Vimmii came to me a few weeks ago. She told me that she could not swim at all and that she was very frightened of the water. Here she is during our third lesson. She is continuing to make fantastic progress.
She told me that she had taken I think six different courses of lessons at various different pools in London and abroad. She was in despair of ever learning to swim although it was something she very much wanted to do. One teacher had even told her that she was a hopeless case and would never learn to swim.
I often have new pupils who tell me that they have tried to learn to swim but have given up. Some like Vimmii have tried many times and had lots of lessons with little or no success. I don’t really know what the teachers are doing in these lessons but whatever it is not working. I think that the main barrier for adult learners is fear and it seems that this is the one issue that many teachers do not or cannot address. Learning to swim is not a matter of moving your arms and legs in a particular way, it is about learning how to let go and feel comfortable and in control in the water.
This video is of Vimmii’s third lesson with me. She is 49. It turns out she could swim after all, just no-one had shown her how.
Last 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.
Me swimming (look carefully)
Lapidus, the writing for well being organisation asked me to write a guest blog about the link between writing and swimming.
Here it is.
I have a recurring problem when I am teaching children to swim. I know that to learn to swim they have to first learn to feel completely comfortable and confident in the water. They have to not mind if their faces are totally submerged and they have to understand and enjoy the sensation of floating in the water. This can take quite some time, especially if for whatever reason, they are a bit frightened to begin with. This is fine, but the parents, who are paying for the lessons, often want the children to learn ‘proper’ swimming strokes as soon as possible. I believe that the strokes themselves don’t matter to begin with, and in fact the more you try to teach the children the proper strokes the more you interrupt the natural learning process. This means that I have to make it look like I am teaching them to kick their legs or whatever, when in fact I am letting them discover for themselves the sensation of moving through the water.
I have two children in one of my classes, a brother and sister, aged about 3 and 4, who are doing really well. They can swim under the water, jump in, float etc etc. Luckily I have not had to teach them any formal strokes yet and their mother seems to accept my methods. The other day the little boy was floating on his back, totally relaxed, just lying there for ages, pretending to be an astronaut. After some time he allowed his body to tip over very gently until he rolled over in the water like a little puppy falling out of it’s basket. He was completely out of his depth but he trusted me to pick him up if he needed help. In fact he gently steered himself towards the side of the pool that was about a metre away. He was totally at ease with himself and his body and in the water. I know that as long as no one disturbs the process he will be a swimmer all his life.
Me and Mum practising a bit of backstroke. I am impressed by how glamorous she manages to look at all times.
Many dogs seem to have a natural affinity with water, and I believe that all dogs can swim, even if some prefer not to. When I was a child our dog used to love to swim in the Thames. We would throw sticks into the river for her to fetch but if we accidentally threw them too far, where the current was too strong, she always knew when to give up and turn round. She knew the limits of how far out she could swim and still get back to the bank. She never got it wrong, and never seemed to be in any kind of danger no matter how fast the river was flowing. At the time I took this for granted and never gave it a second thought but now it seems quite remarkable.
The photo here is not of my dog but of a dear friend’s dog Pintga happily swimming in a river in France where she lives.
I am excited because The Guardian have published my article about fear of the water on their swimming blog. Thank you to my students who gave me permission to use their stories.
Photo by Mark Tipple
‘For me a convenient place to work is a remote place among strangers where there is good swimming. ‘
Tennesee Williams writing on ‘The Catastrophe of Success’ in the New York Times November 1947
To read the whole article click here