I recently completed the US Masters Swimming Adult Learning to Swim Course, USMS ALTS, at a one day seminar down in Los Angeles. Even though coaching is not my full-time job, or even a part-time profession, I became a USAT Certified Level I Coach ten years ago and a USMS Level I & II Coach last year to learn more about each of these sports for my own knowledge as a competitor, but also so that I could help others reach their athletic goals, predominantly triathletes. On occasion I have coached non-triathletes that don’t know the basic skills on freestyle swimming, as I leave coaching of the other three IM strokes to the Masters coaching professionals.
As a long time Masters swimmer I was intrigued by this new course USMS was offering, starting I think last year, on how to teach adults how to swim, thinking there’s a lot of things I don’t know about the basics of swimming and how to teach people how to learn them, even though I have been swimming with a Masters program for nearly 25 years.
I personally learned the hard way initially, not being a swimmer myself even though I grew up around the water; I only really “played” in the water, even body surfing in the ocean, without being able to swim with my head in the water at all. As a newbie triathlete I was coached by friends, and when I eventually gravitated to a Masters program I had to unlearn a lot of bad habits while trying to ingrain the new good habits into my mind and body. I wondered if this new ALTS course could help me be a better teacher for others that lacked the basics, so I signed up.
It wasn’t too long into the class that I realized that this course was less about helping people that know how to swim, or sort of know how to swim, but more about getting a major part of the population into the water. According to USMS:
- 52% of US adults are considered unsafe around water by the American Red Cross
- 10 people drown in the US each day, most of them adults
- More than one third of the adults in the US cannot swim the length of a 25 yard pool
- If your parents do not swim there’s a 1/8 chance that you’ll be a swimmer
USMS breaks down prospective adults that want to learn how to swim into four categories:
- Swimmers with trouble breathing
- Fearful non-swimmers
Our instructor, Gloria Waggoner, a veteran Masters swimming competitor and USMS Certified Coach, told us that many of us might not want to try and teach non-swimmers how to swim, focusing only on helping others that already knew how to swim, at least the length of a 25 yard pool, on how to become better swimmers. I found that I was in that group of Coaches/Instructors, thinking more about helping swimmers how to become better/faster swimmers, never even thinking that half of the US adult population was afraid to even go in water more than waist deep. Think about that for a minute.
Think about all the times you’ve been to the beach at the ocean, at a lake, along a flowing river, or at a pool in somebody’s backyard or at a resort, and that potentially ½ of the people sitting and standing there are afraid to be in water over their heads, or to even put their face in the water. Gloria was letting us all think about this, saying that in another hour she would ask all of us why we chose to take this course, wondering if maybe she wouldn’t be changing some of our minds and recruiting more Coaches into the USMS fold to help US adults overcome their fear of the water.
Note that you do not have to be a USMS Certified Coach to take this course, or to teach people the lessons learned, that’s up to each individual to decide how far into the USMS Masters program they want to go. For now, those that completed the one day class have access to USMS ALTS information, can post that they are an ALTS Certified Instructor on the USMS website, for one year, renewable each year for a small fee, and that by building up the number of certified instructors, reaching out to more and more adults to teach them how to overcome their fear of the water and learn to swim, that we can help them pass that knowledge down to their children so that more than 1/8 children will grow up in a household where swimming and water sports are part of their normal family life.
And by the way, by doing that we can hopefully whittle down that number of 10 people in the US drowning every day, so that less than some 3000 odd families each year will have to suffer the consequences of someone in their family losing their lives in a drowning event. We’re not just talking about small children falling into a pool when no one is around to hear or see them. We’re talking about people walking along a dock and falling in and panicking, people out on a whale watching cruise and accidently falling overboard. Or worse, some family member that doesn’t know how to swim and is around a child that gets knocked down by a wave at the beach and pulled under, or gets caught in a rip-tide, or ventures too far out into a fast running river and gets pulled downstream and that adult jumps in to try and save them and also drowns, how sad is that?
So, I sat through the whole class, I got in the pool with everyone else after lunch to watch Gloria demonstrate each of the techniques of the multi-step protocol that is taught to guide an adult who is too afraid to even put their face in the water and breath, all the way up to being able to pass the following American Red Cross swimming test:
- Jump into the deep end of a pool and return to the surface
- Turnaround 360 degrees to look for ways out of the water
- Tread water for 60 seconds
- Swim to the middle of the pool (assuming a 25 yard pool common to most US pools), and float on your back for 60 seconds
- Continue swimming to the other end of the pool
- Get out of the pool via the ladder or by pulling yourself out on the side
After all of that, having taken the simple exit exam and driving home, I began to think about how I might use this new found knowledge. If you could take someone that did not know how to swim across a short course yards pool, or someone that had never even swum with their head down in the water, breathing to the side, and get them to finish the Red Cross test, that would be like opening a door to a new chapter in these people’s lives, into their families lives. Vacations could now be taken near the water without fear of drowning, or that they could now rescue someone else that needed help or not have to rely on somebody else to save their child if they ever started to panic while being in the water.
Is that what I’m going to do with this knowledge when I have the time to commit to someone for the necessary number of weeks to help them reach their goal? For now I do not know as I’m busy enough as with my full-time job, working around the house, training for triathlons, and occasionally coaching triathletes as well. But when I retire in the near future, maybe, just maybe I find someone that I can help and I open that door for them. Maybe after that I will find how rewarding it was to help that person and possibly their family.
For now I’ll wait and see, but certainly between now and if I do hear of someone that is afraid of the water and needs help, I know how to get them started on the road to learning how to swim and enriching their lives. And if they eventually join a Masters swim program and really embrace the sport of swimming, I’ll be happy knowing that I got them started on the path to a healthier life, in a sport that we can continue doing for a very long time.
For more information about the US Masters Swimming, Adult Learning to Swim programs, click here: http://www.usms.org/alts/