- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
"For the past 52 years I have led a satisfying double life, coaching collegians and Olympians in the fine points of competitive swimming and teaching fundamentals to children. If I had to choose between the two, I would say I have derived more satisfaction from working with the youngsters. When I teach a child, I feel I am really helping him three ways at once. When he does his first lap in a pool, a child may be on his way to becoming a champion. But even if he never wins a race, he has learned a form of exercise he can enjoy all his life. Equally important, by learning to swim well he takes the first safe step into skin-diving, water skiing, sailing and the whole worthwhile world of water sports."—MATT MANN
The most pleasant of summer sounds, I think, is that of people—adults and children—laughing, shouting, busily enjoying themselves in the water. It's a happy sound that gets louder by the year, and with another summer upon us, I offer water-minded adults this reminder: as we find more new and different ways to enjoy the water, we are all the more obligated to see that the youngsters know how to swim well so they may safely join us. With this idea in mind, I offer here a guide on how to teach children to swim.
In this issue I present the methods I use for teaching the crawl stroke. It is the stroke a child should first learn, because of the various strokes practiced today it is the most efficient—the best combination of speed and ease in the water. In later issues I will take up the other two strokes—the back-and breaststroke—that are practical for average swimmers.
Before I get into particulars, there are several general points you should consider. If you plan to teach a child, you need first to examine yourself to determine if you are fit for the job. I will repeatedly stress the importance of ease and relaxation and rhythm. If you yourself are not at ease in the water, if you do not swim easily, relaxed, with a reasonable respect for fundamentals, you will do better to turn your pupil over to an experienced instructor.
You may already have taught children by some method of your own, or you may know professional instructors whose techniques differ from those shown on these pages. There is certainly more than one route to competent swimming. No matter what the approach, however, the goal for the beginner is a comfortable and efficient crawl stroke; and the essence of my method is to keep the process simple, direct and enjoyable. I take the pupil on a very direct route to crawl swimming. I purposely avoid any interim stage such as the traditional, inefficient dog paddle that is not easy and relaxed and is apt to induce bad thrashing habits or bad rhythm that will have to be corrected later.
You will notice in the illustrations by Artist Ed Vebell that my pupil is a young girl. She is Marilyn Corson, age 9, unavoidably a favorite pupil of mine since she is my granddaughter. Marilyn can swim a quarter mile with ease (she has gone well over a mile), but we have not selected her because she is by any means a swimming prodigy. She is our sample pupil because she falls in the right age bracket, the years 5 through 9. There are children who have learned earlier, but usually a child progresses faster after the age of 5. In any event, there is no rush. Even if your child learned earlier, you would scarcely turn your back and give a toddler unsupervised access to the water. The age of 9 is a flexible upper limit; anyone in good health can learn at any age if he is willing. But remember, for a child, swimming is a big new project, and you must keep it challenging and pleasurable if you want to have a willing pupil.
When you teach, do not hurry. Remember that the ability of your child to beat all the neighborhood kids in a short thrash across the pool by the end of summer is no measure of success. Speed in the water lies well beyond the primary aim of easy swimming. How quickly your pupil learns will depend on his natural ability and enthusiasm, the frequency of the lessons and even on the sort of water available. The best site for teaching, all told, is a lake or bay with a gradually sloping, safe bottom. A swimming pool with a sloping shallows is about as good, and in my method, where the child seldom touches bottom, a pool four and a half or five feet deep—so the water level is high on the teacher's chest—will do. At most ocean beaches, of course, you have to choose your day.
One further word before we proceed to actual teaching: if you expect to find in my advice any magic words that will make your pupil an easy swimmer overnight, don't bother to read further. I offer you what I have gathered over the years. You have to want to teach; your pupil has to want to swim. That's the only magic there is in it.
FIRST: THE KICK
Good crawl swimming is essentially a harmony of three actions: the kick, the arm stroke and the breathing. Like most instructors, I begin with the kick, adding the other two actions to it. But first I make sure that the pupils are used to the feel of water on the body. By the time they are old enough to learn to swim most youngsters have frolicked in water and have ducked their heads of their own accord. In my method, however, the pupil need not at the start be accustomed to ducking the head.