Learning How to Swim

March 27th, 2013 | By Lindsey Ebert No Comments


With dozens of eyes fixed on my back, I slowly crept to the end of the dock and wiggled my toes over the edge. I could feel my heart beat in my chest and butterflies take over my stomach. I was 10 years old and I had been dreading this moment ever since I arrived at camp: the swim test.

I was never a very strong swimmer, but with the squeal of the lifeguard’s whistle, all my swimming fears came to a harsh reality. Halfway through the test, my legs and arms felt like Jell-O, and I soon found myself struggling to stay above water.

Dozens of campers and counselors watched as I hopelessly tread water in a panic. I shouted out to the dock, beckoning the lifeguard for help. I could see and hear my older sister pleading with him to go get me.  After what seemed like an eternity, the lifeguard finally dove into the murky lake waters, effortlessly swam over with a life float and pushed me back to shore.

As I lay on the dock trying to catch my breath, I realized that I was just like my mother … terrified of the water. I was humiliated. My eyes swelled with tears as I realized that friends and strangers had just watched one of the most terrifying and embarrassing moments of my life.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 10 people die every day from unintentional drowning. Of these 10 deaths, two will be children under the age of 14. While drowning is the fifth leading cause of unintentional death in the United States, non-fatal submersion injuries are also a predominant issue. More than 50% of non-fatal drowning patients treated in emergency departments require hospitalization, and consequences of a near-drowning experience can be as severe as permanent loss of basic functioning.

At highest risk for drowning are males, who  make up 80% of drowning deaths. Minorities also suffer a significantly higher rate of drowning. According to the CDC, “The fatal drowning rate of African-American children ages five to 14 is almost three times that of white children in the same age range.” This could be attributed to limited access to swimming pools, lack of interest in learning how to swim and lower rates of choosing water-related sports as a recreational activity.


Research shows that formal swimming lessons reduce the risk of drowning for kids ages one to four. However, older generations report having less swimmi

ng ability than younger adults. Ability to swim also decreases with lower levels of education. Some other factors that influence drowning risk are a lack of barriers to bodies of water, lack of supervision, failure to wear a life jacket, alcohol use, and seizure disorders.

Unlike many animals, humans aren’t born knowing how to swim. It is something we must be taught.  However, we shouldn’t go through life without knowing how because of a fear of water or fear of failure. Swimming is a skill that is vital for our own safety and the safety of others. Therefore, children and adults of all ages should make it a point to learn.

You don’t have to go far to begin. There are many places where you can learn how to swim for beginners of all ages! The Athens YMCA has two pools, one indoor and one outdoor. Swimming lessons are divided up according to age. According to Ben Schultz, the aquatic director of the Athens YMCA, pediatricians recommend that you introduce infants to water under close supervision as early as six months of age.

“Six months to three years is a great time to get children accustomed to the water as well as parents comfortable in the water with their children,” said Schultz. This age group takes classes with the help of their parents. The goal is to teach the infant basic movement in water as well as control over their breathing. The course also seeks to make the child comfortable in water.

The next age group, ages three to five, learns fundamental swimming skills as well as boating safety and rescue skills. Youth swimming lessons for ages six to 12 build on top of the basic skills already acquired. Students are taught the different strokes and diving fundamentals while also developing an appreciation for swimming as a lifelong sport.

Adults are sometimes embarrassed if they never learned how to swim as a child. Some have avoided water at all costs after a dramatic experience that made them fear bodies of water. However, the Athens YMCA offers swim lessons to adults age 13 and older that cater specifically to this group.

According to Schultz, adults tend to be more apprehensive about taking swimming lessons. “An adult may have spent their entire life not knowing how to swim or even feeling comfortable in the water.  They carry these fears with them into the pool.  As adults, we tend to over-rationalize our fears.  Children typically have not spent much time building fears.  They are often very excited to jump right in,” says Schultz.

Schultz emphasizes the importance of learning how to swim, even as an adult. If you’re nervous around water, he recommends taking a deep breath and relaxing. He believes it is important for an adult beginner to feel comfortable at the pace in which they learn how to swim. “Learning to swim is very important; adult lessons can be at whatever pace the adult would like,” says Schultz. Getting started is easy! All you need to learn how to swim are goggles, a towel and swimsuit.

The importance of learning how to swim is undeniable, and whether you are looking for swimming lessons for the kids of for yourself, Athens has all the right facilities and instructors to cater to your needs. In addition to the YMCA, swimming skills can be acquired at the Athens YWCO. For more information on both locations, visit their websites at www.YWCO.org and www.AthensYMCA.org.

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