Basics of getting in the swim of things

In a swim program Bill Cleveland previously coached focused on competitive swimming for adults, we had an average of one new swimmer every other week. The challenge was to help these newbies progress from “survival” swimming to competent swimming. It was very common for folks to show up swimming like they are struggling in the jaws of a shark. They often thrash around, moving their bodies as much side to side and up and down as they do moving forward toward the other end of the pool.

Improvement takes time. It takes a good 7 sessions to build the competence of a survival swimmer to being able to complete a length of the pool. The most important challenge is showing up and confronting a quite natural fear of the water. Everyone has fear of the water, or at least should! Turing that fear into a healthy respect is a huge first step.

Once we recognize and work out strategies for overcoming the fear of water, new swimmers have three things to conquer. The first conquest is proper breathing. So many people, including myself, have a healthy recognition that water can be downright dangerous stuff. A lot of effort is made getting comfortable in the water and breathing every 2-3 strokes to avoid the panic associated with held breath. The second conquest tackles head position and body position. With these in the optimal positions, there will be a lot less drag in the water. Last are proper arm and leg mechanics. We usually work on this as the last step for the introductory swimmer since, although they create the motive force, the arms and legs generally are a lot closer to ideal than breathing and head/body position.

Some people think they can learn swimming from a book or through a one-day clinic. This is sort of like saying you will learn how to walk or ride a bike in one day, maybe even learn a musical instrument or play golf. Good luck and if you can do it, you are exceptional. It is really hard to feel what is really happening. So many people focus their attention on what the arms are doing that they don’t think about correcting the more important breathing and head/body position. So please, do yourself a favor. If you are not competent in the water, seek out experienced coaching.

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