First, don't breathe the water.
August 2, 2010 4:15 AM   Subscribe

Help me become a better swim instructor for a fellow adult that can not swim?

I swim like a fish - freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke, butterfly (well, not as well as I used to). Grew up in the water, on swim team, etc.. I have never however instructed others in swimming.

I have a friend who is about my age and unable to swim / fairly uncomfortable with the water, and I'd like them to be able to overcome that. Difficulty factor: friend is unemployed and the costs of lessons even at the local YMCA are fairly prohibitive at the moment.

I would like to get tips / tricks / online materials / etc. that can help me break down the basics of at least getting comfortable in the water and then learning the freestyle crawl.

I've taught skiing before and I'm aware that the best instructors are those that can successfully break things down and explain them in simple / memorable ways that make sense to the student. I know how to teach the beginning pieces, and help people develop through into intermediate and advanced technique - little tricks like pressing on the top of the boot, hold your hands like you are carrying a tray of drinks, push down on the big toe now, etc.. That said, after a couple of tries in the pool, I seem to have a mental block towards breaking down swimming technique the same way.

Please note that while I am open to suggestions on instructor training courses for myself, attending one of these isn't an option for me either in the immediate future. I'm instead interested on what I could learn to become a better tutor in the meantime. I'm pretty certain my friend could learn to swim quite quickly if I was better at this. TIA!

Final clarification: I know the best option is for my friend to be taught by a qualified instructor, but as stated above, for purposes of this question, assume this is not currently an option. I know enough water safety to not put my friend in danger during this process. I have found a couple of helpful pointers here, here, and here, but am looking for helpful hints to make me a better teacher of an adult student.
posted by allkindsoftime to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If you want to break this down for your friend, I'd suggest you break it down for yourself too. Don't focus on teaching the crawl, focus on helping them get comfortable in the water. Let the rest proceed from that. I know this is nothing you don't already know, but the question as you've got it phrased seems to be pointing at destination F or G, and I'm merely suggesting you worry only about B for now.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 5:00 AM on August 2, 2010

Response by poster: FWIW, we've been focusing to date on blowing bubbles, head bobbing underwater, floating on back. These all seem to work after a few minutes of trying, I'm just not sure how to move from these onto next steps.
posted by allkindsoftime at 5:03 AM on August 2, 2010

This answer is coming from another nonswimmer who is uncomfortable in the water and did take an adult swimming class (as well have watched several kids go from being nervous to learning to swim).

It's different when you're adult and have spent your whole childhood being nervous in water. You don't say what your friend has accomplished since you started, but I'm guessing they're still uncomfortable. You might be expecting too much of them, which would have nothing to do with your technique, but just patience and moving slowly. Kids learn to swim just by messing around and DOING it, adults have more hangups to get over.

How did you start? My adult class used noodles and kickboards extensively at the beginning. Every swimming class I've seen or tried has also worked on several things that lead up to swimming: dead man's float, kicking off and gliding, turning from front to side while still floating. Even a back float, while not part of a freestyle stroke, is a step to feeling more comfortable about swimming being natural.
posted by artifarce at 5:09 AM on August 2, 2010

I've been helping my SO with exactly this situation. I, like you, have always been around water and swim quite well. Again, like you, have never taught anyone. So, I looked around and found this site. Started with a comfortable, stress-free 30 mins with a bowl on the dining table, and now we've moved on to being in the pool, being underwater (for a few seconds at a time) and using a kick-board. My SO has even actively requested going back to the pool, so we must be moving the right direction :) But like the emperor above says, break it down into bits smaller than you'd even think necessary (how to sit in water up to your hips, sit in water up to your shoulders, etc.)

A friend of mine who has been swimming competitively for a long time and has tought others gave me this tip (for later): "Don't start with the crawl/freestyle. Start with the breaststroke because, although technically it's more difficult to get perfect (like for competition), its actually easier to get started with (for beginners)"

Good Luck!!
posted by alchemist at 5:10 AM on August 2, 2010

oh yes, for got to add. My SO mentioned that a big factor was the "comfort" felt in that I could handle a rescue situation if necessary (not even close to being necessary yet). So being comfortable in that you are a "good/safe" instructor will perhaps go a long way.
posted by alchemist at 5:21 AM on August 2, 2010

Best answer: I can't swim and one of the issues with lessons is that they're embarassing and a bit humiliating to be trying to learn something that 8 year olds seem to do so easily. So be generous with your praise and reinforcement.

Another thing is to really listen and understand why he can't swim. Is he scared of the water or putting his head under? (Address his fears) Is he too skinny or too muscly and so has little natural buoyancy? (Start with a kickboard) Are his arms moving wrongly, or his legs? (Describe how the right action "feels") Depending on the issue, focus your advice to help get past these blockers.
posted by dave99 at 5:53 AM on August 2, 2010

Best answer: I'm a Red Cross Water Safety Instructor. Here's what I've worked out.

Have your friend stand in the water waist-deep, breathe out through his nose (to keep the water out), bend forward at the waist and bob his face into the water and immediately out.

When this is comfortable, have her keep her face in the water for a couple of seconds, continuing to breathe out through the nose to keep the water out.

Next, have him hold his hands over his head, bend his knees slightly and fall forward, pushing off gently with his feet. Tell him to put his feet down and stand up the moment he feels uncomfortable.

Next, have her do the same thing, pushing off a little harder and floating forward about one body length.

Explain that he now knows how to swim, because it's just doing the float and pulling yourself along with your arms. Practice pushing off and pulling back with both arms, ending with a push-up movement to bring his face out of the water.

Good luck.
posted by KRS at 7:47 AM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks KRS - your comment in the other thread was very helpful as well ("Learning to swim is not that difficult"). Now I'm just confused if my friend is a him or a her, is all ;)

If you think of any more practical or less explicit tips that have helped you, feel free to jump back in.
posted by allkindsoftime at 8:03 AM on August 2, 2010

Best answer: The best tip I ever received was about how to exhale/blow bubbles out your nose at the right pace that you keep the water out but don't purge all your air at once, and it is: hum. No one can hear it under water, and it made me go from flailing irrythmically to--well, I still flail, but I don't run out of air or snort water up my nose, which are key to the whole "being comfortable with water" thing.
posted by sarahkeebs at 8:43 AM on August 2, 2010

Best answer: If you've been working on floating on the back, this may be a good next step; it's what my kids were taught when they were in pre-school (IANASwimInstructor, etc)

Chicken, Airplane, Rocket

Floating on your back in the water (with hold-up support from instructor), do the following. All movements will keep your arms and legs at the surface of the water.

1. bring your hands and feet up towards your head while bending your elbows and knees out from your body. You should look as if you are doing a chicken dance (if you were standing up on land).

2. straighten your arms and legs out to the side. Your arms will look like the wings of an airplane. Your legs will be out wide to the sides, not really like an airplane, but they had to call this something. I think it looks more like the spread-out part of doing jumping jacks.

3. Push straight arms and legs into the center and down, so you look like you are standing at attention. If you do this with a just little bit of force, you will propel yourself through the water and feel like a rocket ship taking off.

If you do those 3 motions repeatedly (chicken,airplane,rocket,chicken,airplane,rocket,etc) you will be swimming across the surface of the water. It is very similar to doing the motions of the breast stroke, but on your back. No need to worry about breathing - your face is up. When my kids learned this, I thought it was a good transition step because it made them understand that they really could swim, but it saved the hard parts for later.

Here's another description in case mine was not too clear.
Seems this is also called "elementary backstroke" or "monkey, tree, banana".
posted by CathyG at 8:53 AM on August 2, 2010

When I was learning to swim better, I found Total Immersion extremely helpful. What I liked about it was that it's geared towards non-swimming adults, who learn to swim differently (more systematically, less organically) than young children do. You've always felt at-home in the water, so you might take for granted skills that your friend will need to discover and practice.

You're an awesome friend!
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 10:50 AM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Total Immersion will probably make you a better swimmer too. You could help each other with the drills
posted by low affect at 12:02 PM on August 2, 2010

This is awesome. I am actually taking a Beginner Swimming class at the Y now, and the tips above are very useful.

Here's some of what we're doing in my class.

1. Various floats (jellyfish, prone, back)
2. Practicing how our arms and legs should move before we go in the water
3. Breathing: breathe in through mouth, duck under water and breathe out through nose
4. Kickboard and flutter kick across pool
5. How to get in and out of the pool

And so on.

Make sure your friend has a set of goggles. They've really helped me.
posted by sdn at 5:23 PM on August 2, 2010

In teaching the Freestyle I asked my students to visualize a taught wire going through their body, top to bottom, as it were, and from one end of the lane to the other. They were to swim along the wire and not deviate from it. The wire allowed them to rotate the head only, not lift it up out of the water to gulp for air. This helped a number of students see how lifting the chin had been throwing their whole body out of alignment. It also allows them to practice on their own.
posted by Mertonian at 12:16 AM on August 3, 2010

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