Feature Article - January 2007
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Beyond the Lap Lane

Get more people in the pool with fresh aquatic programming for adults

By Stacy St. Clair

This philosophy contradicts old-school beliefs that a person only needs to learn how to swim or tread water to overcome aquaphobia. Her teaching experiences have proven that adults cannot learn to swim until they conquer their fears.

"Here's the big problem when people are afraid: They cannot learn because they are not in control," Dash said. "They don't know if they're going to lose it or not. If they don't know, how are they going to concentrate on their breath? If they're worried about other things, then how can you get them to concentrate on the task at hand?"

Dash likens overcoming water phobias to mastering in-line skating or biking. Most people don't feel safe in those activities until they learn to stop panicking and enjoy themselves. Water sports are no different, she explained.

In her classes, Dash skips the swimming mechanics entirely. Instead, she teaches people how to be at ease in water. Teachers show them how to "happily" put their face in the water and to float on their front and back. Students also learn to turn in the water, to jump into the deep end and let the water hold them up regardless of the depth.

"Most importantly, we teach people how to keep their presence of mind," Dash said. "We teach them how to maintain control and regain their confidence in water."

Students move at their own pace and don't compete with one another. Classes typically meet eight times for three hours each, with one hour on land and two in a warm pool.

Dash suggests aquatic facilities advertise the classes with honest but reassuring messages. Potential patrons need to know that the course will cater to their specific needs.

She recommends posting a sign that reads something like this: There's a class in warm water on this day at this time, and you can sign up for it here. It's 3 hours long. It's free. It will feel too short. We guarantee it will change your mind about the water. Will you be there?

"A lot of people say yes," she said. "A lot of people come up with amazing excuses. If they say no, we tell them, 'Here's a book or a DVD [on conquering your water phobias]. Go home and practice on your couch if you have to.'"

In the end, people who conquer their aquatic fears will become excited patrons, Dash said. They're likely to register for additional lessons, participate in water aerobics and bring their child to the pool, among other things.

"This will bring out the droves," she said. "It will get people swimming who've never been swimming before. We're giving them something they can use for their entire lives."