Why Is There A National Shortage Of Swimming Teachers?

Swimming is in need of a publicity boost and there are two big reasons why.  Number one, there is a distinct lack of suitably qualified swimming teachers and swim schools up and down the United Kingdom are struggling with recruitment.  The second reason is that swimming, according to recent media reports (the BBC and the Telegraph) whilst the most popular hobby for girls and over half of all children go swimming as a hobby, football is still the number one past time for boys.  Apparently, swimming, on average, costs £94 per year per child.  However, I question these statistics, as one in three children leave primary school education unable to swim and personally, my husband and I easily spend more than £94 per year on swimming lessons and I know that others do as well.  Those of you who follow my blog on a regular basis don’t need to be told how important swimming is as a life skill, but there seems to be many people out there who do not realise how important it is.  In the first part of a two part blog, I look at the possible reasons why there is a distinct shortage of swimming teachers.

IS SWIMMING TEACHING SEEN AS A PROPER PROFESSION?

So why is there a shortage of swimming teachers?  There are a number of reasons whether singular or multiple.  Before I had my daughter, the thought of becoming a swimming teacher would not have even entered my head.  Yes of course I had swimming lessons as a child and these had been a mix between instructors who were being paid by the local leisure centre and then as I got older, I joined the local swimming club, which was made up of volunteers, but as a child, you don’t tend to realise all what is going on!  It wasn’t until I joined mother and baby classes and the teacher (now my boss) realised that I could swim, was it suggested that I take my STA level one.  I knew that eventually that I would have to go back to work and I wouldn’t be going back to what I went to college for (a sound engineer / roadie).

I didn’t realise that becoming a swimming teacher could be a profession and maybe that is where the problem lies.  I have heard of stories where primary schools use their own staff without anybody with trained experience present, this in itself is dangerous.  There could be the old school attitude as well, where the child is thrown into the water and made to swim regardless of whether the child is ready or not.  Having met one of these types, when I said I was a swimming teacher, I got the distinct impression that he thought it wasn’t a worthwhile occupation.  Swimming teachers are properly trained and many come from a lifeguard

background and if not, hold some certification in water safety.  We are required to update qualifications on a regular basis and many of us have to fund these courses ourselves; which can be extremely expensive and can involve long distance travel.  We do not get paid the minimum wage, however it does depend whether you are working for a private company or leisure centre and where you live in the country.  I get the impression that job recruitment or training to become a swimming teacher is kept very in-house, maybe if the profession is advertised more widely and made more available to the general public; this might help the situation.

FAMILIES HAVE TO COME FIRST

If you have children of your own, the hours can be difficult as a lot of time it is teaching outside of school hours and during school holidays.  Childcare costs would soon wipe out the hourly rate paid and so it would be pointless in working.  Even though the majority of swimming teachers love their job, families and bringing home a sensible wage has to come first.  For many, the hours on offer are simply not enough; it could be just four hours a week and it is very rare to find a swimming teacher who works full time.  Swimming teaching is quite commonly a secondary job and probably done more for enjoyment than a necessary wage.  A lot of younger teachers are also studying for a degree and use the job to fund them through their course and then when they have graduated, they leave the profession.

Teaching on poolside isn’t the easiest of career choices.  Alternating between working on poolside and in the pool is extremely harsh and is a common factor for giving up teaching.  Chlorine dries the skin and hair out, can cause allergies and headaches if the pool isn’t well ventilated.  Going from dry to wet and then standing round in wet clothes on poolside also lowers the immune system, making the swimming teacher more prone to illnesses, especially if the pool hasn’t got the right amount cleaning products, which in turn can make it a germ pit; especially with heavy usage.

Unfortunately, there aren’t any easy answers to these problems, you can’t take children out of school to participate in leisure activities and the nature of the job, means that at some point, you will have to get wet.  However, maybe the STA and the ASA could look at how the courses are run and maybe the costings involved, so that it is more financially appealing to the individual teacher.  Health wise, speak to the people who are in charge of keeping the pool functioning well, they should be able to see if there is a problem and hopefully make changes.

Learning To Swim With Hypermobility Syndrome

Hypermobility Points In The Body

I volunteer for a local swimming club on a Friday night and take a seven year old boy for half an hour one to one.  Izaac is a lovely little boy and I really admire his grit and determination, as he suffers from hypermobility, which is holding him back from moving up to the next swimming group.

Admittedly, I hadn’t heard of hypermobility (or hyperextension) until about three years ago when it was pointed out that my daughter was over extending her wrist in backstroke, so that instead

of her hand being inline with her arm on the recovery, her hand bent right over.  However Izaac’s hypermobility is the worst case that one of my swimming teacher friends has seen and in terms of swimming, it is severely affecting his breaststroke kick.  His knee movement is so great that both Izaac and I have to really concentrate on keeping it under control otherwise it affects the whole of his stroke.

So what is hypermobility?  Basically it is an excessive joint movement in which the angle formed by the bones of that joint is opened, or straightened, beyond its normal, healthy, range of motion.  This movement may make the joint unstable and increase the risk for dislocation or other potential injuries.

EACH CASE OF HYPERMOBILITY IS INDIVIDUAL

When I discussed Izaac’s condition with a physiotherapist that I know, Rachel did actually question whether Izaac should be attempting breast stroke kick at all, as the movements would be putting undue pressure on his knees.  She suggested that instead of expecting Izaac to completely straighten his knees on the glide part of the kick, he should keep them slightly bent to avoid undue strain.  The next lesson I had with Izaac, I explained to him that he wasn’t to fully straighten his knees and why he wasn’t to do so.  Interestingly, Izaac said that when he straightened his knees, he did suffer with pain; so now one of the main teaching points is to remind him not to fully straighten his knees.

Experiencing pain in the knees, fingers, hips and elbows is a recognised symptom of hypermobility syndrome, but often joint hypermobility causes no symptoms and therefore, doesn’t require any treatment.  All treatment for hypermobility is customized for each individual depending on their symptoms and any joint pain can be relieved by medications for pain or inflammation.  Muscles and stability can be strengthened by physical exercise, as long as every effort is made to avoid injury to joints; such as sprained ligaments.  Fortunately, many hypermobility symptoms can improve as sufferers move into adulthood (adults as they grow older tend to loose their flexibility).  It is estimated that ten to fifteen per cent of healthy children have hypermobility syndrome and it is common for these children to be referred to as having loose joints or being double jointed, luckily it is considered a benign condition.  However, there is a higher incidence of sprains and dislocation of involved joints and scoliosis (curvature of the spine) is more prevalent in people with hypermobile joints and commonly seen in people with Down's syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and Marfan’s syndrome.  Even though adults are less affected by hypermobile joints, joint hypermobility can lead to degenerative cartilage and arthritis.

AN INHERITED CONDITION

I presume Izaac’s hypermobility is inherited, even though I have never asked his parents who experienced hypermobility as a child.  I know personally, that my own daughter has inherited her own flexible joints from her dad, as he used by a gymnast (gymnasts need/tend to be extremely flexible!).  So how is it inherited?  It is believed that specific genes that cause the syndrome are passed from parent to child and thus, have a tendency to run in families.  Collagen (an important protein that helps to glue tissues together) producing genes are believed to play a role in hypermobility syndrome.

Even though diagnosis should be carried out by a trained professional, signs of hypermobility are the ability to place the palms of the hands on the floor with the knees fully extended, hyperextension of the knee or elbow beyond ten degrees and the ability to touch the thumb to the forearm.

Sport is good for any child, but if a particular child’s health information sheet mentions (or if the parent mentions) hypermobility, it is definitely worth asking if there is anything you need to be careful of or even avoid.  If the parents are not sure, suggest that they speak to their doctor or physiotherapist.

Child With Hypermobility