What about Adults Drowning Victims?

I am in Ft. Lauderdale, FL this week for the 2009 American Swim Coaches Association (ASCA) convention.  I saw a thought-provoking talk yesterday by Melon Dash of the Miracle Swimming Institute.  She was speaking on the absolute necessity of adult swimming lessons to overcome adults’ fear of the water and eliminate adult drownings.  So much focus in the last 100 years has been on children’s swim lessons under the pretense that if we teach all the children to swim then we’ll eliminate drownings as the become adults.  Unfortunately too many people have slipped through the cracks. 

Ms. Dash cites a CDC report from last October that 70% of drowning victims are adults; there are three times as many adults as children but adult swim lessons only make up a very small fraction of the total swim lessons.  She also cites a 1998 Gallup Poll that has some staggering statistics:

— 39% of adults are afraid to put their faces in the water
— 46% of adults are afraid to be in deep water where they can’t stand up in a pool
— 64% of adults are afraid to be in deep water where they can’t stand up in open water locations (lakes, rivers, ocean)

Given these numbers, we should ask ourselves: what about the adults who drown and what are we doing about it as teachers of adult swim lessons?  I know that we don’t make as nice a picture as a 5 year old learning to blow bubbles, but adults’ lives are valuable, too.

Ms. Dash said in her talk, and I agree, that we need to focus our efforts on getting people comfortable in the water.  Being comfortable in the water means that you are able to be “in your body” (Ms. Dash’s term) and aren’t leaving it mentally due to tension, fear, or panic.  Being “in your body” involves being comfortable breathing, being comfortable floating, being comfortable moving around on the front and back, being able to transition from the front and the back, and, yes, this means in both shallow and deep water because there really is no difference between the two. 

Too many adults come to be saying that they are comfortable in the water and don’t need to take our Water Acclimation.  Really, they want to move right to learning the strokes because that’s what swimming is, right? Wrong. We get many of them into our stroke development classes and they are rushing for air, unable to breathe into the water, and so tense that they can’t think.  Getting comfortable and in control is a pre-requisite to learning how to do the strokes.  You can’t learn something if you are terrified, no matter how far you bury and intellectualize that fear.  As adults, we bury that fear and feel like we’ll work through it as we learn the strokes.  The problem is that if there’s tension in the foundation, the movements will always be rushed and stiff.  New adult swimmers or adults who haven’t been able to learn to swim in the past shouldn’t skip this important step.  Unless we teach adults to be able to relax in the water, teach them how to do nothing and be fine, and how to react to unexpected situations, we won’t be really teaching them to swim and we’ll still have drowning problems. 

Thank you, Melon Dash, for your thought-provoking talk.

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