Learning to Swim

Learning to SwimI am in the midst of two weeks of swim lessons with the niece and neph. The neph and I do Aquatots, then watch the niece, Allison, in her much higher-level class. At 9, she loves to swim and shows confidence and grace in the water.

So I was slightly aghast when she begged not to go to lessons on the third day. When I asked why, she replied, “I hate sidestroke.” Ah. In the previous days lessons, this was the only brand-new stroke introduced. She had been complimented on her front crawl, backstroke, breaststroke…and then given some coaching on her efforts at sidestroke.

As an observer, I felt the instructor handled all his teaching well. But Allison was upset that she had not immediately mastered sidestroke, and was clearly afraid that she would continue to flounder in her efforts to coordinate scissor-kicking with the “pick an apple, put it in the basket” arm motions.

And so ensued my encouragement speech, the “practice makes perfect” and “personal best” sort of pep talk that has worked so well in the past. She was having none of it. In the end, I resorted to, “You are not a quitter. You will go to your lesson, pay attention, and give your best effort to everything you are asked to do. Period.”

Ah. This worked, much to my surprise given her recent flirtation with being a stubborn-cuss-of-a-kid. She went, she attended to the instruction, she made an honest effort and showed significant improvement. Her instructor complimented her effort and improvement, and now we are back to loving the swim lessons.

I love it when the “personal best” talk creates motivation for my students, and it works well–with some kids some of the time. But the “you will try without complaint or quitting” talk really does the trick in certain situations. I think sometimes, like with my niece, my students just need to be given marching orders–when the decision is out of their hands, it seems to lift a weight from their shoulders. Is it the inevitability that resigns them to their fate? Is it the inherent confidence I place in their abilities? Well, maybe not the last one, but it’s a nice thought.



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