There’s a general consensus that all children should be given the opportunity to learn to swim, regardless of family background or natural ability, so that they can be safe in and around water. It’s a simple idea that can lead to many lives being saved. However, there are children out there who are having swimming lessons that should actually stop doing so. These are not the children who have gained the highest certification in swimming and can swim length after length with ease; I am talking about the children who can’t even swim without a woggle, or who can barely swim five metres on their own. A controversial start to a blog and I am sure that there are people in the swimming profession that will wholeheartedly disagree with me.
One such child is Robbie*. Robbie is a highly intelligent little boy, who is probably around the age of eight, who I met about a year ago. At that time, Robbie was being taught by another teacher at the same time that I was teaching and he was giving her a really hard time. He would scream in the water, refused to come off the short woggles, wouldn’t try anything new and generally disrupt the lesson. Nobody liked him and thought him (me as well) to be an odious little boy. I took Robbie for one lesson just before Christmas and by the end of it I was pulling my hair out. I had tried to put him on a normal length woggle, he had simply refused and I was determined not to let him have two cut down woggles (I believe that long woggles are more versatile). In the end, his regular teacher came over and swapped the long woggle for two shorter ones. I personally thought that this was giving into a spoilt brat and I certainly didn’t appreciate the smug smile that he allowed himself when he finally got his way.
Fast forward to the start of the new academic year and I knew that Robbie was going to be swimming (presumably) with me on a regular basis. It transpired though that unbeknownst to me, that Robbie’s mum had asked for me not to teach him, as she didn’t think it would be a good combination and I had actually said that I didn’t want to teach him to the owner of the swim school. Robbie was given to a swimming teacher that had just joined the school and who was working alongside my teaching sessions. Sam*, the new swimming teacher, hadn’t taught beginners before and he was getting frustrated with Robbie not cooperating, so for a couple of sessions we formed a larger group so that I could give him some tips. Over this period of time and conversations that I had had with the swim school owner, it had become clear that Robbie wasn’t spoilt, but in fact had a great fear of the water.
I had begun to notice that Robbie hums a lot in his speech when he is scared and I had been told that even though he is on time for swimming lessons, he has an urgent need to have a bowel movement every time the lesson is about to start. The swimming pool has shallow wide steps that lead into the pool that can take four children seated comfortably, Robbie does not like leaving these steps unassisted even with the use of the woggle (Sam and I had told Robbie that the short woggles had disappeared and now he uses a long woggle). However, Robbie CAN swim! Sam and I have seen
him to do it. Robbie’s body is lovely and streamlined in the water and the way he is positioned in the water he could comfortably swim for a good distance. But, Robbie will only swim back to the steps that I have described and that is apparently common for nervous swimmers. Nervous swimmers do not like swimming into wide-open water, but will swim over very short distances to safety.
It has been muted that there is a possibility that Robbie has autistic tendencies or something of that ilk. Admittedly, he is nothing like his older brother (who I take for swimming lessons in another group and is very much a typical cheeky boy). I personally don’t like to speculate on matters like these, as I think it can be wrong to make assumptions. On the other hand though, parents can be reluctant to admit that their child might need specialist help; which can create a vicious circle. I do know though (through personal experience) that Robbie’s mother is of an anxious disposition when it comes to Robbie, so has the anxiety rubbed off onto Robbie? I definitely think that Robbie, due to his intelligence, overthinks all the possibilities of what could potentially happen in the swimming pool and this clearly does not help matters. I don’t know how long Robbie has been with the swim school that I work for, but it is has been well over a year. The owner of the swim school now thinks it is time for Robbie to have a break from swimming, as he is not making any progress and due to his general behaviour before and during the swimming lesson.
It’s a fair point, maybe with maturity will come a new confidence and self belief. It will also give time for any bad feelings and worries to be forgotten and for Robbie to have the opportunity to move on from an uncomfortable experience. However, I wonder if there is anything that can be done now. Playtime at the local leisure pool with the family might help. Free play can do wonders for non-confident children; I have seen a huge difference from just one play session from one lesson to the next. I have suggested in the past that Robbie makes a list of what worries him about the swimming pool that we use and tackle each point
individually; this could be incorporated into dry side lessons. This was greeted with a positive response, but nothing has materialised. Swimming lessons with Robbie’s older brother to help, maybe? Sibling rivalry can be used to great advantage. A change of swimming pool is another possibility, somewhere that is shallow (this worked for my middle child) and where Robbie can stand comfortably if needed during the swimming lessons.
When all these options have been explored, should Robbie give up swimming, but only temporarily?
*Names have been changed.