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Learning to Swim Is Not Learning Strokes

Published on LinkedIn • October 12, 2020

To be safe in water, we need to be calm in water over our heads. All swimmers need this basic level of comfort, to play, to socialize, and to fit in. But, most importantly, they need it in case they find themselves in deep water by surprise, e.g. after falling in, or by a misadventure, accident, or storm.

Being able to jump off a boat to play in a lake, or dive off a diving board with confidence, were once measures of being able to swim. Kids at summer camp were routinely asked if they ‘could swim.’ It meant, “If you fall out of the canoe, will you be safe until we can come back and get you?” The implication was that knowing how to swim meant knowing how to be calm and safe in water over your head, as long as necessary.

In my opinion, this is the correct definition of “learning to swim.”

What if you were on a sunset cruise a mile from shore and the boat capsized, depositing everyone into the water? The crew’s main concern would be which passengers could await help calmly, and which required immediate help. This is the line that divides people who can swim from those who cannot.

It would not matter how many could tread water for one minute and perform freestyle with rhythmic breathing for 25 yards.

Yet this is what most swim schools are teaching. The learn-to swim (LTS) agencies’ main message is that learning strokes is learning to swim. Now we have significant numbers of children and adults who can do a stroke for 25 yards in shallow water but cannot rest or remain calm in water over their heads. These people pass their swim tests but they can’t swim. They don’t know how the water works. They don’t understand it. As one aware instructor said, who was struggling with teaching afraid adults,

“My students are suffering from what I don’t know.”

—Sharon Powers, Powers Swim School, West Palm, FL before she became a Miracle Swimming Instructor

The success of the drowning prevention industry is neutralizing some of our country’s loss of life in water. I believe the drowning rate would plummet if LTS were teaching people to swim instead of teaching only strokes.

And since many other countries look to the U.S. for leadership and innovation, they have copied our mistakes and are suffering, too. But they could dramatically decrease or virtually eradicate drowning.

“The (U.S.) drowning rate has not changed appreciably in the past 20 years.”

—Adam Katchmarchi, Executive Director, National Drowning Prevention Alliance, 2020.

I can hear the swim coaches now. “Learning to swim is learning strokes!”

I’m a swimming coach and lifelong competitive swimmer, myself. But learning strokes is simply learning to swim efficiently. Yes, to win gold medals, we have to swim efficiently. But LTS is “teaching” people to swim efficiently before it teaches them to swim. It works for some, but it skips steps for many! It’s especially damaging for adults. It’s causing many kids to become young adults who won’t leave the side of the deep end.

If we taught everyone to swim, there would be a much larger pool of swimmers to train, from which to derive our elite swimmers.

As a swim school owner, I could not afford to fail. I had to pay my rent. The idea I espouse has never once failed in 38 years, for over 5,000 students, and hundreds of thousands of lessons. Not once.

This represents a massive societal and financial opportunity for swimming instructors and swim school owners — to pivot to a path of water safety that leads to our shared goal: Water safety for all.

Learning strokes is not learning to swim. Learning to swim is not learning strokes. It’s learning to be still in water over one’s head.

This idea is the bedrock of the coming global renaissance in Learning To Swim (LTS), that can virtually end drowning. Its success depends on you.

—Melon Dash

Turning the Century-Old System Upside Down

There are several major topics that must be addressed to right the ship of Aquatics so that swimming is taught in a sustainable way that works for all.

#1. Floating is not “supposed to be” horizontal.

It might be horizontal and it might not. If you’re not standing up and you’re not lying on the bottom, you’re floating. Horizontal, diagonal and vertical are all good positions of floating. Feet on the floor? No problem! Tell your traditional swimming instructor that good floats can take any position.

If you took the water away, where would these people go? Down! So what is  holding them up? The water! That’s what a float is.

If you try to keep your feet off the bottom and you’re a person who would naturally float with your feet down, your “V” shape will cause you to wobble and possibly pull your face under water. It’s uncomfortable.

More topics to come. Read Conquer Your Fear of Water and learn it all.

Turning the Ship of Aquatics

The Ship Must Be Turned.

Aquatics encompasses all water-related sports and activities, ranging from aqua-exercise to swimming lessons, post-op water therapy to swimming on the Olympic Team. It’s family pool relays at the July 4th community picnic. It’s what happens after you jump off a boat. It’s SCUBA diving.

Why does the ship of Aquatics need to be turned? Because even with all the magnificent and empowering aspects it can boast and all the good that the Aquatics industry is doing, it’s built on a premise that isn’t true. That premise is costing adults, teens, and children their lives.

What’s the false premise?

“Learning strokes is learning to swim.”

WHAT?

That’s right. Learning to swim is one thing. Learning strokes is something else. They’ve always been thought to be the same. But five thousand non-swimmer adults taught me otherwise. And they are right. The aquatics industry never made the distinction. Until 1983, neither did I.

My adult students say, “I CAN SWIM!” when they learn to be free in the deep end of the pool. They can hang out anywhere in the deep end, rest, flip around, play, and stay as long as they like. Their concern that they will sink, drown, or panic is gone. The first time they said, “I can swim!” I realized they were right. They were safe. We had never once mentioned strokes.

A century of formal swimming lessons operating on the premise that learning to swim means learning strokes has been turned on its head. Teaching kids and adults to be water-safe is far less work than Aquatics thought. To end drowning, the world needs to know.

What is learning to swim? What is learning strokes?

Learning to swim is learning to be safe and competent in water over your head. Everyone should learn this. One never knows when they’ll need to know how to swim. It’s part of being literate in personal safety. You look both ways before you cross the street. You don’t give your social security number to random callers. You go to the dentist. You don’t get into a stranger’s car. You listen to your gut. You learn to swim.

Learning strokes is learning to move in water efficiently. Strokes are the choreography (1) of swimming. They are the efficient way to swim. But they are an extremely inefficient way to learn safety. Strokes are unrelated to safety!

Safety must come before efficiency. But look closely: the way traditional lessons are taught, efficiency is taught and safety is not. This has become more stark in the past 30 years since swimming coaches– with good intentions– took over swimming lessons from teachers. Now, people take swimming lessons, learn a few things about propelling themselves with strokes, don’t learn that deep water holds them up, and therefore they emerge from lessons not knowing how to swim. Now we have teenagers, college students, and young adults who believe they can swim, though they cling to the sides. They passed swimming tests as a children but now they can’t swim in deep water. The test didn’t test for safety. It tested efficiency.

Where did the false premise come from? It came from teaching kids strokes. It worked for most kids! Why? Because practically without being taught, kids figure out that the water holds them up. Kids play in water every chance they get, and they learn about their buoyancy. And lessons once included learning to float.

Half of the adults in the United States worry that if they go into deep water, they’ll panic or die. That’s 114 million people. If they could swim, they wouldn’t be afraid in deep water. People who can swim understand how the water works. People who don’t know how it works are understandably afraid. The swimming lessons they took most likely taught flutter kick, arm strokes, rhythmic breathing, push and glide off the wall. Or they tried. And these have nothing to do with resting or being safe in water over your head.

The learn-to-swim organizations haven’t examined these truths. At Miracle Swimming, we have done back flips trying to tell them for 37 years. It’s time the public knew. It’s time to turn this ship around. The ship of Aquatics is coming into port for an overhaul. When adult lessons are prioritized and adults are not ashamed to say they can’t swim, when learning to swim means safety instead of efficiency and instructors know the steps of overcoming fear, and when every swimming student is successful on their first try because they are met at their level, the overhaul will be complete and the ship can head back out to sea.

 

(1) An idea from Christopher Canaday

 

 

 

 

 

Parents First!

Parents are kids’ first teachers

A parent gives messages about the water and swimming to his/her children during pregnancy, baths, suppertime conversations, neighborhood swimming parties, swimming lessons, in the car, family picnics, school functions, and whenever the topic arises. Can the messages be positive, correct, informed, and supportive if parents don’t know how to swim? If they’re afraid in water, themselves? Half of adults in the U.S. are afraid in water over their heads.

When the kids can swim but the parents can’t…

When kids can swim and parents can’t, only part of the family is safe in
water. Would you want a family to be supervised by a non-swimmer adult at the water?

Take the example of the six teens in Shreveport, Louisiana in 2010 who drowned one by one as their parents looked on, beside themselves in panic. Those parents thought their kids could swim because the kids said they could. The parents didn’t know what “I can swim” means: they couldn’t swim, themselves. This should have been the last time this tragedy ever happened. Steps had to be taken the next day. We volunteered. We received no response. It has happened again and again—imagine.

Parents need to know how to swim first

Kids pick up their parent’s fear. Ninety percent of our afraid-in-water students at Miracle Swimming for Adults say their parent(s) were afraid, themselves. Parents who are afraid in water need a way to learn to swim safely, comfortably, and reliably the first time they try. They need to naturally radiate and exude confidence in water to their babies and children. They need to teach by example that water and fun and safety go together.  When parents can play in water with their children, children can learn to swim within the family’s recreational activities at the family’s convenience, virtually for free.

If parents could swim, the drowning rate would drop

Eighty percent of drownings in the United States are by adults. If adults could swim, how much would that statistic drop? To zero? Currently about half of adults can’t swim (are afraid in water over their heads in a pool) according to a Gallup Poll.

If parents could swim, how many more children would learn to swim?
If parents could swim, how many lives of children would be saved?
If parents could swim, how many children would not lose their parents?

If mindfulness is brought to adults to impress upon them the necessity of
being present when their kids are in the water, how would that decrease
drowning?

Obsolete Premise

The opinion of aquatics leaders for a century has been that if all kids learn to swim, all adults will eventually learn to swim. That makes sense on paper but it has not panned out. We must drop this obsolete idea and focus on teaching the largest population of non-swimmers: adults. Not that kids don’t need to learn to swim: they do. Now. But let’s shift our sights to equal safety for adults, who are in charge.

When the teens in Shreveport drowned, the Swim Instruction Industry, in our opinion, should have called an emergency conference, asked what went wrong, and revamped their entire approach to water safety. But they, like the public everywhere shrugged. “What can we do? Teach kids to swim!”

We maintain that this is an error. When all the questions are asked, they lead to the parents’ inability to swim. Then they lead to traditional adult swimming lessons and the reasons adults quit them.

Why are there so few adult lessons?

There have been a few adult lessons for years. But since there are three times as many adults as kids in the U.S.,  you’d think there would be three times as many adult lessons. There aren’t. And it’s not because adults know how to swim. Nor is it that adults don’t want to know how to swim. A Gallup Poll showed that 46% of American adults were afraid in water over their heads in pools. If they’re afraid, they don’t understand the water and they’re not safe: they cannot swim.

Adult lessons have never been profitable because as an offering, they have never worked well. Large numbers of adults quit lessons for reasons this website makes clear. In addition, many instructors are afraid to teach adults: what if the students panic? What if a student is bigger than the instructor?

It seems that no one ever asked, “Why do adults quit my lessons? Could it be what I’m teaching?” Apparently, no one called the students who quit to get their feedback or to fix a teaching problem. No one questioned the value of the teaching, the lessons, or the system. No one asked students what they wanted to learn—or examined the definition of “I can swim.” Perhaps there was no need to examine these because office personnel and swim instructors didn’t need to know the correct definition of, “I can swim!” in order to keep the lights on, or put food on the table.

The answer to ending drowning is adults learning to swim

You may think that’s a big leap. The end of drowning will require many changes and “layers of protection.” But the biggest impact will be made by teaching adults to swim. When adults can swim, kids will receive better information and modeling around water than many do now. There will be a new understanding of, “I can swim” and how to be safe in water.

At MSSA, we hold that most drownings of adults are caused by panic. Afraid adults don’t know the water or how to remain in control in the deep.  While some panic situations would be very difficult to avoid, most adult drownings don’t occur in strange situations, but rather from mundane ones, or events that are possible to keep safe:

  • A fisherman/woman falls out of a boat
  • A ferry or tourist boat sinks
  • Someone falls into the deep end of a pool
  • A dog jumps out of a boat and the owner jumps in to get it
  • Alcohol

These are indefensible reasons to drown.

Imagine a world where virtually everyone can swim. How would life be different?

Guaranteed Path to Your Learn-to-Swim Goals

At Miracle Swimming, our students told us one of their lifelong mysteries had been, “How will I ever reach my swimming goals? How will I learn to swim?”
They Found Us. The Recipe Was Unveiled.
In our Beginning or Ultra Beginning courseyou learn the basics of what needs to happen to overcome fear. It’s a simple, powerful tool that keeps you feeling safe. It’s common sense. When you feel safe, surprise: you can learn! You do learn!

What do you learn?
to slow down
to prevent panic
to float, unfloat, roll over, reverse direction, let go in the deep, remain in control, jump in.

You become safe and confident to do things you never thought you could learn. This is our typical agenda, but every class is different. You will be transformed.

Learning to be free in water happens in stages. You need time to accept the changes that take place. People often don’t believe it. Therefore, we take pictures and videos for you to watch later. The change settles in. 

In our Next Step courseyou review the basics of the Beginning course and continue to slow down further so that you can become completely still and present in the middle of deep water, able to hang out there peacefully. Imagine it.

This is a shift in your understanding about how the water works and how you can be yourself in it without worry. You will be transformed.

In our Deep Water Play courseyou review your Next Step Course gains and build upon the confidence you won in deep water. We add games and “toys” so that you can more deeply understand how the water works and how to use it to go where you want to go, for example to pick up the keys your dropped in the drink! It is here that we’ve seen our students spontaneously begin to tread water as though they had been doing it all their lives. You will be transformed.

After Deep Water Play, you will have mastered the pool. You can take these skills to open water as well. Once you have gained the mastery of Deep Water Play, you can be successful learning strokes: you now will have become organized—coordinated—enough that you can understand stroke lessons and execute them. Take strokes from us or your local swim school.

In our Ocean 101 course, you’ll have the experience of salt water in a warm, calm ocean setting. Become familiar with the ocean and demystify its characteristics (as much as we can in 3 days). It gives you a leg up over the pool classes when you go on vacation with family or friends. You will be transformed.

In our Jump Off the Boat course, become confident hurling yourself with reckless abandon off a boat into the blue! Join the ranks of open water-safe swimmers. What a milestone! You will be transformed.

All these levels are achieved systematically, using our proprietary 5 Circles Teaching System. It’s anchored in universal laws of learning that we have not seen used elsewhere. It cannot fail. It never has. Students or teachers may forget to use it now and then: but it can’t fail. If you’ve read our book, Conquer Your Fear of Water, you know what it is and that it works. 

We hope you’ll join us in 2020 to get started. If you’re really scared, try our Ultra Beginning course. It’s the PERFECT way for you to begin. 

Ultra Beginning Courses, 2020
Beginning Courses, 2020 

Hope to see you this year.
Swimcerely,
Melon Dash
Founder, Miracle Swimming
  Now they come back until they get it all.
Get started. Decide on the rest later.
As One Door Closes, Another Door Opens!

Miracle Swimming for Adults, a non-profit organization in Sarasota, FL from 2010 to 2019, closed on 12/31/19. Its founder, Melon (Mary Ellen) Dash, opened Miracle Swimming January 1, 2020. The name of the “new” school is to be announced this month.

The nonprofit was strictly required by law to give no forwarding information since the school replacing it is a for-profit organization. All are truly sorry for any inconvenience!

This site has gone live before attaining full functionality in order to provide information for those seeking Miracle Swimming. You may sign up for classes at links on our Course Schedule page. For a short time, receipts will say 5 Circles Mindfulness, LLC and there will be an extra step. Thank you for your patience.

All the inspiration, breakthroughs, fun, and changed lives that were made possible by Miracle Swimming since its founding in 1983—when Melon originally opened her swim school—continue in 2020, unaltered. Our plans will appear here in the coming month. Start or resume your victorious swimming journey in Sarasota with our Beginning Course January 27-31, 2020 or our Next Step Course February 3-7, 2020. Or, learn in San Francisco on February weekends.

A huge thank you goes to the former members of our board of directors who put their very best thinking and a tremendous amount of time and heart into making the nonprofit all it could be: Terri Goodman CEO, Beth Sullivan President, Judith Luberski Vice President, Anna Lea Matysek Treasurer, and Renee Piazza, Raymond Ortiz and Susan Curll. Thank you all for serving the dreams of adult non-swimmers, which three of you once were.