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.
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.
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.
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.
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.