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Opinion: Deciphering the Core Reason behind Adult Swimming Apprehension
- Updated: August 29, 2023
Plunging into an interesting revelation from a Gallup survey, a staggering third of American adults harbor a fear of submerging their heads underwater, while half admit to shying away from the deep end of a pool.
Editor’s Note: Melon Dash, acclaimed author of “Conquer Your Fear of Water: A Groundbreaking Approach to Fearless Swimming” and co-author of “Conquer Your Fear of the Triathlon Swim,” brings her expertise as a competitive masters swimmer and founder of a Sarasota-based swim academy exclusively designed for water-fearing adults. The views expressed herein are solely her perspective. Explore more insights in our opinion section.
In the early days of my post-college journey, I embarked on a teaching assistant role at a quaint New Hampshire college, guiding eager undergrads through their initial swimming lessons each semester. Yet, a disconcerting pattern emerged: half of my students struggled to heed my guidance; they were gripped by fear.
It became clear that these students needed a prelude to basic swimming. Determined to address this issue, I approached the dean with a proposal: “Could I lead a class specifically for those who harbor water-related fears?”
“Revamping the undergraduate curriculum involves a labyrinth of bureaucracy, but if you offer this class through our adult education program, you’ll receive compensation and the students can join,” he responded. The deal was sealed.
The following semester, my class “Swimming for Water-Fearing Adults” found its way onto community notices. It was 1978. Remarkably, six individuals ventured from as far as 50 miles away to participate.
An eye-opening Gallup survey from a couple of years back unearthed a global reality: half of the world’s adults hold a fear of water depths beyond their comfort, and this pertains solely to pool environments. Shockingly, a third of American adults are even hesitant to submerge their heads underwater.
For adults grappling with an absence of swimming skills, an introspective question often emerges: “Why have I failed to learn over the years? Is it something within me?” Having taught thousands who share this water-induced fear, I can emphatically affirm—it’s not about you. For the majority, the inability to master swimming isn’t due to a lack of effort.
Growing up, I engaged in competitive swimming from the tender age of seven. Curiously, during my college years, I achieved my fastest times at regional championships but slower ones at national events. (Logically, peak performance should be at the grandest stage.)
In pursuit of answers, my coach recommended two transformative reads: “The Inner Game of Tennis” by W. Timothy Gallwey and “Freedom to Learn” by Carl R. Rogers. These works emphasized the essence of being present for optimal performance and the inherent process of learning through comfort, respectively.
While these books didn’t solve my regional vs. national conundrum, they reshaped my perspective on the psychological facets of performance.
When contemplating the instruction of water-fearing adults, a pivotal query emerged: How does fear operate? Four decades later, experts are beginning to grasp the missing link in swim education. Generally, swim instructors and their training programs remain largely oblivious to the mechanics of learning, particularly for those plagued by fear. Adult water apprehension offers a poignant lens into this predicament.
Despite the focus on teaching children and drowning prevention initiatives, the stark reality surfaces: adults account for a staggering three out of four drowning fatalities. Strikingly absent are effective beginner adult swimming programs. If adults haven’t learned well enough to save themselves, they haven’t truly learned at all.
While extensive efforts address swimming lessons for youngsters, society often neglects the power of parental example. Parents who fail to conquer their aquatic fears inadvertently pass down non-swimming legacies to their children. This cycle is preventable, and therein lies the essence of a pressing challenge.
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By- Sahiba Suri