mama love: swimming edition

... I am loving that summer is getting closer by the minute. I LOVE summer. Everything about it makes me happy. I love the vacation mode and lazy mornings. I love the heat because I am one of those people that is perpetually cold in the slightest breeze. I love the fashion - breezy summertime tank tops and skirts and flip flops make me smile.

Since having kids I have had a love/hate relationship with being around water (pools, lakes, beach, etc.). I witnessed a small child drowning first hand when I was in elementary school and it has always stayed with me. We had a sweet little neighbor boy who was terrified of water. His fear of water gave his parents just a little too much confidence. They thought - "he will never jump in on his own" because they were constantly having to coax him in and he was terrified the whole time he was in the water. But, one day he felt a little more confident and this 4 year old little boy decided to jump in to grab his ball that was floating just out of reach. He had been jumping in with his life vest that day and landing on his floating ball. This time he did not have a vest and no one was around. What we heard from our backyard will stay with me forever. His father's screams for help were manic, laced with panic, and the kind of sound that would make every parent's blood curdle. My little neighbor was fished out of the water, but brain dead.

So, now, as a parent, I am incredibly cautious around water with my children. I know that it takes the briefest moment for life to change. I have had a couple of moments, vigilant as I am around water, where my children have gotten swept out too far, or fallen in accidentally, and there is nothing like knowing just a few minutes longer and life would have changed forever.

We were incredibly fortunate to meet one of the greatest swim coaches I have ever witnessed who taught our children how to swim last summer. When I heard about him, he was described as "the super nanny meets a great sports coach." It is a funny description, but really fits Coach Steve Brown, from Skool of Fish so well. He is British, so he has a great accent that makes everything sound better. He has a very firm demeanor with kids that shows them that he cares, and he supports them, but it is clear from the get go that he is serious about them learning how to swim. One of the things that I noticed immediately is that he is incredibly intentional about actually coaching the kids on how to think about safety in the water while they are swimming. This is something we should all be doing as we are with our kids in water. Before he would have them jump in he would ask them where they were going to swim to after they jump in and where the closest place was to swim to. Most kids jump and just start swimming forward. If you are in a large pool and are not a super strong swimmer, that could be quite an undertaking and could result in getting about mid way across the pool and in a panic because you are too fatigued to make it to the side. He is intentional and firm. Many kids are apprehensive with learning to swim and Coach Steve is not a warm and fuzzy, "Hey, lets splash our toes and float on our backs for a while as we sing songs about how fun the water is" kind of guy. No, he means business and helps the kids face their fear head on by showing them that they can learn to swim, sometimes through tears, but always with a healthy doze of encouragement.
If you live in the Orange County area, he is so worthy of a hearty recommendation. If you are out of the area, I would strongly encourage you to invest in swim lessons with a solid teacher who takes it very seriously. Coach Steve was incredibly gracious to share his thoughts on swimming so that we all have a good coach's perspective.

How long you have been swimming?
Initially, I was very much a pain in my mother's backside. Around the age of 3 I would ask to go to the pool with the intention of getting in, only to start crying and playing up as soon as my feet hit the water. My mom had some fairly bad back issues at the time and could barely walk in a straight line, so after about the 5th time she had my dad pick me up and dump me under the water. From that day on my fear of water was gone (and with a lot of work on all sides with learning how) I was good to go, we joined a local swim team in England when I was 4 and I had my first race just before my 5th birthday.
My older brother and I spent the next 15 years moving through the age groups of the swim team, and managed to attain a fairly high level at the County, State and a fleeting visit to the national level during our teenage years.
Aged 18, the more fun side of life such as....well you know, became inviting, so I gave up competitive swimming. I stayed active through surfing and swimming for pleasure. After moving to the States in 2001, I went back to school in L.A. to get my degree and joined the college swim team, aged 31. There I was - back at school 16 years after the last time, swimming against guys 10 years younger than me, I did OK and nearly got back to the times of old. Nearly.

How long have you been coaching?
Coaching, Life Guarding and teaching swimming all came from spending 5 nights a week at the pool training, so the natural step was to start working before and after practice, so I guess I gave my first lessons in 1985, aged 15. (Now I have said it out loud, I feel really old.) I have been coaching in the U.S. since I got here in 2001.

Why you are so passionate about helping kids learn to swim?
Two main reasons, one selfish and one logical.
Logical first, one of my first coaches gave me piece of advice that went "Swimming fast is good, swimming at all is better" to a 10 year old that kind of stuck with me, it took me a few years to figure it out, and he would say it over and over again. Once I did get it, it was one of those moments when the light bulb appears above your head, I liked that. I liked the idea that even though we were swimming for competitive reasons, we should be grateful that we can swim at all.
Selfishly, I was a hyper kid, and without the perseverance of my parents in taking my brother and I swimming everyday, I would have been more of handful than I was. Swimming gave me discipline, direction, responsibility and eventually satisfaction. All of which led to me being very busy with something that gave back to me both physically and in building self confidence, and also made me think about things in a way that lessons at school did not.
One water sport led to another and in my early teen years I started Surfing locally in England, having the confidence to look after myself in the ocean helped minimize the stress that put on my mum, as you can well imagine.Surfing led me to traveling, a lot. So far I have surfed on 6 of the worlds 7 continents and ridden waves in 44 different countries. That itself has been a blessing, all stemming from swimming, and in fact, one of the reasons I moved to America was to surf in warm water year round.

In your own words -- what is your philosophy regarding your style of teaching kids (in other words - why do you coach the way you do, versus, pool noodles, floaties, etc.)?
I use the phrase "Old School English Headmaster Style" a lot when I talk to parents for the first time. By that I mean I am not there to babysit your child, they are there to learn, sometimes even if they do not want to. All through our lives situations will arrive at our doorstep and human nature allows people to react in several ways. You can shy away and ignore it, or confront it, deal with it and move on. My old Headmaster was very much of the belief of the latter.
My technique is simple - it is a class just like any firm structured school class. I am not in the water trying to please the parents through making their child happy. By that I mean I will not work on the child's schedule, I do not negotiate with the child, I install discipline, manners and self confidence immediately. It is my time, the parents money and often the child's safety that we are dealing with, and the child will learn no matter what their level of swimming or age.
It is a difference between life and death, especially for children under 5 in California. With over 1.1 million swimming pools in California, and 75% of them in Southern California, that makes for a LOT of opportunity for accidents to happen. According to the California Department of Developmental Services, drowning is the number one cause of unintentional death among children between one and four years of age. Children are up to 14 times more likely to die in an accident in a swimming pool at a home, than in an automobile accident. That fact scares me, considering that California is the biggest car market in the world!!!!!
I teach children to swim without the help of any aids at all, because should a child fall into a pool by accident, they would not have any of these aids. Period.
The first thing they will do is look up for help, panic because they are upright due to the safety vest they are used to wearing, or scared because they do not have their googles on and they have water in their eyes. I teach the child to think for themselves without any of these "crutches", swim to the side in a flat, controlled manor that then gives them a chance to turn a negative situation into a positive outcome.

Here is a website Coach Steve has recommended:

I have to say that the first couple of days of lessons with "The Coach Steve Method" were a bit difficult for me to sit through with a smile on my face. I knew that he was in control, and good at what he does. -That was clear from the first moment in the water. It was just difficult for me to watch my daughter face her fear of getting water in her eyes. She cried hard through the first few lessons. But, bottom line - I wanted her to be able to LIVE should she fall into water out of my supervision.

Within a few days, she was swimming, and by the final day (day 10), she was jumping into the water and swimming to safety on her own, with a huge smile on her face. Coach Steve has the kids say, "I did it!" after every new step they learn. You literally see their confidence blooming like a flower as the days go by. We are now on a swim team in our community and this is a sport that my daughter loves and is really flourishing in. We are so thankful for the great start we got with Coach Steve. His signature phrase is "Ready, Steady, GO!" and we are also thankful that this little bit of language has stayed with our family. (It makes us feel slightly British, especially when we use our accents we've learned from Charlie & Lola!)

Have an amazing summer with your family! But, please do think about safety and take the important step to make sure your children are water safe. I never want another family to experience what our dear neighbors experienced with their child.

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