Supplement Feature - February 2011
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The Right Safeguards

Protecting Pool Patrons, Reducing Risk

By Wynn St. Clair

Oftentimes, the first step is just making the patron feel comfortable in the water, she said. Only when that occurs can additional progress and other lessons take place.

If a student doesn't like to let go of the pool wall, for example, Dash doesn't force him or her to try it right away. To the contrary, she encourages students to hang onto the side, if it makes them more comfortable. She tells them to feel the water, to think about how it feels and concentrate on how it moves against their bodies. It gives novices a chance to experience the water instead of allowing their reservations to consume them.

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 taught her 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?"

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 hours 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 three hours long. It's free. It will feel too short. We guarantee it will change your mind about the water. Will you be there?

In the end, people who conquer their aquatic fears will become excited patrons and the parents of stronger swimmers, Dash said. And stronger swimmers means a safer aquatic experience for everyone involved.

"People drown because they lose it in the water and they don't know how the water works and swimming lessons don't teach it." Dash said. "You have to use a different paradigm. It's as simple as that."