I swim on top of the water...not underneath it!

April 12, 2017


There is a lot of fuss about putting babies under the water - it is a selling point for a number of baby swim schools, and a lot of revenue can come from underwater photographs. The thing no one stops to explain is why the focus is on submersion.


Submersion is a part of swimming - there's no getting away from it. And as a part of swimming, it needs to be part of swimming lessons. But we have fully trained, experienced swimming teachers working all over the country who believe that babies need to be submerged deep under the water in order to learn to "swim".


Some baby swim school training manuals insist on babies being taken to at least hip depth (preferably deeper) below the water. In order to get the baby that deep in the water, the submersion needs to be pretty forceful, so teachers and parents are encouraged to really push the babies down deep beneath the surface. They often encourage parents to look out for the amphibian swimming reflex (a frog-like "swimming" action that babies do when placed beneath the water) as evidence that the baby is suited to a life beneath the waves. But is the baby genuinely trying to propel himself along under water, or is he desperately fighting and scrabbling to get back up?


The biggest irony of all, is that all four main strokes actually need to happen on top of the water. Unless we start to evolve with gills, we need to be on the surface in order to breathe. So is submerging babies actually developing their swimming career?


A child who learns to "swim" under the water doesn't usually have good technique - they naturally swim as quickly as they can from A to B in order to get their next breath, and their kick and body position aren't efficient. Some have been put off going under altogether - if there's a risk of putting a child off swimming for life by putting them under water, is it worth doing it in the first place?


I love being under the water, and it is indeed a skill in itself. But it's not a prerequisite to becoming a good swimmer.

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