This is an excerpt from Complete Guide to Primary Swimming by John Lawton.
Where to Start: A Few Guiding Thoughts
As you begin your swimming programme, it is useful to establish a few principles that help you to formulate your ideas on how to approach the task in hand. The thoughts detailed in this section were developed as a result of many years of experience of teaching swimming to a wide variety of participants. Use them as a starting point to help develop your own personal guiding principles. As you gain experience and your teaching approach evolves, you can adjust your principles to evolve with you.
Doing the Ground Work
Many teachers of swimming attempt to teach people to swim before they are ready. Often learners are pressured to quickly perform something that resembles the recognised strokes. Pressure can come from many places, such as from parents or from the limited time available. Everybody involved in the teaching of swimming has a similar aspiration, but the route taken to achieve it can vary considerably. Introducing the formal teaching of strokes too early often has the effect of developing aspects of technique that prevent the learner from swimming effectively and efficiently. Just think about how many times you observe people swimming front crawl with the head out of the water, often moving from side to side as they try desperately to take in oxygen that the body needs. This occurs as a direct result of the swimmer not having fully developed some key underpinning skills.
Floating Is the Key
The very essence of swimming is to float and then to move the arms and the legs. Once a learner can float on the back and the front (with face in the water) without support, the ability to move through the water is relatively simple. Different strokes require different movement
patterns, but they will be easy to develop once floating has been
Being at Ease in the Water
Being at ease in the water is a necessary prerequisite to teaching people to swim. The 10-unit programme outlined in this book has at its heart the development of confidence in, on and under the water. Only when learners have developed the feeling of being at home in the water will they move to the development of effective swimming strokes.
Swimming on the Back
Most learners swim more easily on their backs than on their fronts. For a variety of reasons, some learners require longer to learn the swimming strokes than others. One frequently observed difficulty relates to putting the face in the water and being able to breathe. The 10-unit programme aims to overcome this difficulty, but it takes longer with some learners than with others. Swimming on the back has the advantage of allowing the face to be clear of the water, so breathing can occur almost naturally. Once a learner can float on the back, it is a very short step to developing early movement through the water and a simple progression to swimming backstroke.
Transfer of Skill
Backstroke and front crawl should be taught before breaststroke and butterfly. This is often an area of great debate. Many teachers advocate a multistroke approach, where the learner is introduced to a wide variety of movements of the arms and the legs with the aim of discovering which suits the individual. Then these movements are transferred to the most appropriate strokes. Whilst this approach can be effective, it fails to take full account of the positive transfer of skill from one movement to another. For example, much transfer of skill exists between backstroke and front crawl, but little exists between either of these strokes to breaststroke. In addition, breaststroke is the most technically complex of all of the strokes, requiring a level of coordination that is not required for front crawl or backstroke. Butterfly is technically less complex than breaststroke, but it requires a high degree of coordination and water confidence to be performed effectively.
Swimming aids are often used as a comfort blanket for the teacher rather than an aid for the learner. A wide range of swimming aids are available, and they can make significant contributions to a swimming programme at all stages. Aids such as brightly coloured fish, sinkers, hoops and balls can help to motivate learners and make lessons fun. However, difficulties can occur when flotation aids are used, including traditional floats, arm bands, and woggles (long, cylindrical floats that are sometimes referred to as noodles). Sometimes, the facility dictates that these aids be used in the early stages. For example, if the learners cannot stand up in the pool and no in-the-water support staff are available, armbands may be a necessity for safety reasons whilst learners develop independence. However, this aid is quite different from being an aid to learning to swim. In those circumstances where a shallow water teaching pool or a well-marked shallow section of a main pool is available, this type of aid may not be required.
For example, armbands can result in the learner being vertical in the water, but each of the four recognised strokes requires the learner to be horizontal or close to horizontal. Traditional rectangular floats are often used to help the learner travel across the pool whilst kicking the legs up and down and with the head out of the water. However, front crawl, which this activity is trying to develop, requires the face to be in the water, and as a result the learner's activity will reinforce one of the key actions you are trying to avoid. Front crawl kicking with a float is probably better suited to those who are already competent swimmers but who need to strengthen the leg action.
The ability to swim is based on a number of key skills. These skills include the following:
- Buoyancy and the ability to float
- Balance and the ability to move the body into various positions
- Submersion and breath control
- Relaxation and a feeling of being at home in the water