• So far I’ve changed my internal dialogue from, “I can’t swim well” to “Just give it a shot”. There’s even a tiny voice starting to whisper, “You’ve got this”. (MOODBOARD/AAP)
Not being able to swim well as an adult feels shameful. But what happens when you admit it and take lessons to learn how?
By
Megan Blandford

2 Mar 2017 - 11:24 AM  UPDATED 2 Mar 2017 - 11:27 AM

I can’t swim with my face underwater, and I can’t make a 50-metre distance without stopping a few times.

There, I said it.

It somehow feels shameful to admit that, as an adult, you can’t swim well.

It’s taken me a long time to admit it; I’ve thought about enrolling in swimming lessons every summer of my adulthood, but it was always too embarrassing.

That embarrassment has, finally, been overtaken by the need to protect my children.

Both of my children have been in swimming lessons from the age of four months; I was insistent that they learn the skills I hadn’t. By toddlerhood they were asking questions – “Why won’t you go in without holding your nose?” “Why won’t you swim with us?” and “Why can’t you dive?” – and by preschool their ability had well surpassed mine.

That embarrassment has, finally, been overtaken by the need to protect my children.

If my skills didn’t grow, I could no longer be the one protecting them from danger in the water. Given that lack of adult supervision is a major factor in children’s drowning (which is the third leading cause of unintentional death globally), well, my excuses for not having lessons were getting weaker.

I made a few calls. “I’m wondering if you do” – I lowered my voice each time – “adult swimming lessons?”

Every pool I called said yes and, surprisingly, all except one said their adult classes were fully booked.

Grown-ups in swimming lessons

Swimming is one of Australia’s favourite sports, with one in two children and one in ten adults jumping in the pool regularly. So, who are all these grown-ups learning to swim?

There are several reasons adults might go to swimming lessons:

  • they never learnt to swim in childhood (and that could be due to living in a remote area or another country where swimming is not so popular, the high cost of lessons or a medical issue or disability).
  • they have a phobia they want to overcome.
  • they can swim fairly well, but want to increase and refine their skills, or
  • there are those (like myself) who spent more energy inventing excuses not to attend school swimming than actually learning the skill. 

What it’s like to do swimming lessons as an adult

I shuffled in to the designated learn to swim area, still highly embarrassed, to my first lesson. “My kids can swim better than me, so I need to up my game,” I joked, trying to laugh off my unease.

My instructor saw right through me. “You don’t need to apologise here,” he said. “We run these lessons for people just like you; there are so many parents who have realised they need to increase their skills so they can help their kids.”

I let my instructor in on my worries: that I’d get a mouthful and a nose-full of water, I’d panic, and at the same time my body would give up, sending me under. He gave me tips, focused on the things I can do well and encouraged me to take small steps towards my goal of being a stronger swimmer.

I now leave every swimming lesson feeling pumped, head held high. Saying, “I’m not good at this but I want to learn – can you teach me?” means the fear no longer rules me.

And so I put on the flippers, held the kickboard tightly, swallowed my pride and moved – awkwardly – through the pool.

So far I’ve changed my internal dialogue from, “I can’t swim well” to “Just give it a shot”. There’s even a tiny voice starting to whisper, “You’ve got this”.

And that voice will get louder and more confident as I practise more.

I now leave every swimming lesson feeling pumped, head held high. Saying, “I’m not good at this but I want to learn – can you teach me?” means the fear no longer rules me.

I am back in control.

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