Learning to Swim “Properly”?

I’m 56 yrs old, planning on doing my first triathlon in July, and really need to learn to swim properly. What’s holding me back is my breathing. I panic and take on water. I’m quite a fit bloke,  I don’t know if it’s the swimming that’s tiring me out, or the breathing, or a combination of both, but I don’t seem to be able to swim more than 4 lengths. I’d like you to teach me to swim properly please.”

We received this message  (voicemail) yesterday from a person that sounded like someone we’d really like to help.

I texted him this reply and thought it would be useful to share the exchange as it’s a request we get a lot.

I’m sure we can help you but we find that a goal like doing a triathlon can get in the way. It kind of forces us to work on the strokes. If you wanted to learn to swim so you could enjoy the water on holiday, that would be easier for us to work with.  The triathlon in July would worry me a bit. It may be that we help you feel happier in water with breathing etc but you need someone else back home to help you prepare for the triathlon.

Personally I feel that any kind of competitive goal in water takes the fun out of it.  That’s what I think in my mid 50s. I’d be trying to encourage you to see the water as a source of support, not an obstacle to overcome, but in a triathlon it does become a bit of an obstacle.  I realize it’s horses for courses though. If you still fancy coming, let me know.”

I can’t be enthusiastic about helping people towards a pursuit that is likely to cause them strain and frustration. Learning to swim shouldn’t do that but, if you combine it with the goal of needing to do so many lengths, realistically front crawl, within a certain amount of time, it probably will.

On reflection, I realize the significant thing I’m responding to is the comment, ‘I want you to teach me to swim “properly,”’ the assumption being that properly means front crawl.

Our definition of ‘properly’ would be about a person’s relationship with water. It would mean safety, ability not to feel panicky in water of any depth; to make transitions from underwater to a place to breathe. It would mean loving the experience of being underwater.  But ‘properly’ is a dodgy word because it suggests the need to get something right, and that puts all of us on the wrong track.

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