On swimming lessons

I have a confession: I hated every minute of F and EB’s swimming lessons. The whole process was a chore. F and EB (EB especially) would moan throughout. It was cold. The timing was always inconvenient. There was always a parent who would reserve the one disabled/family cubicle*, with her bags, for her one child, while I struggled with my three. There were never enough showers. There was always a parent who would hog the shower, completely oblivious to EB, who was turning blue, while her (it was usually a women, I’m afraid) offspring underwent a full spa treatment. I can’t begin to tell you how relieved I was (we all were) when EB finally graduated.

We hadn’t really considered swimming lessons for R. She likes swimming though and seems to be the most naturally boyant of the three. Her school has a hydrotherapy pool, known as “The Spa” (no irony intended – its lovely and is fitted out with sensory room style lighting) and she gets to go swimming every week there.

Not long ago, our local council announced that they would be offering swimming classes for children with disabilities and so forgetting all my misgivings about swimming lessons, I immediately signed R up. In retrospect, I’m not sure that the council had given sufficient consideration as to how this would work. The range of disability in the classes, for example, spans a broad spectrum, from mild to severe, and includes physical and learning disabilities. Certainly, the staff ratio is good (better than 1:1 most weeks). But the coaches are mainly young and inexperienced and while they are almost all open, fun and friendly, I’m sure that the majority have little experience with teaching children like R. It’s quite an ask of such young people.

After a few weeks, watching the young coach assigned to R swoosh her around the pool, while looking over the top of her head and not speaking to her once, I decided to offer a bit of constructive criticism. I suggested, not unkindly I thought, that perhaps talking to R and allowing her to move independently around the pool might be more productive. It would seem, however, that coach  felt a little differently about my softly softly approach to feedback and now she won’t look me in the eye either. And R has been allocated a new coach. This coach is a little older – in her twenties at least – and has taken to R and R to her. She has been working hard with R to encourage her to kick her legs in the water, and even to swim (float) on her back. It’s been great to watch. R shrieks with delight when we tell her Dad afterwards what she has been doing.

The final week in every 4 week block is “Family Fun Week”. F and EB enjoy this as much as R. I dread it. As someone who has been cursed with that least attractive of the celtic skin tones – North-East Blue – I try to avoid exposing my flesh in public places. So I was watching through the glass today as this lovely young coach spent the first half of this session (when all the other coaches were playing on the inflatables) demonstrating to G what she and R have been doing and discussing where they should go next. R beamed the whole time. Whatever this young women gets paid, it surely isn’t enough. R is so lucky to have found her. R’s lessons are a joy.

*Note to Councils – having a family is not a disability.  People with disabilities and their families need accessible changing rooms and should not have to compete with families with school age children for the use of these. Next week: the need for coat hooks and nappy bins in disabled toilets.


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