Starting swimming for babies and progression for children
Having lived in Singapore now for over a decade, I have experienced time and again an irrational fear of putting newborns in the water. This advise is given to new parents and fear is created. However, in many counties in the world, getting your new born into the water as soon as 2 months old is a fantastic first step in water appreciation and developing a long term love of swimming.
Of course when we say have a baby swimming we are referring to one or both parents joining the class. The goal over this first year is imprinting that water is not scary, however it should be respected. Typical fun drills for this stage simply could be having water splash on a baby’s head/ face. Or simply moving around and bobbing up and down in the parents arms, feeling the motion of the water around their body and the happy face of the parent enjoying the bonding session.
The next step is toddlers. At this stage toddles are able to pick themselves up off the ground however have not developed great leg strength yet. As water is a weightless environment, playing on the steps/ edges of the pool not only assist to develop stronger leg and arm muscles (without gravity) it will also help to improve a youngsters co-ordination, body awareness and with underwater play, a new level of water confidence.
By the age of 2-3 we now want to turn our attention to ‘drown-proofing’ a young child. This is a critical step as with confidence in the water rises, so to does the risk of the child starting to take risks around the pool that may lead to serious outcomes. In the drown-proofing stage it is important that the relationship between the swim coach and the child is developed as parents may need to not be in the pool. It is a fine line a swim teacher needs to take, allowing a child to feel the fear when they are exploring the edges of their limits. This may be not assisting for a brief moment to allow a child to stretch and believe in themselves to make it to the edge of a pool. Through this phase having a parent in the pool can lead to anxiety in the parent and this will fear will be felt by the child. This is why a trained swimming teacher will get the best results as it requires calmness and positivity to develop. It may take more than a year to fully drown proof a child. Yes there are clips online about very young children being taught to flip onto their backs and float to take a big breath and this works well for some children, but not all. The key is that by the age of 4-5 a child is totally competent not only in a shallow end of a pool but also the deep end.
Starting at the age of 3 and through to 5 years of age we now can shift our focus on starting technique fundamentals, building a kicking foundation, getting body position correct and developing an advanced ‘feel’ for the water that will stay with a person for the rest of their lives. This is the stage where we introduce actual techniques, starting with freestyle, specifically learning how to breathe and continue swimming as well as the basic movements. Children will naturally tend to rush their swimming strokes when young so the key is to help them ‘lengthen out’ and learn how to reach and be long in the water.
Up to this point of children learning how to swim, it is ALL about fun!
After the age of 5 and on, assuming all of the fundamentals are in place, we can now really start swimming. Over the next 5 to 7 years children will learn all strokes. Initially they will struggle specifically with butterfly as they will lack the shoulder strength and push power necessary to swim this stroke well, however, while they are young if the technique is zoned in well at this age, children will quickly develop the effortlessness of swimming and what is lacking in youthful strength and power will be made up with flow, technique and positioning.
Also through these years there are many other skills that children will develop including:
- Setting goals
- Following schedules
- Being punctual
- Pushing through adversity and learning to be a ‘good sport’
So what happens if your child is already 12 and has not started much swimming?
The key is that it is never too late. Depending on your child’s activity in the water will depend on where they need to start from. If there are underlying fears for the water we will need to go back to the start to develop the love for the water first. The great news is the older the child is, the quicker they will move through the development phases. The really tricky part is un-learning poor habits and developing correct technique. Unlike a child that has been gradually moulded and guided over time, a ‘late starter’ will need to work very hard on his/ her technique to bring them up to speed.
What happens if I didn’t swim as a baby, child and now want to start as an adult?
Many athletes come to us from a base of almost no swimming background. Usually our squad members have already chosen to do the sport, but there will be huge hurdles in the water. The things that will hold back adults will be:
- Poor flexility
- Intrenched technique floors
- Lack of swim specific muscle development and strength