Tag Archives: water confidence

Choosing a Formal Swim Instructor

by Mario Vittone

Though I am embarrassed to admit it, I have never been able to help much with math homework.  Sure, I’m a grown man and should know a few things, but advanced mathematics isn’t something I was ever good at.  Regardless of my grasp of the basics, I am far out of my depth when it comes to anything beyond geometry and basic algebra. So when it comes to helping the kids, my wife and I call in a pro (a local math teacher who tutors on the side) – and I stay out of the way. This is a good idea.

Likewise, you may be comfortable introducing your kids to the water and teaching them to relax and float, but advanced swimming lessons are simply more than you can handle.  That’s okay. If breath control and proper stroke technique have you scratching your head like – well, me with polynomial long division, here are some fundamentals for finding professional help.

1. Assess their commitment to safety and professional certification

Anyone serious about working with children in the water will have taken the time to get certified in CPR and first aid. At minimum, any swimming instructor should be certified in first aid, CPR, and lifeguarding. Another certification to look for is WSI or Water Safety Instruction.  This is the American Red Cross’s designation of a swim instructor.  You should have no hesitation in asking to see their credentials and a good instructor will have none in showing you them. 

There are other professional affiliations and training certificates that you may see, including affiliation with the U.S. Swim Schools Association. Association with a professional organization doesn’t guarantee perfection, but it does let you know that the school or instructor you are considering takes their profession seriously and is working with other professionals to improve their craft, and member schools are rated for their experience and commitment to the continuing education of their staff.

2. Understand their approach to instruction

Ask the instructor, what is your approach to swim instruction?  What do you try to accomplish?  What you are looking for is an instructor who works to build fundamentals and build up skills progressively. You’re listening for words like “fundamentals” and “progression” and “developing confidence” when asking questions about the way they teach.

Be wary of any guarantees for how fast or slow your child’s skills in the water may develop. Experienced instructors understand that children are different and will have their own pace when learning to swim.  That doesn’t mean that group instruction is better or worse than one-on-one lessons, but you want to be sure that swim instructors have an appropriate appreciation of your child’s individual needs.

Choosing a formal swim instructor by Mario Vittone

3. Watch them with other kids

I know I have discussed the importance of being there and being comfortable with your children in the water, but sometimes your presence can distract them. At certain ages, kids learn faster, stay focused longer, and even complain less when mom and dad are out of sight.  Some instructors have parents watching from a clandestine spot, and this is just fine. You should, of course, be able to watch lessons before you commit.  When you do this, you are looking for some very specific things.

You want an instructor or instructional team who appears patient and looks comfortable interacting with children the same age as your child.  You want to see if the students look engaged or bored.  Are they excited to be there and having fun, or do they look like it is drudgery?  While more fun equals more learning, don’t be too put off if the older kids look like they are doing some real work. What you are looking for as much as anything is the appearance that students like the instructors and vice versa.

The American Red Cross recommends no more than ten students for every instructor, so have a look at class sizes as well.  Again, group instruction isn’t a bad thing and it can even be preferable at times to one-on-one instruction. Children can gain confidence from watching others their age swimming alongside. But, too many kids at a time is hard to manage on dry land, much less in the water.

4. The classroom matters

Nothing takes the fun out of swimming like chattering teeth in a pool that is too cold.  Blue lips and shivering kids are a good sign that you should look somewhere else. The clarity and quality of the water are important as well. Water quality for your home pool is equally important for any pool where lessons are held.  It matters for the safety of the kids and for the quality of the learning that will go on when they are there.

Burning eyes from improper pH levels can ruin a lesson quicker than anything, and you can forget the fun factor if lessons = discomfort for your kids. A properly run pool will look and smell clean and clear. If it isn’t a place you would love to swim, your kids won’t either.

5. Reputation

I have several friends in the business of providing professional swim lessons and all of them are proud of what they do.  When you ask them for references (and you should, of course) a good instructor will be thrilled to hand them over.  You can ask the parents you see when you visit, but you also want to hear from the vets, whose children have been to the school and moved on.

My good friend Johnny Johnson of Blue Buoy Swim School in Tustin, California has taught generations of children and has a reputation spanning decades. Six of his students have competed in the Olympics! You should be so lucky to have a school like his nearby, but don’t be afraid of up-and-comers with a good reputation and the right credentials. Schools like Johnny’s have instructors who learn from the masters and move on to start their own schools in other markets.  So if a friend of yours recommends a school that is maybe a bit too far from your home, you should ask them for a professional reference for an instructor in your area.  Believe me, they’ll know who else is out there and will give you good advice.

Consider the five things listed above, ask good questions, and watch the instructors while they work. You’ll be well on your way to finding an instructor or swim school that is right for your child. In the end, you are looking for a place and for people that will help your child learn a skill for life. I don’t think it is a no-brainer decision, but it shouldn’t be as hard for you as trigonometry is for me.

Stay safe, have fun, and as always, I’d be glad to answer your questions in the comments below.

Mario Vittone - Water Safety Expert

Mario Vittone is a nationally recognized expert on water safety. His writing on aquatic risk and drowning prevention has appeared in magazines, websites, and newspapers around the world. Mario is a former Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue Swimmer and instructor and has lectured on boating and water safety across the United States. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance and the Joshua Collingsworth Memorial Foundation.
Mario’s Blog | Facebook Page

Pool Toys for Water Confidence

Mario Vittone - Water Safety Expert

Mario Vittone – Water Safety Expert

Water safety expert, Mario Vittone, has written a special feature article for our main website called Pool Toys for Water Confidence. Did you know that the best way to build confidence in the water is through play? In his article Mario explains how water fun helps children develop their swimming ability and build water confidence, he also gives some pointers on what pool toys to use to get started.

“Though I grew up on summer swim teams and went to more than my fair share of swim practices, I believe a great deal of my confidence and ability in the water was developed not when I was “learning” to swim – but rather when I was just playing in the water. I was learning how to be a better swimmer and didn’t even know it was happening.” - Mario Vittone

Click here to read the full feature article by Mario on SwimWays.com

Pool Toys for Water Confidence

by Mario Vittone

If you’ve been paying attention to my blog posts you know that I am a big fan of “play” and “fun” in the water. Though I grew up on summer swim teams and went to more than my fair share of swim practices, I believe a great deal of my confidence and ability in the water was developed not when I was “learning” to swim – but rather when I was just playing in the water. I was learning how to be a better swimmer and didn’t even know it was happening.

I may have learned proper swim mechanics on the swim team, but my real confidence in the water came from hours simply at play with my family and friends. Exploring underwater with my goggles or dive mask conditioned my breath-holding ability. Playing games like Water Polo and “Underwater Basketball” built my skills with treading water. And I remember how much fun I had diving after pennies and how that time was as valuable to my comfort in water above my head as any lap my coaches made me swim. The play was just as important as the practice.

Parents should encourage structured and unstructured supervised play as an integral part of the learn-to-swim process for their children. But as fond a memory as diving for pennies is for me, you really don’t want your kids taking loose coins into the pool. In this article I have matched up some great SwimWays pool toys with ideas for games that will help your child build confidence in the water without them even knowing it.

Now, on to the toys!

Disney and Marvel Swimming Goggles

Spider-Man Swim GogglesSwimming goggles are an excellent device for encouraging a swimmer to put their face in the water. Kids are natural explorers and with goggles, the ability to see clearly above and below the surface will take advantage of their curiosity while protecting their eyes from irritation and the unintended pokes that can happen anytime kids play.

Just about every game and toy highlighted in this article is made more fun by the use of properly fitted swim goggles, but a good set of goggles alone will help your child gain confidence having their face in the water and can improve breath control.

Underwater Dive Toys

Zoom RaySwimming underwater is a life skill that often takes a back seat to traditional swimming like freestyle and other surface strokes. Being good at surface swimming is vital, but being fast and efficient on the surface won’t help if later in life they need to duck under a wave at the beach, or jump from a high dive at a larger pool and find themselves ten feet underwater.

Being confident in the water means being confident under the water too. Other dive toys like the Toypedo or the Zoom Ray make for great underwater fun; kids will even enjoy swimming to retrieve these toys for another round of play.

Rainbow Reef

I want one of everything in the Rainbow Reef line. Watch this video below and tell me you don’t want one of those sharks. I don’t think you can do it. Okay well, at least one of those swimming fish? I must be getting old, though, because my first thought was, “You kids today don’t know how good you’ve got it! Why when I was your age, we used coins for pool toys!”

http://youtu.be/cwro0yiCxtg

But seriously, cool toys mean more reasons to get in the water and have fun and that can and will transform young swimmers into better young swimmers. Anything that makes them move in the water will help them get better at moving in the water and help them develop breath-control and balance, too.

Spring Float Kid’s Boat

Spring Float Kid's BoatThat’s right: I’m suggesting a pool float as a water-confidence-building pool toy. No, I’m not suggesting that lying around builds water confidence, but put one of these things in the water with two or more kids and see what happens. Eventually, all kids will break into the aquatic version of “King of The Hill,” turning these pool floats into serious deep water toys.

Of course, you should encourage them to “play nice” and can organize the fun into an aquatic musical chairs round. Two Spring Float Kid’s Boats, three kids, and you’ve got yourself a game.

Poolside Volleyball

Poolside VolleyballYou wouldn’t immediately think that a game like Poolside Volleyball played while standing on the bottom builds in-water skill, but it does. Jumping and reaching for the save, kids are sometimes forced to submerge at odd angles while their hands are busy. There is no nose-pinching or face-covering going on and kids develop tolerance for the occasional discomfort of water up the nose or submerging with less than a full breath. It may seem silly and definitely this game is more about volleyball than anything else, but that’s the point. While playing a game, kids develop secondary skills that help them in other areas and that makes them more confident and safer swimmers.

So far, everything I’ve mentioned is for more advanced junior swimmers and teens (and me with that whole shark thing), but even the youngest can gain confidence and comfort in the water through the use of toys and games.

Gobble Gobble Guppies

Gobble Gobble GuppiesI promise, I’m not suggesting the Gobble Gobble Guppies pool toy just because of the shark (though he is pretty cool), but because it’s a great toy to get young swimmers to move through the water, even if they still need to stay in the shallow end where they can touch bottom. Space the guppies out and watch as your kids chase them through the water. Have them alternate holding the shark in either hand with each round and the fun of play becomes a serious tool for building balance, hand-eye coordination, and general ease in the water.

Closing Thoughts

Supervised toys and games are an important part of any child’s development as a confident and safer swimmer. Remember that the next time you’re in the store and they drag you into pool toy aisle and say, “Please!” Whatever they want that will get them playing in the water will do good that they aren’t even aware of. Just make sure you remind them how lucky they are — “Why, when I was a kid, we had to play with pennies!”

From the editor: This article was published on our main website last year. We’re sharing this with you again as pool season is approaching, and we thought you might like to start thinking about toys that can help increase water confidence in your child!

Mario Vittone - Water Safety Expert

Mario Vittone is a nationally recognized expert on water safety. His writing on aquatic risk and drowning prevention has appeared in magazines, websites, and newspapers around the world. Mario is a former Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue Swimmer and instructor and has lectured on boating and water safety across the United States. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance and the Joshua Collingsworth Memorial Foundation.
Mario’s Blog | Facebook Page