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A New Definition of "Water Safe"

Sometimes, in the course of doing everything possible to get something accomplished, we stumble upon an insight so profound, we give it a Homer Simpson head slap "Doh". Through my decades of helping Neurodiverse swimmers become water safe, I quickly realized that the traditional definition of water safety just really missed the mark as did for the most part, the way we traditionally teach swimming.

Long ago, we were taught to teach front and back float, freestyle, breath control, and the very difficult to teach "treading." These skills are not easy and to really be safe, they can't just be a label on a Red Cross Card that tells what level you are on.

These skills all require the same thing, a relaxed, confident, and balanced "way" in the water.

I would often get swimmers whose parents said that they were at level x, and could swim 25 yards. When I tested that in the water, they could sort of slap out a 25 yard "freestyle" but would barely make it, and grab the side at the end with both hands and be hunched over gasping for air, completely out of breath.

I would probably be very correct to predict that this swimmer, even though they are at level whatever, is not water safe. Water safe is, what it says. Safe in the water over their heads. There might be specific periods of time to get your card, but in my mind, I want water safe, for a long time. The most important times to be water safe, are when no one is watching. They are when your kid snuck away on vacation and jumped in. They need to be able to stay relaxed and not get tired. It's about the "Way" not the skills.

If you have ever seen anyone panic in the water, they lose their rational thinking. It's similar to when a toddler throws a tantrum. Appealing to their mental logic at that time doesn't work because they are not reachable mentally. I have seen many start to panic when literally all they have to do is reach for the step that they are swimming next to or grab the wall they are in front of. But they don't think of it, because they are in panic mode.

When I was working non verbal with kids with Autism, which eventually developed my methodology for Carla Swim, I realized that there needed to be a pattern set that gave them a mental and muscle memory towards a step or wall. People with Autism have great comfort with familiar patterns. I could make a pattern to what I call "their best way of motoring" and where, to "out" or "back" a part of the mental and muscle memory in our lessons!

Many kids with Autism or ADHD are naturally drawn to water, and they just go! Toddlers do too! Their executive function part of the brain just doesn't think ahead. or they are too fast and impulsive to. Then when in that moment when they find themselves in deep water over their heads, and probably choking on some water, they are unlikely to think "get to the side." They are masters of in the moment, but we can't count on ;them figuring things out, especially if they are struggling or panicking. This is true for everyone, but it was those with Autism and ADHD that gave me the insight!

Trying to teach a non verbal kid perfect swim skills like streamline and pointed toes on flutter kick, was a long road to water safe. There are so many mental and physiological pieces to freestyle or treading. Many who have different operating systems need to have a ton of repetition to simply be on their back and get oriented, even with flotation! So how could I simplify water safe so that our kids could get safe, as really safe as fast as possible?

First I needed to make the skill list different, shorter and more simple. Breath control, Tactile, Balance, Pattern, Relax, Use the Water.

They needed to have comfort underwater, not choke, not freak because their ears or eyes got wet,. They needed to be able to stay oriented to where they are in the water, what's up and what's down, and to develop a thought/muscle memory to back or out. The stroke or method they used to move didn't matter! Some kids are oriented to being on their back and can learn a kick and scull. Some love to swim underwater and come up for a breath! Some love their doggy paddle. Whatever they show me, I develop that!


repetition repetition repetition testing their skills anywhere in the pool which must have deep water. Pushing off the side, leaving a step, jumping in from the side, jumping off a diving board, different places, same response is how you ingrain water safe into their being!

Many swim schools have no deep water, and kids take lessons in a little tiny cordoned off portion of a lane. This is not learning to swim, this is massive money making by swim schools. We need to change things because our kids are not prepared and that is not ok.

At Carla Swim, I do all the water safety training. At that point they are handed to Coach Sam to use what they have learned, and develop strokes. Whether for fitness, competition, or just to know how, having the foundation of truly relaxed water safety will allow rapid and excellent development of traditional strokes faster. If they don't learn this type of safety and relaxation, then panic, fear, avoidance, and a strained way in the water is developed in their strokes which is not water safe!

I'm looking at opening some classes for prepping water safety in kids younger than 3. These will be with parents and instead of wasting money in swim lessons, you can just play enjoy, and have some wisdom on setting a beautiful tone and way for your kid in the water! Coming Soon!


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