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Out of all the skills I get to teach as a swimming instructor, back floats are the most fulfilling and potentially the most important.


From a teaching perspective, back floats allow swimmers to understand that they are capable of staying above the water and can lead into other skills – let’s consider it a gateway skill. From a safety perspective, if a child is able to float on their back, they’re able to breathe and call for help, thus making it a life saving skill.

Being able to show a child that they’re able to float is an amazing experience, but there’s a catch 一 many children struggle with feeling comfortable in the water on their back.

So what can instructors do to encourage your swimmers to learn to back float?

  1. Introduce back floats at an early age
    1. The most effective way of creating a sense of comfort with back floats 一 or any water safety skill for that matter 一 is by introducing it to swimmers at the earliest age possible (2-6 months old depending on where you live). It’s much easier to work through opinions at 6 months old than it is to break a fear at 4 years old. By getting your swimmer in the water as quickly as possible, you can almost ensure that skills like back floating are developed without too much resistance.
  2. Break down the process
    1. If your swimmer can understand language, they can rationalize and compromise. I’ve turned rationalizing with 2 year olds into an art form and it’s completely changed the way I approach my classes. By explaining the steps it takes to get into a back float, whether it be with support from an instructor/parent or independently, it’s completely possible to talk a swimmer down from the verge of breakdown. Make sure that as you’re working on getting into a back float, your swimmer is kept in the know about what is going to happen next in terms of positioning and support.
  3. Redefine what a back float is
    1. Sometimes, swimmers come to lessons with a preexisting fear of back floats and it may fall to the instructor to completely change the way back floats are performed until that swimmer is capable of maintaining calm while floating independently in the water. If my swimmers are regressing around back floats and my attempts to comfort them aren’t getting anywhere, it may be time to change what a back float looks like, Instead of having my swimmer lay back in the water on my shoulder or in my hands, I’ll ask them to simply look up at the sky while holding the wall. I’ll proclaim that they’ve just performed a successful back float to blanket the phrase with a level of confidence that can work its way into their eventual full back float position. As they become more comfortable with each altered version of the back float, I’ll add a slight addition to the skill until they’re performing it completely on the own and understanding that they’re capable of keeping themselves above the water.

These three factors are pretty foolproof when it comes to ensuring our swimmers overcome opinions and fears about floating on their backs. It’s most definitely a time consuming process, but again, out of all the skills our swimmers learn throughout their time in swimming lessons, back floats are one of the most important. Patience and persistence is key and I urge all instructors and parents to work through the feedback and resistance they encounter while working on this skill.

Where else is your swimmer having difficulty overcoming fears and opinions in the water?

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