I have been teaching a little six year old girl for several months now. She comes right across London to get to the lesson. I think it takes her parents about an hour and a half to get to me. It is a long drive for a swimming lesson but the parents were in despair of what to do as their daughter had developed a real phobia of water, a deep seated fear and although they had tried with many different swimming lessons, including one to one, the fear seemed to be getting worse.
At the first lesson her whole body was rigid with terror as she approached the water. She was caught in a dilemma: she wanted to be able to swim but her fear was so strong that she could not allow herself to relax and trust either the water, or the adults teaching her.
We started very, very slowly, just walking round the pool, playing with a few toys and talking about her cat. Gradually she was brave enough to walk to the centre of the pool and after a few lessons she could start to let herself float a little bit, with buoyancy aids. She absolutely did not want to put her face in the water, which is more or less a requirement for learning to swim. Just the thought of it was frightening for her.
She was a delightful little girl and did make great progress but the face in the water thing was a real stumbling block, the more I tried, gently, to persuade her to do it the more resistant she became. We had one very frustrating lesson where she seemed not be listening at all and would not engage in even the usual games.
I felt that the reason she was being less cooperative was that she could feel me trying to persuade her too much. I decided to back off completely, never to mention putting her face in the water again and just to play. I worried a bit that the parents would feel they were wasting their time and money on coming all the way across London but I knew it was the only way we were going to keep things moving forward.
‘She will do it eventually’ I thought to myself: almost certain I was right.
With my change of approach she was immediately back to her usual cheery self. She could sense I was not going to push her and she could relax and enjoy being in the water.
When it was time to get out the next little boy climbed down the steps to start his lesson. I focused all my attention on him as he is much younger and can’t put his feet down in the pool where we work.
I glanced very briefly over towards the little girl and to my amazement she had submerged her whole face including eyes nose and mouth into the water . She came up grinning, and did it again, and again.
‘I really like it!’ she said.
She must have been coming to me every week for at least six months nothing I could have done would have persuaded her to put her face in the water before, but when she was ready, she did it.
We were all delighted; me, her parents, the little girl herself. She will be a swimmer now, probably for the rest of her life. It took time and patience, more than even I would have believed, but we got there in the end.
It taught me once again to remember that sometimes, in life, progress is very slow, but that there are things that are worth the wait.