual or group. The most important skill you need as a teacher is to read the individual's face and body language and have the empathy to know when to be sympathetic and when a little pushing is required.

Before learning to swim it's imperative that the pupil knows the fundamentals of breathing patterns above and under water, floating prone, supine and regaining standing in a calm and balanced way. When these skills have been taught and the pupil is comfortable then swimming strokes can be introduced. Learning a new skill is about being in a relaxed, safe environment, exploring feelings, exploring fears, having fun, and learning how to be at one with the water in a happy, calm and balanced way.

About the Author: Stephanie Dutton is a Specialized Swimming Teacher and works interantionally. She trained as a student with Steven Shaw, who is the founder of the Shaw Method of Swimming in the UK. This new method of swimming applies the principles of the Alexander Technique. The Alexander Technique works on the relationship between the mind and body, helping us to unlearn automatic patterns of thought and action, which can have a detrimental effect on our health and well-being. It helps develop co-ordination, allowing greater ease and freedom of movement.

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