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The longer I teach, the more I understand that I learn just as much in a lesson as my swimmers do and I pride myself in being open to learning from my mistakes and growing into an instructor who meets the needs of all of my swimmers through the instruction I give. I had an experience in the pool the other day that left me feeling foolish and I wanted to turn it into a learning opportunity for myself and anyone else who finds themselves wanting to improve the quality of their language and instruction.

I’ve been working with a six year old lap swimmer for a little over a year now and he’s always had trouble staying on task, but is nothing short of sincere around everything he does. There are times during our lessons together where I push him to swim faster or stretch farther and it usually lands well with him, but unfortunately, this time around I broke one of my own rules and spoke without impeccability in my attempt to get him moving.

We were working on freestyle and I started to notice my swimmer’s form get a little funky looking. We addressed it and he tried again, but went right back into the incorrect form for the second lap. Without thinking, I began comparing him to his brother who’s an extremely talented competitive swimmer and asking him if he wanted to one day be just as good. As the words left my mouth, I immediately regretted them. Who was I to put that kind of weight onto a swimmer who was here enjoying himself and how could I have been so negligent around my language? This kind of criticism can easily leave a child with feelings of insignificance based off of a comparison that doesn’t actually have a hold over their ability to succeed.

So I cleaned it up. I immediately apologized to this six year old who didn’t really get why I was upset. I acknowledged the fact that he was doing an incredible job and that I was pushing him to keep growing. As I do with all of my experiences in the water, I took this as a learning opportunity and I’d like you all as parents, instructors, etc, to grow along with me.

Our language leaves imprints on the children we work with. If we don’t hold ourselves to a standard designed to bolster children up, we’re influencing them in ways that aren’t beneficial to their development in whatever skill they’re working on, in or out of the pool. Comparing one swimmer or another isn’t a way of pushing someone to work harder, it’s merely a way of breaking someone’s confidence. Suddenly they have a standard to live up to that isn’t within their control or even their reach.

To help push a young swimmer, encourage them with what they’re doing right first. Don’t just jump right into the things they need to work on, but rather, acknowledge the things they’ve really improved and then discuss how they can continue to improve and grow. I love what I do and I love the kids I get to work with and I’ll continue to take these experiences and grow from them to ensure I’m doing everything I can to not only have my swimmers performing well, but leaving each lesson with confidence and excitement.

Let’s get to work on this chance to build upon ourselves with some other ways we can create language that inspires, rather than debilitates progress. What other ways do you as parents or instructors encourage children to be the best that they can be? How do you feel about competition in education and instruction?

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