I have taken my kids to swim lessons at a local college for years and have always loved this program. They swim for a half hour each day for two weeks, learning new skills quickly. This has been an odd Summer since one of my kids is away at camp and this is the first swim session I’ve ever had where there weren’t lots of friends to chat with in the stands. Therefore, this was going to be “the Summer” where I didn’t miss anything of what my daughter did in the pool, where I witnessed every stroke and dive. Today, though, I found my attention wandering to the littlest swimmers and their joy and exuberance at mastering the basics. Then, I found myself noticing details about the process of learning to swim that I hadn’t before, and I realized the whole thing is a little microcosm of life and faith. These were my observations.
The whole idea, of course, is to get safely to the other side.
Being in the water is both fun and potentially dangerous, and it’s important to know what you’re doing. We’re not, however, designed to stay in the pool forever…the idea is to learn as much as you can, safely get to the other side, and eventually go home. This year the pool is set up in lanes and the strokes are practiced for the length of the pool. This builds endurance, which is necessary for safety in the water. Some coaches are in the water, and some on the deck, but they all of them give pointers, correct form, and give encouragement. The process of learning to swim, though, falls directly on the swimmer herself. No one can learn for her.
We don’t see the coordinator of the program much, though he’s done a lot of work behind the scenes to set everything up. He hired the coaches, set up the groups, made the schedule, makes sure the pool area is safe, and oversees everything. At the beginning of each class, he welcomes the students, sets the timer, does some of his work behind a glass wall in his office, and spends the rest of the time ensuring the safety and well being of everyone in the program.
When the coordinator sets the timer, it begins counting down immediately. The people in the stands are able to see it ticking down, but the kids in the pool are pretty clueless. They simply do (or don’t do) what their coaches direct them to, and though they may have a sense of the time passing, many of them seem surprised when the half hour comes to a close.
The People in the Stands
Every person in the stands is there because they have a loved one in the pool. Most of them finished with their own swim lessons years before. We are observers, and we are blocked from the pool by a clear plastic wall. We can see everything. We silently encourage and pull for our swimmers, and sometimes we catch their eye and they feel our love and support. We can’t get down there and help, though. We have to trust the coordinator and the coaches.
The lifeguard sees absolutely everything. She scans the pool back and forth, over and over, noticing children who might be beginning to struggle, and she’s always ready to jump in if needed. She has a flotation device in her hands all the time and she doesn’t ever let it go.
The younger kids learn to swim with the use of several props and toys. These range from brightly colored rings to paddle boards to a large table they can stand on if they need a break from treading water. As the kids move on in their learning, they use less of these things. They are expected to use what they know to build their skills without them.
There is a small ceremony when kids advance to a new level. This year the ceremony includes a bell being rung and everyone stops what they’re doing and applauds. It’s awesome, and the kids’ faces are just radiant.
There is a huge sign that posts the names of swimmers who have gone before, along with their times in certain events. This is meant to give recognition to those swimmers, but also inspire and encourage those who are learning to become their very best when they’re in the water.
For those kids who have a comfort level in the water, but not quite to the point of learning specific strokes, the coaches sometimes have them swim freestyle for a short distance while they splash water at them. It’s a game, and the kids love it. What they don’t know is that they are learning how to swim in adverse conditions, to keep moving even when things get rough.
As the time goes on, the people in the stands realize that some coaches are better than others. Some are better suited for each student than others, too. We in the stands hope for the best, the one that will communicate best with our student. We usually find the right coach comes along at just the right time to teach what’s really needed. How a student listens and takes in what is taught will in part determine his success.
It is amazing to watch as these kids go from doggie paddle to backstroke, breaststroke, diving, and more. It is clear that kids are made for learning. They want to improve, and with the support of coaches, they do so in amazing ways. Learning new skills takes time. What’s easy for one kid will be confounding for another. Some need the same lesson given over and over again. Eventually with perseverance, instruction, and time, kids will get it.
End of Class
At the end of class, the timer runs out and each student is greeted by someone who’s been watching the whole time… someone who loves and cares for them, and will bring them Home.
In watching the whole process today, I was amazed at how much there is to learn from something as simple as a kid’s swim lessons. I am convinced there are lessons for us everywhere we look, if we will pay attention. Speaking of paying attention, I did watch quite a bit of what Maura did in the pool today, and it was awesome. She was a kid who used to be quite frightened of the water, and now she swims with grace and strength. It was wonderful to see.