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How can we trust swimming?

How can children build trust in swimming?

Some kids get a close relationship with the water quite early, while other take more time for that. Especially when it’s crowdy, noisy and there is splashing everywhere around, which the kids might find a bit scary. However, if there is someone in the water whom they trust, it’s much easier for them to get into the water, and thus build trust in swimming.

How can we make children trust water and swimming? Gradually. Every activity, reaction and conversation matters, and observing children is also very important.. all these things count when it comes to building trust. If a child builds trust in water right away, which means there is a healthy reaction to a water surrounding, it is much easier for the child to learn how to swim in the future.

Trust in the water and swimming comes right after a child is born, in his/her first year of life. I can be free here to say that it is the parents who make their children trust the water or not, starting from the very first bath they have with their child in the bathtub. Also, when they take up baby swim lessons or just go to the seaside or a pool to spend time with their child there, parents are those who either build trust or make their children feel upset with their own moves and behaviour in the water.

My children have been in the water since the age of four months. I can openly say that they have been building that trust in the water gradually ever since, so that now they can play freely and have fun in the water, and also learn how to swim. The water and swimming have never let us down so far.

How do children GAIN trust in the water, once they “leave” their diapers behind?

As children are growing and developing, they become more curious about things we expect them to do. If we are successful enough in explaining to them the reasons why we expect them to do some things, they will gain trust in the water quite fast. As they become older and sensible, the trust in swimming will come naturally through both verbal and non-verbal communication. Coaches play a key role here, and they are supposed to help children build trust in the water and swimming on a completely different level than parents. And also, they need to deserve their trust too, which is not an easy task! Especially if you’re dealing with children who, once you give them your hand to help them get into the pool, get petrified, hoping to find assurance in your eyes.

Here is one example from my experience.

A mom of twins was taking her boy and her girl to the pool. Both of the children had the experience with the water gained through their baby swim lessons where parents had been with them all the time. However, in spite of that experience, the boy still did not get enough confidence in the water. As he moved to an older group for swimming without parents, (3-5 years), he would be all in tears every time he came to the pool. But despite the tears, he made it every time. Nobody every forced him to do that though, it was just his way of dealing with it. His sister was different. She would always sit at the side of the pool without showing excessive reactions and was just observing what was going on in the pool. Every time when we finished the lesson with her brother, she would come to me full of questions, but she never asked me if she could swim with her brother. Though she also had the experience with swimming, she just didn’t have enough trust in the whole water story so that she could feel free to jump into the pool on her own.

However, the boy got more relaxed over the time and became more self-confident, trusting both me as his coach and the water. It was obvious as there were no more tears before entering the pool, but a smile instead. His sister noticed this and it was then for the first time that she asked me if she could swim too. She had only one condition. Guess which. She wanted to have the same coach as her brother!

What happened here actually? She herself gained trust in the water story and the surrounding as she was observing her brother, where the key role was played by the coach, not a parent, and it was then when she showed her desire to swim.

How important is it that PARENTS have trust in swimming?

Trust in swimming often comes from the very top of the pyramid, from the parents. If you fail to gain the trust, it is unlikely that a parent, coach, or child will feel relaxed and gain trust in swimming. Actually, it happens that parents are promised more than what could be fulfilled: Don’t worry, after ten lessons your child will learn how to swim, etc. When this doesn’t happen, people get disappointed and everyone loses trust in swimming.

This is the point when they start changing swim schools and coaches until they find one to regain that trust. How? It’s not easy! Indeed, it can be quite hard when parents come to you with this story full of distrust. Imagine how the coach feels like when he knows the background story of that child and the disappointment of the parents, and imagine how the parents must feel. This is why you should never promise to the parents that their child will learn how to swim in a certain number of lessons, because children, even twins, are completely different. We all have our own pace when it comes to learning skills, including swimming.

In these situations of distrust, I usually tend to ask parents the following questions: You’ve got your child a bike, right, and I guess you don’t expect him or her to start riding it right away all on his or her own without stabilisers, right? Riding a bike or swimming is a process which requires patience, continuity, and time.

What I can advise parents who have lost their trust in swimming at the very start is to use the summer or a school break to take their child to swim lessons. What does that actually mean? It means that after four weeks and let’s say 20 intensive swim lessons in small groups, the parent can expect a progress in his/her child’s swimming skills. Once we regain the trust in the water, it will be much easier to overcome all other obstacles waiting for us in the water.

How can we KEEP the trust our children have in the water and swimming once we have built it?

By showing it with your own example on daily basis… Once the children establish trust in their relationship with the water and swimming, the children will feel much safer, more relaxed and cautious. And that’s the way it should be. On the other hand, we as parents and coaches will feel much calmer, we will have more confidence in their jumps, strokes, or any decisions they are about to make in the water or outside. For example, a child making mistakes in a controlled environment, in a swim lesson with a professional coach, will experience uncomfortable situations, such as slipping in shallow water and swallowing some water, or being wrong at guessing the depth of the pool… in a rather safer and more harmless way.

These are some of my ways of building children’s trust in the water and keeping that trust later through swimming:

  • When children have the power of choice then it brings magic to the water. By giving them an option to choose they will immediately like you more than when you come up and say: OK kids, today we’re doing this. I mean, the latter is also alright because they may not complain, but if you give them a chance to have their own voice heard, then it definitely brings better results. Trust in swimming is gained through making agreements and respecting each other. And you should bear in mind that this line is quite thin here, so don’t let them ever take the control over the class.

  • When we’re talking about children aged 3 to 5 years, playing is always your best ally, both in the water and on the dry. You should try to use play and fun in teaching them new things as much as you can, be creative and get yourself back to childhood and have fun together, and trust me, your efforts will pay off on many levels.

  • Never give up on building a child’s trust when it comes to water and swimming. Children can say or do things which may discourage us, but that is a part of growing up in the water, as well as it is on the dry. If we let them give up on swimming today, then they are likely to give up on other things in the future. There will always be some obstacles in life. Sport is our best ally in upbringing our children and in making them good people by learning life lessons through fun, swimming and sport.

  • Children have the memory of young elephants. If you promise to them that you will do something at the end of the class or next time, or that you will show them or tell them something, keep that promise! Otherwise, you are unlikely to keep children’s trust you have gained through swimming. And not keeping your promises might be the reason why a child may reject getting into the pool with you. Set clear rules and trust me, the children will follow them entirely, which also applies to you as the one who set the rules!

  • When you praise them, praise them out loud! But I think it is okay to let them make mistakes and realise them by themselves, both in and outside the water. Some people would say: Come on, how could a 3.5-year-old child realise his/her mistakes in the water? Trust me, they know it very well. We usually restrict them by being overprotective or by overpraising them. I like it more when children make mistakes in the water on their own, of course, under the professional supervision, and then start listening and building trust in water and swimming. They are young people born with “a psychology degree”, don’t forget that!

  • Talking, observing, and listening are usually the main trigger in children when it comes to gaining trust in the water! It is easy the “get the children” in the water. But it takes much more to listen to them, and understand their current “adventures” and wishes. This is why I always like to have 60 seconds of talk with them before getting into the pool to just find out about their current concerns and life issues because this makes it easier for me to estimate the level of trust in swimming that we can reach that day. This is done also at the end of the lesson, as based on a single sentence they say I can conclude if we have made it or not. Take some time for playing, because that is the thing that will stay in their heart when they leave the pool, the emotion which will make them come back to the pool again!

  • Solve the problems on time! It is most painful when you have children who love the water, enjoy it so much and swimming is their “best friend”, and then at one point they lose trust in it. The easiest way out is to turn around and say goodbye to swimming. This is why good coaches need to know the psychology of children, especially of swimmers, and react adequately on time if there is an obstacle, so that they could keep their trust in swimming. In these situations, experience and patience of parents and coaches are vital…

If I hadn’t had trust in the water, I wouldn’t have had the chance to travel around the world and make lifetime friends. Thanks to swimming and the trust I have in the water, I can say for myself that I am a fulfilled and happy man, because I teach babies and children the most beautiful life skill – swimming and enjoying the water. My trust in swimming has made me a person who is able to influence those young lives and their parents to have a safer, better and more beautiful life and put a smile on their faces.

Gaining trust in swimming is not an easy thing to do, but in the end, it’s worth it! Especially when know that you have “taught” those children an important life skill… And that they can swim, feel safe in the water be it clean, dirty, full of fish or crocodiles.

Life is more beautiful when you’re swimming!


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