Updated: September 25, 2020
Swimming is a skill that can save lives. Death from drowning is the third leading cause of accidental injury fatalities, with around 320,000 people worldwide drowning each year.
If you’re worried about drowning or had a close call in the past, learning to swim correctly and developing confidence in the water is the best way to get over your anxiety.
The Importance of Learning to Swim
Swimming is a great way to stay fit and active for all age groups. It’s fun, easy on the joints, and in warmer weather, it offers a way to stay cool. Swimming regularly can help with strengthening your entire body, keeping your heart and your lungs healthy, and improving stamina and flexibility.
Water activities are popular worldwide, but an estimated four billion people don’t know how to swim. Learning how to swim and building confidence in the water are important life skills for anyone to have, regardless of age or location.
Even those who rarely come into contact with water can benefit from knowing how to swim. Water activities depending on inflatables are a great example.
The most obvious reason to learn how to swim is to protect yourself and reduce your risk of drowning. However, developing your confidence in the water can also help you keep those around you safe, especially weaker swimmers.
Feeling confident in your swimming abilities will make a huge difference if you ever have to rescue someone from drowning.
Understanding Dangers in the Water
There are plenty of hidden dangers lurking in the water, whether you’re doing laps in a pool or out enjoying the ocean. It’s important to be aware of the risks to you and your companions.
Even if you’re a relatively strong swimmer, there are certain things to look out for when you head out to the water.
As previously mentioned, drowning is a leading cause of accidental death among all age groups. Even shallow water can pose a threat to those who don’t know how to swim. Children and vulnerable adults should always be watched around water, even if it’s just the bathtub.
It’s important to keep in mind that drowning isn’t always obvious. There are several signs to look out for when keeping an eye on others out on the water, including:
- Silence – Though the movies depict people calling for help, those who drown are often too busy gasping for air to call out.
- Panic – If someone looks panicked while in the water, it’s a sign they probably need help.
- Tilted Head – A person who seems to be bobbing just above the surface or who is craning their neck may be having trouble staying afloat.
- Flailing – When drowning, people instinctively grab for something to pull them up, often pushing their arms down into the water.
- Floating Face-down – If someone is face down in the water and unresponsive, they need immediate assistance.
- Plunging – If a person dives into a pool but doesn’t resurface, they may be stuck or unconscious and need help.
- Wall-crawling – If someone is too tired to swim, they may crawl along a wall or cling to a floatation device.
Bodies of water such as rivers, streams, or oceans are significantly more dangerous than a controlled setting such as a pool.
Strong currents and riptides can take even strong swimmers by surprise. Hypothermia can be a danger in cold water conditions. When visiting any natural body of water, it’s important to do plenty of research and be aware of potential dangers.
Drowning isn’t the only danger when swimming. There are also water-borne diseases and parasites that can inhabit lakes and streams or poorly kept pools that can lead to everything from rashes to respiratory illnesses. The most common water-borne diseases found in the U.S. include:
- Diarrheal Infections – The majority of cases are caused by the cryptosporidium parasite, though diarrhea can also result from an infection with giardia, norovirus, E. coli, and more.
- Hot Tub Rash – A skin infection is caused by the pseudomonas bacteria infecting hair follicles.
- Swimmer’s Ear – An infection of the outer ear canal, often caused by pseudomonas.
- Legionnaires’ Disease – A type of pneumonia with flu-like symptoms caused by the legionella bacteria.
The best way to prevent most water-borne diseases is by killing off germs by using chlorine or saltwater. Maintaining a pH of 7.2 to 7.8 also helps prevent the spread of bacteria and parasites. If a pool appears poorly maintained or dirty, it’s best to stay out of the water.
Acting in an Emergency
Knowing what to do in an emergency situation can save your life or the life of another swimmer. It’s an important part of building confidence in the water and being a responsible swimmer. You should know to keep an eye out for signs of trouble and recognize when others around you might need assistance.
When rescuing another person, always remember to prioritize your own safety. Drowning people often thrash around out of panic, which can end up incapacitating any people who attempt to pull them out of the water. It may be safer to use a floatation device if one is available.
If a person is unresponsive or not breathing, you may need to perform chest compressions or CPR and have someone call emergency services. If a defibrillator is available, use it to keep their heart pumping until the paramedics arrive. Knowing what to do in an emergency situation will help you react faster.
Tips for Building Confidence in the Water
Confidence in the water comes with practice. No one is born knowing how to swim, and even the strongest of swimmers need frequent practice. However, there are some things that people of all skill levels can do to feel more at ease in the water.
1. Take Things Slow
When learning to swim at any age, you should take things one step at a time. Going too fast could set yourself up for failure.
Trying to progress too quickly in the water can also be dangerous. Only do what you’re comfortable with, and make sure that you take the necessary precautions to stay safe.
2. Ask for Help
The support of someone you trust can make a huge difference when learning any new skill. For those starting out swimming, it can help to have a friend, family member, or other loved one nearby to offer support. They can also keep watch and find help in the event that you find yourself in trouble.
3. Make Swimming a Habit
Like any new skill, it’s important that you practice swimming regularly if you want to be a confident, competent swimmer. You should make swimming sessions a part of your weekly routine, hitting the pool two to three times per week if you’re a beginner.
You don’t necessarily need to have a pool in your backyard if you want to start swimming. Many communities have a local pool that offers hours for beginners and advanced swimmers alike. You can also sign up for a membership with a gym that has a pool.
4. Push Yourself Each Day
While it’s best to go slow when you’re still starting out, it doesn’t mean that beginners can’t step outside of their comfort zone. Each time that you go for a swim, you should make an effort to push yourself just a little bit farther than you went the time before.
For example, you may want to add an extra lap to your routine or try out a new style of stroke.
5. Don’t Skip the Basics
When learning a new skill, it can be tempting to skip the boring bits and jump right into the exciting material. However, it’s important to build a solid foundation if you’re going to master a skill like swimming.
You should practice the basics on a regular basis, even after you’ve reached the intermediate or advanced level.
6. Be Positive
You should always try to remain positive when learning to swim. Taking an optimistic outlook can help you to feel more confident in the water and in your current skill set.
Even if you’re having trouble progressing, don’t get frustrated and lose hope. Go slow, seek help, and eventually, you’ll learn to swim with confidence.
Teaching Children to Feel at Home in the Water
It’s best to teach children how to swim as early as possible, as long as it’s safe to do so. It’s a skill that could someday save them if they fall into a pool or wander out too far along the beach. Parents can rest easier if they know that their child can at least float on the water in an emergency.
Some children learn to kick around the water before they’ve taken their first steps on dry land. In general, six months is considered the youngest acceptable age at which parents can begin introducing their babies to the water
Keep in mind that each child grows and matures at a different rate. While the best age to start swimming lessons may be six months for some babies, it may be better for others to start swimming after the year one mark.
Parents can talk to their doctor or pediatrician to get a better idea of when their child might be ready to start swimming lessons.
Benefits of Teaching Kids to Swim
For young children, learning to swim can offer much more than just personal safety. Swimming also helps to improve both mental and physical fitness in young kids. Being in the water helps babies and toddlers to forge new neural connections and build a richer understanding of the world around them.
Learning to be confident in the water can also help children to gain confidence in other areas of life. It teaches kids to be reliant on themselves and shows them that they’re capable of mastering a new skill. Improved self-esteem and self-control can help to guide children along the right path as they develop social and emotional skills.
Finding Swim Classes
Many people rely on swimming classes led by trained professionals to teach their children how to swim. Both community pools and private fitness centers often offer classes geared towards young or developing swimmers.
Always look for a well-known and reputable group offering swimming lessons. The pool that they teach at should be clean and well-maintained to reduce the spread of infection, and it should offer both a shallow and a deep end.
You should also look for a pool that’s warm, as young children can have trouble regulating body temperature in cold water. The best places will have a smaller and warmer pool for babies and young children.
As it’s best to start children young, many pools offer swimming lessons for babies as young as six months old. Some also host “swim survival” classes for even younger babies. These lessons teach young and vulnerable children how to float if they fall into the water, keeping them alive until an adult can save them.
Many swim classes for children encourage parents to participate. Having a parent present to support them can help timid children to build confidence in the water. A familiar face can put them at ease and make them feel safe as they learn, allowing them to step outside of their comfort zone.
Making Swimming Fun and Safe
Above all, the best way to help children build confidence in the water is by making swimming fun. Families can head out to the pool or plan a day at the beach together to relax, play, and share some quality time. Parents can even bring along toys such as pool noodles or sand buckets to engage kids.
For families who head to a pool, it’s important to choose one with good water quality. It’s also best to avoid busy days so that kids don’t feel stressed or self-conscious. Some pools offer special hours for parents and young children to come and swim without interference.
Older children should be aware of any pool safety rules that they need to follow. While every establishment is different, just about every pool area includes a basic set of rules for proper behavior around the water, including:
- No running
- No diving, except in designated areas
- No food or drink around the pool
- No hairpins or barrettes that could injure someone
No matter how strong a swimmer a child might be, it’s important to supervise them at all times when they’re in the water. Watch closely for any signs of distress, and make sure they stick to a depth of water that they can handle.
With regular, safe swimming sessions, kids can build confidence in the water and become strong and independent swimmers.