10 most asked learn-to-swim questions answered- Q&A with one of London’s top swim coaches

I’m delighted to introduce long-term colleague and friend Mr Damien Bryan, head coach of Kingston Royals Swimming Club, as our first guest blogger.

Kingston Royals SC, is a community based swimming club in Southwest London which has gone from strength to strength over the last two years under his leadership being named Best Sports Club in 2015 by Kingston Borough Council. Squad swimmers have started winning medals on the national stage and he has become the lead coach on the ASA London and East Region Talent Development Camp (2016).

Swim coach- Kingston Royals

Damien with one of the Kingston Royals’ Squad Swimmers

For more than a decade, Damien has taught and coached a wide range of children and adults; from novice to international elite swimmers. So the breadth of his knowledge and experience is exceptionally good. In this blog, by answering the 10 questions teachers and coaches tend to be asked most regularly, he gives practical advice on how to prepare and plan a fruitful learn-to-swim journey. Over the years, I have noticed that many parents need guidance and assistance in the decision making process of swimming: from when is the best time to start swimming lessons, to what’s the best approach, what to expect and beyond. Damien’s answers and opinions are based on his own experience as a swim teacher and a coach and hopefully they will help many of our readers. Remembering that a one-size-fits-all model does not apply either to learning or swimming, so any decision should be right for you and your child.

1) How do you describe the swimming ability of a ‘swimmer’? For example, when a parent says: ‘my child can swim’, how does a coach gauge that child’s previous experience and ability?

 

The amount of information that can be gleaned from the statement – my child can swim – is quite similar to that gained from asking the question – how long is a piece of string? Swimming can be defined as the ability to move the body through water.Competent swimmers

As a swimming coach I am assessing a child, or adult, based on their ability to move through the water using one of the four recognised swimming strokes and doing so with a level of ease and comfort over a moderate distance of 200 meter without any major deterioration in the stroke.

In terms of describing a swimmer’s ability, I believe that a swimmer is always in development – even Adam Peaty (Team GB swimmer and the world record holder for 100 meter Breaststroke) is still in a phase of development – just far more advanced than the majority of us! We can always find better, more efficient ways to move through water, so any description of ability is centred on the current skill level of the swimmer

2) What are the fundamentals of swimming and what skills should be taught / learnt at what age to achieve the best outcomes?

I believe that the fundamentals to developing a good swimmer are balance, buoyancy and achieving water confidence. From here I believe that the beginner needs to start learning a feel for the water i.e how their body reacts in water and how they can manipulate the water to move. These are skills that can and should be practised at every stage of development. A common mistake I often see is when a young child is being taught how to move their body to mimic the strokes before they have been taught how to just ‘play’ in the water and learn how to control their general movement.

3) How early is early? In your experience, to achieve swimming competency (we don’t mean elite swimming though), do children have to start learning swimming early?
A child learning to float in swimming lessons in Wimbledon

 

This is always a tricky question, as previously mentioned, each child learns at an individual rate. SO you will get late starters who pick it up quickly and progress as well as early starters.

I would always encourage parents to bring their children swimming from an early age, though when it is as a family enjoy having family time and having fun, don’t worry about style, technique, learning specifics – these can be taught by the teacher.

Generally speaking most programs start children in their learn to swim at 4 years of age, which seems to be the accepted point at which the child is developmentally ready to begin learning to swim. Again though, not every child will be ready at 4, some might be 5 or 6.

In terms of gaining swimming competency, I do not think there is an age whereby it is too late for a child to learn, it may just take longer the later you start and may require one-to-one lessons as opposed to group lessons.

4) What’s the best age to start swimming for a child and why?

As mentioned in the previous question 4 years of age seems to be the accepted best starting age. Many studies relating to the cognitive, social and emotional development of children have been used to come to this reasoning. Again remember this is the general accepted wisdom, there may be some children who can start earlier, and likewise those that will start later.

5) If 4 years of age is a good age to start learning the competitive strokes, are there any actual benefits (learn-to-swim related) in doing structured swimming lessons for babies and toddlers? Why?

baby swimming Lesson in South West London

Yes, there are a number of benefits. Firstly, I believe that the structured nature of a well run parent & baby or parent & toddler class can help to give confidence to parents to assist their child’s exploration of the aquatic environment. Sometimes as parents we can be very cautious, especially around water, with our young children.

A structured class can help the parent relax, and in turn help the child relax – this is especially true of young toddlers who communicate through non-verbal means with their world – if they see their parent is happy in the water they will relax and enjoy the experience of being immersed in water.

Having these experiences at a young age, I believe, can help when laying the fundamentals necessary for the child to progress in mainstream swimming lessons when they are older.

6) With so many choices available, what should people look for in a good swim school?

Generally word of mouth works best. I would always rate a swim school that focuses on producing swimmers with a full set of skills – even if this takes time – over a school that emphasises getting a child to swim far and gain lots of badges. When assessing children for swimming clubs I see many who come in with their 25m badge and the differences in ability are massive. It’s one thing to be able to get from one end of a 25m pool to the other; it is a far better thing to do so with grace, poise and skill.

7) How long is it going to take a child to learn swimming, realistically? How many terms/years of commitment do you think parents should consider making for their kids to learn swimming properly (swimming defined in your answer to the first question)?

In my experience, if a child starts swimming at age 4 then they are generally aged 7-8 by the time they can swim – that is to swim all four competitive strokes correctly and with comfort and precision over a distance of 25m or 50m.

8) What are the necessary skills that a swimming teacher should have and how different they are to a coach?

The main skills required are an ability to honestly assess a child’s current stage of development, confidence in their ability and knowledge, to be friendly, approachable and adaptable to the needs of the child. Also, patience and perseverance and a depth of swimming knowledge.

learning technique with a swim teacher

Every child learns at a different rate, but I believe that every child can learn to swim. As teachers we need to find what works for each individual, how do we have to adapt our knowledge so as to facilitate the learning of the child.

I feel that related to the coach there should not be much difference in the skill set. The coach too needs to have an in-depth knowledge but the coach also needs to be a good motivator, more so perhaps than the teacher, as at this stage the swimmer is now more focused on outcome goals such as medals and PB (personal best) swims as opposed to the process goals of learn to swim.

9) What is your opinion on teaching Front Crawl and Back Crawl as a first stroke compared to Breaststroke, during the stroke development stage?

This is an interesting topic amongst swimming teachers. For me, as mentioned already, before any strokes we must make sure that we teach the fundamentals.

After this I, personally, tend to focus on the alternating action of the legs that forms the basis of the kick for Front Crawl and Backstroke. I will always teach backstroke arms before any of the other strokes – I find the swimmer can learn to become more comfortable on their back (because the face is out of the water) than on their front and it eliminates the need to break the learning of the stroke so as to take a breath.

Once a child has begun to grasp the basic fundamental movements for the alternating legs and arms I will then introduce the breaststroke leg action, but also the butterfly undulation. It’s not so much a building of one leg of a chair at a time but rather adding an extra piece to each leg concurrently.

confident swimmer in our Saturday lessons in Wimbledon, south west London

10) Are there any shortcuts in learning swimming?

No! I sometimes get asked why a child is progressing more in football or cricket than in swimming, and the answer is simple. To improve at swimming you need to be in a swimming pool. With all land based sports you are practicing for them every time you run around a field, chase a sibling through the house, play in the school yard etc. Without a pool you cannot learn to swim.

Please get in touch, to book lessons with us

 

If you have any questions about this blog you can contact Damien directly (via Kingston Royals SC) or me (Marjan).

Comments

  1. Nice answer back in return of this matter with solid arguments and describing everything about
    that.

  2. thanks for sharing, i really appreciate it. sometimes water can have a bad effect, but with your tips I’m sure sports pools become one of everyone’s favorites. I love your language and your discussion.

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