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After 13 years of teaching swim lessons, I truly believe that swimming is the most empowering sport there is.
Swimming increases your physical fitness as a low-resistance, full-body cardio workout – and it increases your mental health because water is cleaning and therapeutic. Human beings of all shapes, sizes, and abilities can learn to swim at any point in their lifespan.
And last (but definitely not least), swimming is a life-saving skill. Name another sport that can do that!
When you’re a swimmer, you have the ability to survive in a completely different terrain. Swimming requires you to think, move, and act differently than how you would ‘normally’ move on land.
Imagine how liberating it is to be someone who has difficulty moving on land, but can swim like a fish underwater. A whole new world of movement opens when you learn how swim.
In my first year as a swim instructor, I learned a simple and regimented style of teaching a basic freestyle, also known as front crawl. It went like this:
Glide - Both feet push off the wall with arms extended overhead and head angled downKick – Rhythmically kicking up and down from the hipsPull – Alternate pulling each arm in a full circle down and out of the water
Glide - Both feet push off the wall with arms extended overhead and head angled down
Kick – Rhythmically kicking up and down from the hips
Pull – Alternate pulling each arm in a full circle down and out of the water
A new student named Marcus registered for a private lesson. He was about 11 or 12 years old, timid, and was an amputee. He had broken his right arm playing basketball, and the wound had become infected. His life had completely changed – and according to his mother, his confidence took a major fall.
Unfortunately, no one knew how to teach swimming without using arms. Knowing how to swim is one thing, but knowing how to teach someone to swim is a completely different skill.
Our facility required all swim instructors to teach the exact same way – kind of like an assembly line for swim lessons – so unfortunately, no one was equipped to teach Marcus.
His lessons were frustrating. Many weeks passed by, and Marcus still hadn't learned how to swim more than a few feet. He bounced around from one instructor to another in the hopes of finding the right coach for someone like him.
Eventually, it came to my turn to try and teach Marcus how to swim. But instead of jumping right into the lessons, I talked to him.
I wanted to get to know him. He was shy and quiet – so I asked him what he liked to do for fun.
He told me how much he loved to run when he played football, and I noticed he was feeling sad about not being able to play anymore. So I asked him what his favorite part about running on the football field was.
Marcus perked up and opened his eyes wide. I'd got his attention.
We began talking about how fast sharks can swim, and how Marcus could swim just as fast as a shark with his strong legs.
I taught Marcus the same skill progression for Freestyle, except I told him to only use his remaining arm to pull his face up and out of the water to breathe. Marcus exploded off the wall and swam farther than he had ever swum before. Suddenly he understood how to move his unique body through the water safely.
My eyes welled up with tears. I had never seen someone show such pure joy before. Since his accident, Marcus had always felt like he was inadequate. But swimming brought his confidence back – and I couldn’t have been prouder.
I've grown so much as an instructor since working with Marcus. I learned more about myself and my role as a swim coach.
Teaching the technical elements of swimming is important. But what separates a swim instructor from a swim coach is the ability to empower others to be better versions of themselves.
That was the greatest gift I could ever give to Marcus.
And his joy was the greatest gift he could give to me.
SOUL CAP are proud partners with Empowered Swimming, a non profit that provide access to professional aquatic services through their “Learn to Swim” Scholarship programme. Support and donate at www.empoweredswimminginc.com
Written by Michael Chapman
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