For many years, after training as a swimming teacher, and especially a Shaw Method one, I laboured under the idea that every person taking lessons should ultimately become a competent swimmer of at least one stroke. With good head/ neck/ back alignment, stroke efficiency and relaxed breathing.
Learners would inevitably experience some stress, sometimes repeated failure, attempting to get their face out of the water to breathe, for example. Once this skill had been accomplished though, they’d feel more confident, to keep going, enter the deep end, swim lengths. Maybe a bit of stress and strain was worth it for the sense of satisfaction.
But helping people prevent themselves from going badly wrong can be like paddling against the tide, if they’re doing something which is unnatural for them, or which they’re not ready for.I’ve always been uncomfortable with what an old tutor of mine used to call ‘pushing the outside in’ and sort of forcing movement patterns upon people.
Gradually I began to realize that if I didn’t want people trying too hard at the expense of their enjoyment, I had to stop pushing them towards goals beyond their current capability.
Yesterday was my first day back after the longest break I’ve had from teaching in 24 years and I found myself clearer for the break, about this matter of process versus results. The ‘without stress’ bit being more important than the ‘swimming’.
Our job is to help you improve your relationship with the water, with maximum enjoyment and minimum stress. You need to be free to focus on not tightening your neck so you can enjoy the support of the water.
Float and move. Find your neck. Let the water help you release and expand as you give the weight of your head to it, and then notice what happens with your breathing. Remember your neck when you start to move.
Be happy underwater. Explore movement from there. That’s how I would define swimming without stress.
Working in the realm of stroke technique and swimming for fitness too often takes us away from the basics. And the basics, in the water, are what we need to keep going back to.