Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Three Common Mistakes with Teaching Kids to Swim

by Gordo Byrn

In January my daughter had her first swim meet. It was low-key with three events of 25 yards each (Free, Back and Fly). I’m not sure anybody kept score, and that’s a good thing as young people don’t have the ability to separate themselves from their performances.

Living in Boulder, many parents chose to start their kids early with competitive sports. We have track teams that start at kindergarten and preschoolers can do duathlons. Personally, I think early competition is a mistake.

For a life long enjoyment of our bodies, what matters is having fun and skill development via play. That said, our daughter does a lot for a kid that has a father opposed to competition for young kids.

Monday - indoor climbing
Tuesday - indoor soccer
Wednesday - swim (pre) team
Thursday - gymnastics and swim lesson
Friday to Sunday - open

Today, I’ll share what I’ve learned about teaching her to swim. For background, my oldest was 5.25 years old and swimming in the “8 and under” category at her meet.

Swimming is not the point

The main skill my kids need is not to drown. In the summer, we have the kids touch the water every single day. As a parent of three, having them all water safe will be a huge milestone.

What really matters?

This saves lives...

  1. My daughter falls into a pool...
  2. automatically flips onto her back...
  3. kicks to the wall...
  4. gets out.

They learn the above by being comfortable while floating on their backs. We spent two years on “comfortable” and another two years on the save-yourself progression. All of the credit goes to my wife and my daughter’s teacher.

Too many parents quit because the kids say they don’t enjoy it

With a preschooler, every single thing (including dad) comes in and out of favor. Babysitters, gymnastics, brushing teeth, getting dressed, soccer, foods… things come and go randomly. It’s unreasonable to expect my kids to enjoy everything all the time and it’s important for the parents not to give them an “out” not to learn new skills.

Swimming matters in our house so we:

  • Focus on fun
  • Are 100% firm with the weekly commitment
  • Give them choice with non-core activities
  • Have the core parent (usually Mom) out of sight during the lesson
  • Use a teacher who gets in the water

The kids see us swim. They don’t have to swim every day, but they need to do their weekly swim lesson as a minimum.

When people look at my daughter swim they think it would be neat for their kid to swim like that. Similar to how we all thought when we started, parents expect their kids to get the hang of it in a couple lessons. Ain’t going to happen!

Results take time
It took us four years to get our daughter water safe. It was absolutely worth it.

Keep it fun.


Gordo is the founder of Endurance Corner. You can find his personal blog at coachgordo.wordpress.com.

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