Patience

waiting

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Courage

IMG_1792Last summer a young woman contacted me saying that although she could swim she had a fear of deep water. She longed to be able not only to swim out of her depth but also to jump and dive into deep water. We arranged to meet at the local pool that has a deep end, a luxury these days when the cost of heating a large body of water means that so many pools now are a uniform 1.2 metres deep.

She was nervous at first but she was brave and we did a little bit of work on treading water and finally after watching me do it, she plucked up the courage to jump into the three metre part of the pool.

Jumping into deep water is wonderful. After hitting the water, your body travels downwards until the water catches you and sends you back up to the surface with a surprising force. Thousands or maybe millions of tiny bubbles burst on your skin and you can watch them sparkling around you as you travel with them towards the air and the light.

We only had one session at the pool. She was off travelling and didn’t have time for more. I wished her a good journey and that was that I thought. Then a few weeks ago I had a message from her.

I just wanted to write and tell you that- thanks to you: I abseiled down waterfalls and canoed in Vietnam, snorkeled, scuba dived and dark cave swam in Thailand, and even went scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia! I’ve included pictures for you below. Just wanted to thank you again. Without you I wouldn’t have been able to do any of these amazing things!

We only met once, so although she very sweetly says she wouldn’t have been able to do these things without me, in fact she was already brave and full of courage and I just helped her to see it. She has kindly given me permission to post the photos she sent me here.

IMG_8658

 

 

Non-dominant side

I can usually tell whether my swimming pupils are left or right handed. It is almost always the non-dominant side that seems most relaxed and natural. When I show learners new or slightly altered movements it is usually the non-dominant side that performs the movements more naturally. I have not looked into the science behind this but I am guessing it is because the conscious thoughts are less involved in the non-dominant side.

Aquaphobia

Many of my adult learners are frightened of the water that and some even describe themselves as aquaphobic. I have taught one lady who had never been in a swimming pool before, another one had never been in water deeper than her waist. A fright in childhood is very common, some have even come close to drowning.

It seemed to me that these experiences are hard wired into us and that no amount of rational thought can release us from a terror that may have been planted years and years earlier. It is only by re-experiencing the water as non-threatening, that the fears begin to float away.

Fear of water is complicated because on the one hand it is sensible. Water can be dangerous on the other hand we see people happily swimming up and down in the pool, chatting to one another, and it doesn’t look dangerous at all. On the whole, a swimming pool, should not be a dangerous place, yet there are life guards there ready to jump in and save us from death by drowning! Quite scary.

The other irony is that in water it is the fear itself that is most likely to kill us. In order to swim you have to relax and surrender yourself to the water. You can not swim with a tense rigid body. In the warm safe environment of a swimmng pool, it is mainly the thrashing around caused by panic and fear that could result in drowning.

I always say to my pupils,

‘You don’t have to hold on to the water, it is holding on to you. ‘

People often say to me

‘I can’t float.’

But this is almost non-sensical. It’s like saying

‘I can’t obey the laws of gravity.’

Floating is not something you do, it is something that happens to you.