A competent swimmer is a swimmer who travels in water independently, smoothly and efficiently with good technique. Swimming can look really easy when one watches good swimmers, but it is actually very technical. If you have been watching any TV coverage of 2017 FINA World Championships which is on now, you know what I mean.
Swimming is more than just moving arms and kicking legs in water.
Like playing a musical instrument or speaking another language; it requires good instructions, time, patience and plenty of practice. To be a strong swimmer, so many different skills have to be learnt and then those skills need to be put together.
The best analogy I can use for learning to swim is like trying to find and put different pieces of jigsaw puzzle together and puzzle is not completed till all the right pieces are put together in a correct format.
Although not all children are afraid of water, the biggest challenge for some novices is getting over their fear of water. This can be done much easier if swimming starts early in life and with the right approach.
The main objective of baby and toddler swimming lessons are to engage children with water early and to get them to get used to the feeling of being in water and travelling in it with adult-support. Little ones gain much water-confidence though play in water.
In most cases, children can start having lessons independently between the ages of 3 and 4 (children can start lessons with us without parental support in water from 3 years old). A child who’s done plenty of infant swimming classes or has been regularly exposed to water through family swims, will not normally need to start from complete scratch.
But, if a pre-schooler is not water-confident and is not used to the feeling of moving in water, a teacher has to spend a considerable time to just get the child water-confident, before a child can learn the basics.
That is why, I highly recommend taking your little ones to swimming pools, either by participating in structured baby and toddler lessons or just for family swims. Family swims work if at least one of the parents is very water-confident and knows how to handle a young child in water. Otherwise, parental fear of water could easily rub off on a child and could make the situation even worse.
Between the ages of 3 and 4 years, more structured learning can start. Children are ready to learn the basics and teaching the fundamentals of swimming can start without having the medium of parents to transmit the instructions.
The basic skills listed below are very important pieces of the learn-to-swim jigsaw puzzle and form essential foundations for good technique later on.
With consistent participation in baby and toddler classes, most kids can gain water-confidence and learn some of the basic skills but it’s unrealistic to expect them to learn all of the above by age 3.
For most children, if they started with formal lessons at least as a toddler (2 years), they should have learned the foundation skills by the age of 4 to 5 years.
After learning the basics, teaching proper strokes like front crawl can start. It is safe to assume that by the age of 5, children are strong enough and have the body coordination to start learning the recognisable strokes like front crawl and back stroke.
Learning strokes needs psychological maturity in order to stay focused and listen to instructions for at least 30 minutes- around the age of 5 to 6 for most children.
For each stroke, there is a specific format for kicking legs, moving arms and breathing. So, to swim with proper technique, children have to learn all that as well as when and how do the actions- we are talking about coordination.
Plus, keeping the whole body afloat as their arms, legs and head move is another skill that needs to be learnt and mastered.
Most children who have joined us as a baby or toddler (between 4 months to 2 years) and after joining have had swim lessons continuously (based on once a week, during school term-time, each lesson lasting 30 mins), by age 7 to 8 years old can:
Based on my 25 years’ experience of teaching children to swim, it takes about 75 to 95 hours of swimming lessons over a period of approximately 5 years of swimming lessons to become a competent swimmer.
Of course, it varies from child to child, but 5 years of lessons is the minimum requirement if you really want your child to be a competent swimmer.
By competent swimmer, most swimming related organisations around the world define it as a swimmer who can swim at least 100 meters continuously with comfort and ease using recognisable and different stroke(s) both on front and back.
Of course, the younger children start to learn to swim, the faster they will learn to swim but, parents must be mindful that the first priority for a swim teacher is to help a learner to be truly comfortable in water regardless of age.
If a child starts learning to swim later in life, normally the water-confidence building stage takes much longer and this tends to extend the whole learn-to-swim process. It’s important to have realistic expectations and allow children to have enough time in the water to practice skills and play.
Becoming a competent swimmer is also about practice. Playful practices are excellent for building water-confidence when kids are younger and structured practices are necessary to learn the technique.
Children who are born in the 21 century are expected to live easily to their 80s, and swimming is a sport that one can do at any age. So, investing in your child’s learning to swim journey could be the most long-lasting gift that you could ever give them!
Enjoyed reading this blog? If yes, you can receive more swimming tips from us, please sign up for our newsletter.