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Teaching the non-swimmer from an able group

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17 March 2011

For six weeks every year from December to February, my swimming timetable changes and I teach groups of eight and nine-year old girls from the local private school in six-week blocks.

The second group this winter was a strong one and it was difficult to split them into levels. However, within the group I took, there was one girl (Hayley) who was one complete non-swimmer.

My first reaction was Hayley can't swim at all, what would I do?

I had to support her and encourage her along with 12 other highly enthusiastic, energetic swimmers and while the others were out to prove how good they were in the water, Hayley struggled to get down the first few steps on her own.

As my group was so strong, we decided to teach them in the deep water and not the training pool but my first reaction was Hayley can’t swim at all, what would I do?

I asked all the other girls to stay in a line against the wall and before Hayley got into the water, I gave her a woggle to put round herself. Slowly she came down the steps, with me watching and guiding her all the way down.

When she reached the bottom, she could just put her feet in the water, and I held the two parts of the woggle round her back so she felt fully supported. 

While I was doing this, I could then start the others off swimming their favourite stroke to the other side of the pool in groups of three.

Hayley took her first tentative steps in the water behind them with me holding the woggle.

She followed walking with her woggle on her own, clutching the front of it for dear life!

After this first attempt in the water, I could see Hayley smiling. The others waited, somewhat impatiently at the other side, while Hayley and I met them.

Hayley was desperate to be like the others, and when they swam eagerly back to the other side of the pool, Hayley followed walking with her woggle on her own, clutching the front of the woggle for dear life!

This action was repeated, until towards the end of the session, I saw Hayley’s feet come off the ground and her arms splashing - for just a split second she was off the bottom of the pool.

When she safely got to the other side, I praised her, and got the class to give her a clap – it was a momentous achievement.

My main worry with Hayley was that the others would be unsupportive, ignore her or even try to bully her.

I had to be mindful that the others needed praise too and did not feel neglected.

So whenever I let the others go off on their swim, I said to them ‘wait for Hayley’.  and 'hasn’t Hayley done well.’

I also had to be mindful that the others needed praise too, and did not feel neglected so I continued to praise the whole group.

It was wonderful when at the end of that first session, I was able to watch the whole group go off together, and Hayley was part of that group.

Hayley used the woggle in the second session and this time I focused on getting her body as streamlined as possible, and on her breathing.

She was still afraid to put her face in the water but thIs was something we could all practise together as a group, and eventually Hayley submerged her face in the water, blowing a few bubbles.

By the third lesson Hayley could go down the steps unaided, bring her legs up from the bottom with a gentle kick, and splash her arms about using her woggle. I could focus more and more on the group, as she moved across the water faster. 

I then began to pair her with another swimmer, although not one of the strongest from the group so she wouldn’t feel intimidated. Her confidence was growing with every minute she was in the water and her teachers commented on how much she was enjoying swimming.

At the end of the third session I started introducing the float to Hayley. She found it difficult to hold correctly at first so I glided her along the water, holding the float from the front and instructing her to kick her legs.  

I felt confident enough during session four to take away the woggle completely and, sure enough, Hayley got down the steps herself without any aids.

I gave her a float and with my support she glided along, sometimes putting her feet on the bottom, but sometimes keeping them off the ground, her face slightly dipping in and out of the surface of the water.

We repeated maybe one or two actions over these half-hour periods, as I knew that with one knock Hayley would lose confidence very quickly.

In session five I found Hayley walking towards me through the pool. She had swallowed some water but was able to get herself out of danger and back to me.

I gave her some reassurance and off she went again, float outstretched and her feet dangling towards the bottom of the pool. I held her from underneath to straighten her out.

Her teachers were delighted for her and Hayley’s teacher told me her mother had booked some private lessons for her.

The woggle is a wonderful introduction for non-swimmers like Hayley. They feel safe holding on to it and it helps them to keep afloat.

When you have a non-swimmer with a group of swimmer school children, I think it’s important not to make the child feel they have to be as good as the others. Take time and give them their own pace and space.

You have to be mindful of the other swimmers and their attitudes and it is good for them to feel they are supporting someone else who is less capable at that moment in time of doing what they are doing.

It is also important to include the non-swimmer in group activities such as breathing under water, as well as giving them individual attention – not too much that the rest of the group feel excluded.

The woggle is a wonderful introduction for non-swimmers. They feel safe holding on to it, and it helps them to keep afloat. There are a lot of water confidence exercises a teacher can do with the woggle.

The important thing for the non-swimmer is that they don’t feel excluded or different from the others in the group; that they learn slowly to enjoy the water, even if it means repeating exercises week after week, rather than introducing new more difficult ones.  Once they have this feeling then they will have it for life.

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Go Swimming has everything you need to know about swimming. If you are a parent, a non swimmer or just want to improve your technique this is the section for you.

In British Swimming you will find information about the world of high performance sport, including the disciplines of Swimming, Diving, Synchronised Swimming, Water Polo and Para-Swimming.

The ASA is the governing body for the sport in England. In this section you will find all you need to know about joining a club or competing in England and becoming a swimming teacher or coach.

The IoS delivers the ASA’s courses and is a member organisation. Whether you are a teacher, coach, employer or club you will find everything you need to know about qualifications or educating your workforce.

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