Adult Learn-to-Swim Success Stories: The Instructor, Part 2
In this second installment of Mari Soliman's Adult Learn-to-Swim Story, USMS catches up with USMS-certified ALTS instructor Megan Lassen to talk about how her swimming lessons with her student, Mari, are progressing.
USMS: Your first five lessons were in a backyard pool. This week, you moved to a competition-sized pool. Were there any hiccups in the transition?
ML: No. We started out in the dive tank. It’s about 20 yards across. I think she found that pool a little more comfortable. Plus, it’s a little warmer. I had her kicking without fins. … After the kicking, we did some back floating. I let her know I was there by touching her every once in a while. That seems to be like magic for her, so she knows she’s not swimming alone.
Once she got comfortable with that, we did some freestyle—first without the snorkel to practice side breathing. That skill is looking really good. But she is glorious with a snorkel. I have never seen anyone take to a snorkel so well. The snorkel lets her go farther, longer, easier.
Then I took her to the long-course pool. We’d talked about that beforehand, and we talked about the differences in the pools. The water was freezing. I swam alongside her. I told her she was going to swim to the other side. I told her, “You are strong enough.”
She swam almost all the way to the flags on the other side, and stopped. She had a strange look on her face. She said, “Oh, my gosh, it’s so far!”
I told her, “Yes, and you’re almost there!” And that’s how we ended our day yesterday.
USMS: You set up a schedule of eight lessons with Mari. How has this schedule worked with the ALTS lesson plan?
ML: I’ve worked with the ALTS [progression] card, and I’ve stayed pretty close to it. It’s broken down in steps. Sometimes I’ve gone over one step, and then gone back. I think it’s really nice to have this, but sometimes you have to jump around to work on other things that make sense.
USMS: What skills have come easily to Mari?
ML: I think it was easy for her to get into the water. Going underwater and blowing bubbles was easy for her. I think having those skills on the [ALTS progression] steps is important. I might not have thought to do that in the beginning. One thing I learned about Mari was that she had never actually played in the water. I asked her, “Have you ever done a somersault?” She hadn’t, so we stopped one day and did some somersaults. It was new for her. She’d find herself sideways. I told her, “But you know how to right yourself now.”
USMS: How did she know how to right herself and do a somersault?
ML: The sculling drills [in the ALTS progression] helped her learn her position in the water.
USMS: What has been a struggle? Do you find this to be typical of adult students?
ML: Stretching and reaching. She seemed to want to keep her elbows near her side, almost stay scrunched up with her knees up. Getting her to reach for the wall was a challenge.
USMS: It sounds like you’re describing her getting in a fetal position.
ML: Yes. She had a hard time lengthening her body. The other thing is that when she breathes, she sometimes forgets to keep kicking. And then she sinks! So coordinating her breathing and kicking has been hard. Sometimes I think these things are typical, and then sometimes, in the middle of a lesson, I see something and say, “How does that happen?”
Mari is thoughtful, and understands, and knows what to do, but can’t always make her body do what she knows. I found one day, that by telling her to think of being long and beautiful, she got it. She told me straight up that the word she understood was “beautiful.”
USMS: Have there been any surprises so far?
ML: The scrunch-up thing was a surprise to me. So I just take a step back each time, to make sure she remembers what to do.
USMS: You have two lessons left on your schedule. What are your expectations?
We talked about breaststroke and plan to start that tomorrow. I don’t know if that’s going to be her stroke. You can kind of tell from someone’s knees. We’ll see if it works and if it makes sense for her. We’re going to do it on land first. And we’re going to do some backstroke.
USMS: Do you have any other overall impressions of how the ALTS lessons are working for you as an instructor, as well as for Mari?
ML: If someone wants to get better at swimming, I think they need to swim three times a week. I think that’s the minimum number. Twice a week isn’t enough. I think you need that constant reminder. I’m afraid that if Mari stops her practice, or if she waits a month after her lessons, she’ll be back to step one when she tries again. I think that would happen with a lot of people. If students can join a group like a Masters team after finishing lessons, that will reinforce what they’ve learned. I would have no problem with Mari being in our (Swim Ft. Lauderdale Masters) Group 3 lanes right now with her snorkel. I’d be, like, “Go! Go! Go!” But she could do it, and I think it would really help her to continue to improve.
USMS: Can you describe your Group 3 lanes?
ML: Group 3 is made up of beginners, new swimmers, and swimmers who are older and wiser.
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