For the past few months, we have been exploring the “Circle of Water Safety” and focusing on the importance of year-round swim lessons. To reiterate what we learned last month, water safety is a combination of the knowledge and the physical ability that is needed to keep yourself and others safe in and around the water. Taking time to strengthen skills and build comfort through consistent swim lessons are the most important steps for children to become safe swimmers.
So far, we have discussed the concepts of time and consistency, looking at how both of these are essential in the process of learning to swim. Scheduling lessons over a longer period of time allows children to learn in a consistent environment which allows them to build the strength they need for certain skills.
The process of strengthening skills is an element of learning to swim that is closely tied to both time and consistency. Building the strength required for certain skills is one of the main reasons why kids require a good amount of time to learn how to swim independently. When a young child begins learning how to kick their legs, for example, there are multiple steps to the process. First, the child must learn the actual motion for the skill. This can prove tricky for a few reasons because the motion of kicking up and down with straight legs is one that they typically have not encountered before. It is not similar to kicking a ball, running, or jumping up and down; it is an entirely new motion. Add to this the fact that it requires them to be in a horizontal position in a giant pool of water and you have a skill that can take quite some time to master.
Once children become familiar with the motion of a skill such as kicking, they need to work on strengthening the motion in order to make the motion effective. If you ever watch a small child learning how to kick, you may notice that even if they can do the correct kicking motion, their kick may not actually be moving them forward. This is where building strength comes in. Since the motion is so new, kids need to develop and strengthen the muscles that are needed to execute an effective kick. And as with learning any new skill, you can’t expect it to be perfect after trying only a few times. Strengthening muscles and building muscle memory is definitely a process that requires time and consistent practice. This idea is true not just for kicking, but for a wide variety of skills from basic scooping arms taught in a preschool-level class to full front crawl arms taught in stroke development classes.
With the addition of this element, we begin to see how time, consistency, and strength all work together. Mastering skills requires building strength, building strength requires consistent practice of skills, and consistent practice requires continuous repetition over an extended period of time. Putting these together, we can see how a swimmer who has been practicing skills and developing strength and muscle memory over a period of many months will be confident in their ability and well on their way to becoming a safe, independent swimmer. Next month we will explore comfort, the fourth and final piece, and begin to take a look at the full picture of water safety.