There will be a lot of fast swimming taking place in August. The U.S. Senior Nationals start next week in Irvine, California, followed by U.S. Junior Nationals. I’ll be there on deck and in the stands, surrounded by SPEED in the form of Brendan Hansen, Aaron Peirsol, Kaitlin Sandeno, Erik Vendt, Michael Phelps, Ian Crocker, and dozens of the nation’s finest swimmers.
Barbara will be in San Francisco next week, surrounded by and competing with the finest Masters swimmers in the World. While the swimming may not be quite so fast as in Irvine, the performances will be no less impressive. Each of these major competitions provides an opportunity to watch true masters at work — showing the result of years of preparation and having a great time in the process.
But even as we all strive toward SPEED, we can’t forget that the athletes who will set world records in the next two weeks were once non-swimmers. Each of us had a first time at the pool. A first time in the deep end. A first time under water. Can you remember the first time you retrieved something from the bottom of the pool? The excitement is ALMOST the equal of swimming a lifetime best, or winning a heat.
This week’s drill honors not the fastest swimmers in the world, but the youngest. As you watch or take part in the swimming events of the next few weeks, take time to remember the other end of the sport, and take time to help a child explore the water. While our goal is speed, we have almost a responsibility to make a path through the water for those that will follow us.
So, let’s check out Kyle (my favorite name by the way), and see what a great job he did as we began to introduce him to the wonderful world of UNDER WATER.
Why Do It:
Learning confidence and comfort in the water at a very young age can lead to a lifetime of joy in the water. It opens up the opportunity to explore any avenue of swimming this young boy decides to choose.
How To Do It:
1. STAY CLOSE. When a child is learning to go under water for the first time, it’s best to ALWAYS remain in contact. This not only gives them a sense of security, but also makes it far less likely that anything will go wrong… like them slipping off a step, and plunging too deep. This is a situation that can have a huge impact on a child, and you want to make sure as little as possible goes unplanned.
2. STAY SHALLOW. This is not only for the swimmer, but also for the teacher. Have your feet FIRMLY planted on the bottom, and stay in a stable position. This way you’ll never have to worry about not being able to support the student should he or she go off balance.
3. GO SLOWLY. No step forward is too small. Don’t rush the process, and start with just the chin, then the mouth, then the nose, then the eyes, then the entire face. Take things a little bit further each lesson, but NEVER rush. You’re setting up a foundation that will last a LIFETIME… no reason you need to get it all done TODAY!
4. USE YOUR EYES. Watch the face of your student carefully. Watch for ANY sense of discomfort or fear. If this happens, move to higher ground without panic, hold them closer to give them security, and speak softly and remain HAPPY! Kids seem to enjoy smiles more than screams (that’s for coaches). Basically… this one is PAY ATTENTION INTENTLY.
5. REWARD. For each step forward, make sure they know you’re proud of them. A reward doesn’t have to be a prize, it can be a ride, a jump, a splash. Whatever you use, use it sparingly, and MAKE the student earn it. They’ll respect you for it, no matter what age.
How To Do It Really Well (the Fine Points):
Patience is KEY in all of this. Working with the youngest kids means you’ve got to have a LOT of it. Then again, it’s important that you understand that time IS on your side in this one. When they’re really young, you’ve got nothing BUT time, so take it slow, hope for little victories, and revel when the big steps come.
This is one place where victories are measured by the size of the smiles you see. That’s it. Of course, there’s that whole safety issue too… but that’s for another article.
(When you work with young swimmers, it’s up to you to establish the boundaries and rules. Explain where they’re allowed to be around the pool area. Explain that they’re allowed to be in those areas ONLY when Mom or Dad or another adult is around. Safety is KEY, and is the first lesson prior to even getting CLOSE to the pool… especially with mobile toddlers and children. Of course, nothing is safer than a good fence with childproof locks… again, we could go on all day stressing safety issues, but it’s THAT important. So, BE CAREFUL!)