Swimming and Factors that Affect Learning

Learning involves changes in behavior that result from practice or experience. A professionally qualified swim instructor is able to make this process work best by focusing on factors that influence skill accomplishment.  These factors include: fear of water, setting goals, feedback and practice, motivation, and success and fun!

Fear of water and anxiety can lessen a participant’s ability to learn. Many new swimmers will be apprehensive and for good reason.  It is not unusual for students to feel out of control in the water and with a new instructor.  Fearful students may exhibit behaviors that a seasoned instructor can respond to in a way that helps them work through this and establish trust for their instructor.   It takes several lessons to build trust and to help the student realize that you will work at their pace and comfort  level.  This is why it is important to plan on taking several lessons and be patient with the process.

Goal setting helps students to focus especially during periods of learning difficult skills. It also helps shape their motivation.  Helping the student to establish goals and value for learning to swim gives purpose and direction to practice time. Participants need both short term, and long term goals. Short term goals may be something that a person can achieve by the end of a given lesson, or the end of a week. To change or improve performance, participants must first understand the goal of each skill and each lesson.  For younger children, the goals are to develop foundational skills, respect for the water, and learn safety practices.  As students progress, goals become more finite.  With the more competitive swim athlete, the goal may be to refine technique in all strokes and turns to achieve qualifying times for event(s). In the case of a tri-athlete, swimming may be the weak link to overall achievement so improving freestyle will be the key goal.  Long term goals might take several weeks, months, or even years.  These are met as the person successfully achieves a series of short term goals.  The purpose of long term goal setting is to motivate the student by helping them see a benefit to success in swimming – for example: going to a swim birthday party and being able to play in the deep end, becoming a lifeguard, or competing and winning a swimming event or triathlon. 

Giving positive and specific feedback to the student of swimming is very important in gaining their trust and confidence in the learning process.  Quality feedback requires careful communication about the skill and performance and it has to be honest.  While it is helpful to say a student did a good job, it more valuable to say why or what exactly they did well or what they need to correct.  When a student receives honest and specific feedback indicating they have reached a goal, it helps them to trust their instructor and boosts motivation and enthusiasm to continue to improve.   

Motivation built on successful accomplishments is valuable to encouraging more practice which leads to more success.  Finding what works to motivate a student is more of an art than a science.  Motivation is an internal drive that keeps people moving toward a goal.  This is essential to the achievement of goals in swimming and establishes the discipline to succeed in both sport and life!