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Teaching Underwater Breathing To Beginners

For most beginners, this skill takes the longest to master and for good reason. If you stop and think about how often you focus on breathing everyday it makes sense that beginner swimmers struggle with this. Our body breathes for us automatically, we don't have to focus on it and no other activity truly requires us to think about it at the level swimming requires. Add in the fact that it is the complete opposite air channel from how we breathe naturally.

Take a moment to take a deep breath.

Notice how we all naturally breathe in through our nose and out through our mouth.

In the water, if we tried to breathe that way, we would immediately suck water in through our nose. Lets say your swimmer just inhaled water through their nose while attempting nose bubbles underwater. They come up and start crying and/or coughing even though they had their mouth closed underwater. These responses are happening because they don't know how to relieve the pressure in their nose.

First, we teach them to clear water out of their nose so they can understand how to "blow out" instead of "suck in". Teaching them to clear their nose by blowing the water out is the first step to learning nose bubbles. How can we ask them to blow air out of their nose under water if they don't know how to blow anything out of their nose? Most children have never really had to blow anything out of their nose before besides snot into a tissue when they get sick. Sucking air through their nose is a natural body response to recieve oxygen. Be patient and acknowledge that you are helping them fight through a natural instinct that has never required their attention and focus before. It takes time.

Responses That Are Normal:

  • The Anxiety Response - The swimmer no longer wants to try again because they remember the pressure that built up on their nose and it scared them. They resist trying again each time it's time to practice that skill because they remember how they felt and don't want to feel that again.

  • The Quick Fix Response - The swimmer wants to hold their nose to prevent the pressure from happening to them again. They likely were taught this in another lesson space or an at home environment and don't want to change to this breathing method because the new skill makes them uncomfortable. The "old way" is easier even though it's not a longer term solution, it's just skill avoidance.

  • The Halfway There Response - The swimmer continues to suck water in on each try even though above water you can feel them blowing air out of their nose or they can do it half the time underwater but can't replicate the skill on command. This means that mentally they understand what to do but physically they don't yet know how to replicate the skill each time it should be performed.

Ways To Work Through Them:

  • For The Anxious Swimmer - Parent engagement is key. Baths are often a "fun space" where children feel somewhat in control of their environment. They can sit in the tub, the water level isn't very high, they can play with toys and practice nose bubbles. We encourage parents to work on this skill at home in the bath between each lesson so the skill is practiced daily but in low pressure spaces. In lessons, we will keep reminding swimmers that just because something happened once doesn't mean it will always happen on every try. We ask them to try the skill in "low risk environments" such as pool steps where they can easily lift their heads and work through the discomfort in an area they feel safer.

  • For The Quick Fix Swimmer - Talk about long term solutions and how breath holding and nose holding are not efficient. They need both hands to swim and swallowing the air they hold in their mouth leads to burping after class. Often breath holding transpires from drinking water from attempting mouth bubbles underwater because they are trying to remember bubbles but do the wrong kind by mistake. Nose holding tends to transpire from preventing pressure build up in their nose from avoiding skill practice. Find the root cause for the child struggling with the skill. Sometimes children have fears that haven't surfaced yet or the swimmer can't articulate what part of the skill is causing them discomfort or nervousness. Have the hard conversations, many of which involve tears. These produce change and self confidence at the end of the day which outweigh all the hard moments.

  • For The Halfway There Swimmer - The key word is patience. This swimmer is trying and giving the skill their full effort, it just takes some kids longer than others to make the switch. Keep in mind that most often nose bubbles are required in combination with other skills such as Jumps, toys underwater, or even swimming across the pool. When asked to do this skill in combination with others it's usually the first to be forgotten because in daily life, breathing doesn't require thinking.

Never Give Up!

No matter what phase your swimmer is currently in, there is a way to work through it. Know that this skill can take anywhere from a few moments to learn for some kids and months to learn for others. Patience is key. Conversations are necessary. This skill will be accomplished, just not always on your timeline, children operate on their own and what works for one child may not for another. We like to communicate with parents and give them the opportunity to take part in the learning experience with their child at home. At the end of the day when your swimmer accomplishes this skill, the confidence and smiles will be worth all the hard days!

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