My office manager forwarded on an article from “Chicago Parent” on the use of swim noodles in swim classes. I was about to write a blog post that swim tools don’t teach, teachers do. I was going to take a triathlete angle and pick on my favorite enemies, the hand paddle and the kickboard, but the noodle will do just fine.
I personally don’t own a copy of the Experts Guide to the Swim Noodle Technique, but we take a different approach that asserts that a child needs to be able to do the fundamental skills on their own rather than with the support of noodles, boards, or other personal floatation devices (PFDs). The reason behind our approach is that when it comes with foundational floats and glides on the front and back, a student needs to know that the water is going to support him or her. As one of my colleagues, Melon Dash, of Miracle Swimming says, you need to be comfortable doing nothing before you do something. Relying heavily on noodles to get kids to use their arms and legs to move around the pool makes it look like they are learning. But the child (or adult) has never learned to fully relax and release their weight in the water.
When the casual observer looks at swimming from the deck, it looks like its all about moving the arms and legs. Putting a noodle under the arms turns swimming into a head up, arms and legs-driven activity. Our coaches look deeper (literally) and know that what’s really at work in swimming is a relaxed and balance body that works in harmony with the water and allows the swimmer to use the arms and legs without fear of sinking. The last thing we want is for swimmers to feel like they need to push down on the water and kick like hell to stay up. That’s where fear, panic, and exhaustion kick in. A noodle doesn’t teach body positioning, only floating and gliding drills can do that.
Noodles and other pool tools can shake things up and change the feel of things, but ultimately the instructor needs to come back to doing the skill for short times and distances with no support at all. Games and songs work well with helping kids take the first step. Breaking the skills down into micro-skills works best for adults and older children (13+ years). We use noodles periodically to isolate a skill but never as a primary teaching tool.
Children don’t learn water comfort from a noodle. They learn it by having a great instructor do the hard work of presenting a child-centered, play-based approach to letting the child learn to be comfortable on their terms.