Tombstone Shaped Slabs

Tombstone Shaped Slabs of Buoyant Synthetic Plastic Polymer…. and ME


It’s not that I never use them; very occasionally I do.

And I do use ‘noodles’/ ‘woggles’…

I try to think ‘dependence vs independence’ and ‘transferable skills’ beforehand though...

Here are a few times when I may get a float or two from the equipment store.

  1. For very anxious beginners who are still on the verge of ‘Flight or Fight’.

They need additional support to venture further from the side and literally find their feet and begin from a very small base to build their confidence in the water and me as a teacher.

  1. For ‘Beginners’ – who can stand up in shallow water – and who are trying unsuccessfully to float on their back for the first time without their noodles/woggles. The taller they are the harder it gets in shallow water.

Every swimming teacher has watched as one of their learners begins to lean back cautiously onto and into the water..

Suddenly their ‘upright balance brain’ kicks in with memories and premonitions of a painful encounter with the ground and floating in the way that bricks DON’T.

That momentary lapse of certainty, confidence, balance and control triggers a sort of reflex; something I liken to the proverbial collapsing of the folding deck chair or when the covers of a large open and unwieldy book suddenly snaps shut…

I visualise my dilemma – and that of every other teacher with the problem:

What was my planned outcome? What was I looking for?
A class, floating like, well a float, or a leaf; horizontal at the surface, relaxed and smiling, flat on their back for the first amazing time…(and maybe trying to remember how to recover to stand up without drawing too much attention to themselves?)

What was the actual outcome? What did we see, what did we get?

A patchwork of startled and ‘twitchy’ children, gamely and repeatedly performing this strange action of stiffly leaning backwards then suddenly sinking, ‘sitting up’ and quickly standing up again with a startled but defeated and dismayed expression on their faces.

Possible Solutions?

ONE is to hold a buoyancy aid over the stomach area, close and firmly over the ‘offending’ hips or seat.

It can be a float. The bigger the size of the float relative to the size of the swimmer the more additional support it will offer. Later reducing the size will reduce dependence.

Or, for some TWO floats held out wide in a star shape guaranteeing that the top end will stay relatively dry.

Either way a little or large chunk of plastic foam can provide much needed confidence and a delay or postponement of that book – snapping, deck chair folding moment; just long enough for them to relax a little, take another bigger breath and realise they can let or lift their hips and legs to rise to the surface instead of sinking.

As well as giving the usual teaching points (“Look up” “Chin Up” “Tummy up” “hips up” etc)…LET THE SWIMMER KICK THEIR FEET UP TO THE SURFACE [2]

The size of most floats means that for young children they may provide MORE additional buoyancy than is required.

So, I often progress quickly to using something smaller. Those single arm discs, or a short section cut from a well gnawed and now useless woggle can do the trick.
It may be that they need one in each hand at first so that they can extend their arms to the side for better balance.

You may also just be a witness to a magical moment when the reassured and horizontal beginner is so caught up in the moment they simply let go of both chunks of foam…” Look, no hands!”

  1. For the early stages of travelling any distance on their back, practicing an alternating kick.

Many beginners intuitively use their knees to initiate the “kick” rather than the hips or seat. Their legs have learned to do this for walking and running upright- they get a bit ‘lost’ when the body is on the back and floating horizontally. They certainly find extended feet and toes somewhat alien at first.

(“OK guys, weird but it seems to be something to do with getting from A to B you know how it goes- you know what to do- one foot in front of the other, let’s go !!”)

The result can often resemble a classic walking, cycling or pedalling action which in so many ways counter productive. Increased resistance, loss of momentum and ‘balance’, not to mention ‘heavy legs’ syndrome and a repeat of the deck chair or book snapping act; the twitching pull of gravity on their legs and seat and a slow buckle or fold begins until they are almost sitting up in the water..

In both these cases I have given the swimmer a float to hold at arms length over their tummy/hip area.

The challenge for them is to keep their hips and the float, level and not to allow their knees to keep bumping up against it.

Don’t let them look too far up and back (their hips may rise too much) and try to kick a little deeper. It will ‘feel’ different, but they will soon discover the role of the alternating kick in backstroke.

And that’s pretty much it.

By the time my pupils need to focus on improving and developing leg kicks on the front, they are able to ‘scull’ with arms extended to the front… and apart from when it is a core conditioning practice with older swimmers, the beginners simply roll to the side or even to their back to breath.

Even on their sides with one arm extended underwater – the hand on the leading arm gently and sometimes fractionally changes pitch or extension as it ‘surfs’ and cuts through the water just under the surface out in front and in alignment with their ‘long’ body and ‘long’ legs.

In part three I will share some thoughts on what I have seen and sometimes still see when floats are used in swimming lessons.

[1] We know what is happening of course; the ‘reluctance’ of our hips- our centre of gravity – to allow the body, without a visible or tangible means of support or guarantee of a soft and safe landing, to gently transition to loss of control and certainty of gravitational pull which normally involves falling backwards and certain pain or injury.

When we go horizontal in water we effectively hang from our centre of gravity…which is around our hips and ‘waistline’

So, the hips stay insistently low and the seat ‘drops’ – let’s say it …sinks!

Legs which don’t do walking backwards naturally and comfortably anyway only too readily come the aid of the hips or seat and for many body types are natural ‘sinkers’ anyway

[2] Many will do this almost instinctively or reflexively and this should be encouraged. Others ill need to be reminded to ‘kick’ or jiggle their legs to prevent them from sinking.

[3] [1] We’ve all had noodles/woggles which have numerous chunks clearly bitten out of them – you can see the teeth marks! Nervous or desperate pupils? Or just a different aquatic manifestation of bubble plastic poppers?

I once suggested to a pool manager that all those chewed bits must be a nuisance in the skimmers and filters.” Not really- we don’t get that many” he said. It’s what I suspected but don’t want to face…they are EATING them….