Robert (65) has come to Pembrokeshire for our residential course a few times over several years.
On the first day of his course earlier in the year, his swimming was horrible to watch. It was all arms and legs, difficult for me to detect any enjoyment. He seemed to have remembered nothing from his previous visit.
But when he got in the water on Monday this week, I couldn’t believe how relaxed he looked.
He’d been to his local health club pool five or six times to practise. When was the breakthrough? He couldn’t think of one. He’s just gradually got more comfortable, stopped rushing to get anywhere and allowed himself to slow down.
Alexander’s brother used to say that the kind of change we’re working for has to be gradual, natural, like the growth of a tree.
Robert’s evolution into a swimmer seems to have coincided with my own change in attitude towards teaching. For many years I believed in the possibility of a perfect stroke, and the value for non-swimmers of working towards one. And shrugging this view off didn’t happen overnight.
Somewhere along the line I stopped pushing Robert to try and do anything that wasn’t natural for him. I accepted his hybrid breaststroke kick and his enthusiasm for a sweep of the arms at the expense of a glide.
On his first day this week, he looked so good, so soft and quiet, I wondered what we were going to do for the rest of the week. It feels like I haven’t given him very much but he looks more and more comfortable every day.
He rolls effortlessly onto his back to breathe and he seems suddenly able to get his head out to breathe, breaststroke style, without strain. This is definitely something that can’t be rushed or forced.
I’ve stopped trying to ‘teach’ him, to change him, and he’s enjoying the process. We discussed today how he’d feel about a Mediterranean boat trip dip, getting straight into deep water. And we agreed he’d be fine. But he’s booked another course for March.