On swim confidence and conformity

Earlier this week I said "goodbye" to a wonderful young swimmer I've been working with through the charity Level Water.  Level Water fund one to one swim lessons for children with disabilities, with the aim of getting them to the point they can join regular swim sessions.  I've been reflecting on the experience with him and others I teach and coach.

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My young swimmer was doing so well that his Mum told me he was winning new found respect from his school mates.  And he was swimming further and faster - so ready to move on.  We planned to make a gradual transition, shortening our one to one sessions so he could then spend some time with a group lesson going on at the same time.

Sadly the contrast from the free form way we were doing our one to ones and the more regimented group lessons was too much, so after one attempt he declined to carry on with the switch - though I know he will continue to take part (and star) in his school's lessons.

It brought home to me how prescribed and regimented much swim teaching can be.  I remember from doing my Swim Teachers' qualifications that one has to follow very standardised procedures and stages - each with certain steps to tick off, criteria to meet and badges to be won before moving on to the next.

In contrast, so much of my one to one teaching and coaching - not just with Level Water children but with adult clients coming for swim analysis and stroke improvement - revolves around confidence.  Confidence to be able to master the breathing before being able to work on technique and fitness; confidence to relax and go with the feel in the water rather than fighting it or trying to power through; confidence to judge your own pace and hold your space in the rough and tumble of big events.

And in this respect one of the things that never ceases to amaze me is how wonderfully confident and liberated some of the Level Water children I teach are in the water.  A great memory I have of my young swimmer is one day he spotted a narrow, shimmering shaft of light in the water from one of the roof windows.  We stopped the technical stuff so he could head straight over and for a few minutes he twisted and turned, spiralling and wriggling in the light, limbs flowing, coming up for air with a big grin ready to plunge down and swirl around some more, like a playful sea otter in an exuberant, carefree dance.  Not your standard push-and-glide or accomplishing so many metres with a float - but what an amazing expression of fluency and being at one with the water.

Of course not all the children have such a wonderful playful ease in the water.  I'm in the slow and patient process of coaxing some of the other Level Water children to float without clinging on to me.  And I tell myself that part of the job has to be gradually introducing basic skills that will allow a child at some point to join the more standard lessons and so progress onwards.  In this respect I wonder if I really served my young swimmer well enough.

With adults too there are certain fundamentals of a swim analysis session and techniques to share - a session of uninhibited playfulness is unlikely to help them through their big challenges, much as that would be fun!  One of the great things about the Swim Smooth approach that I was trained in is that it retains a great sense of excitement and a big emphasis on how you feel in the water - all very much at the heart of Confidence Centred Coaching.

For now though I'm feeling a mix of sadness and pride in my young swimmer moving on.  And I'm just over three weeks away from my own first big challenge of the year - the Isles of Scilly Otillo SwimRun.  I'll be looking out for those special moments of light on the water, fluency and the exhilaration of being alive and active.

My own private SwimRun training pool

My own private SwimRun training pool

Any thoughts and reflections?  Please use the comment box below to share and help build great coaching practice: