The Five Key Components to Helping Fearful Swimmers Become Successful Swimmers
by Jeff Krieger
Whether you are an aquatic, mental health or health and wellness professional, or someone who struggles with a fear of water or knows someone that does, please take a moment to read this important information. It is not an in depth look about the topic of “fearful swimmers”, but it is an introduction of a process that can change lives.
Regardless of age, fitness level or life experience, there is a very specific process that professionals and their clients must follow in order that a “fearful swimmer” is able to completely and successfully transition from a non-swimmer to a relaxed, competent and competent person in water.
The first component of this process is the “Aquanalysis”, during which time the instructor is able to assess the client’s “Aquatic IQ”, which includes an in depth review of that person’s aquatic history, or lack of, their understanding of water safety and aquatic skills and most importantly, their ability to perform in water. Most often adult clients are able to provide most of that pertinent information; however conversations with close friends and family members can be helpful in filling in gaps. When dealing with children, input from and about family is very important in an effort to paint an accurate picture of the client.
During this assessment, professionals must develop an accurate historical, emotional and physical perspective of their client’s experience, view and knowledge of the aquatic scene. When dealing with a “fearful swimmer”, whether the fear is the result of an actual near or perceived drowning, emotional, physical or fiscal limitations that have resulted in a complete void of any positive aquatic experiences whatsoever, or there appears to be no obvious cause for the overwhelming fear at all, the client’s feelings, emotions, thoughts and behaviors associated with water are always real and most often extreme. The “Aquanalysis” is used as a tool to gain as much insight and awareness regarding their client, both in and out of the water, as they begin this process together. The professional must use this extremely valuable time to quickly build a strong nurturing connection and rapport with the client, establishing communication, trust, confidence and most importantly hope for their client. While introducing the client to the pool, the professional can use a series of basic shallow water skill tests that will further allow the professional to gauge the clients comfort zone and performance in water and develop an immediate strategy for that client.
The next phase of this process combines three equally important parts, the emotional, cognitive and aquatic/behavioral components that professionals must introduce, blend and teach that will consistently address all the needs of the “fearful swimmer”. Information regarding the origin, nature and function of fear and the role it plays in the development of anxiety and phobias can provide significant help to “fearful swimmers”, as they begin to understand how and why they feel and respond as they do in water. This awareness is exceptionally important as the professional must remain sensitive and responsive to their client’s powerful and often destructive emotions, their lack of an effective life saving thought process, and a response mechanism and the physical tools that will ensure their safety in water, as well as those around them. These three components will allow their clients to turn their fear of water from a painful deterrent into a powerful motivator. The use of counseling, relaxation, behavior modification, positive reinforcement and desensitization techniques can help client’s embrace the therapeutic value of not only this client/professional relationship, but the aquatic experience as well, as they learn to enjoy being in the water. The client’s development of transitional aquatic skills, which include water safety and stroke development, help clients develop both a new found confidence and competence in water.
The final chapter in this process is closure, the time when the professional must begin to encourage the client to think about establishing a path with new aquatic goals and interests as they move beyond this relationship. During this phase, honesty and accurate information are the key elements. Often, the client is reluctant to cut the cord, so to speak, with their instructor and remove that safety net which has been instrumental in their development thus far. It is the instructor’s responsibility to offer them a concrete plan that will advance their efforts. That plan may include periodic visits back with the professional, beginner or advanced traditional learn to swim programs, lap swimming, water exercise classes or even open water activities, such as scuba and skin diving, boating or just relaxing at the beach or poolside. These discussions should always emphasize water safety and realistic expectations. Throughout the initial process, the relationship between the instructor and client is absolutely the primary priority, as a whole new world opens up to the once “fearful swimmer”. Now that one process is completed and another begins, the client has successfully transitioned from a “fearful swimmer” to a “functional swimmer” and, both the client and the instructor can exit that experience with a sense of pride, purpose and passion for what they have accomplished!!!!