Out of all the skills we work on during a swimming lesson, going underwater and learning how to navigate within that environment is vital for a swimmer to be water safe. It’s also a skill that creates a lot of hesitation and fear within a class setting, especially for younger swimmers.
So, how can we introduce underwater drills, or “unders” in a way that encourages swimmers to feel confident and trust the process, while finding a healthy balance between pushing them and acknowledging their fears?
Starting at the beginning – get your kids in the water as early into their development as you can. Swimmers who are introduced to unders during infancy tend to be more confident and capable of performing the standard underwater kick to the wall much earlier than those introduced to it later on. Until your swimmer is able to move independently in the water, it falls to either you as a parent, or the instructor to initiate unders.
When performing an under, using the same verbal cues beforehand is KEY to allowing your swimmer to register what they’re about to experience. These drills should NEVER come as a surprise to a swimmer and utilizing the same verbal cue will allow even a swimmer who doesn’t talk yet to understand what they need to do. I’ll usually combine a simple cue like “1… 2… 3… Under!” With a gentle back and forth motion to give them time to register the language and associate it with the action being taken.
The most important thing for parents and instructors to recognize is the commitment behind these types of drills. When we put swimmers underwater, we tend to experience some feedback – them letting us know that what they’re experiencing is new and/or uncomfortable and at times, this can be a bit jarring. Something I tell parents in my parent/child classes is that we aren’t doing these drills TO or swimmers, but rather FOR our swimmers. Acknowledging that we’re performing these drills to allow them to become water safe is a much better way to approach the skill set as we can ultimately be a pillar of support during the uncomfortable, often tear filled period of a class.
After a swimmer has experienced going under the water with constant support, it’s important to show them the reality of feeling their body weight in the water. Allowing your swimmer to submerge and glide independently is usually a great way to give them this experience.
But what if your swimmer has developed a fear or resistant opinion towards unders?
When this happens, it’s important to remain consistent by sticking to your word (when I say we’re going under twice, we don’t give up after the first) and shift the language used to help maintain a level of calm during the drill. Instead of calling it unders, consider alternatives that may be less triggering, “like getting our eyes wet,” or even just “looking down at the water.” Little shifts like this can produce the necessary steps that’ll lead our swimmers to feeling more in control when doing underwater work.
Being able to swim underwater is a milestone that every child must work through to become water safe. Whenever our swimmer begins underwater work, make a big deal about it with cheers and praise. Avoid showing concern when they’re upset and become the example of confidence you want them to have around the water. Swimming lessons involve more than just the person learning to swim. Get involved and create love and respect for the water.