I stumbled across a news story the other day about a school that had banned the use of goggles during swimming lessons. The reason was that if a child got into an emergency situation they would be unlikely to be wearing goggles so should therefore get used to swimming without them. It’s a well-meaning but muddle-headed concept and almost certainly created by someone with no open water experience.
If a child falls out of a boat or slips into a river while feeding the ducks, then whether or not she is wearing goggles will be among the least of her worries. If you take the reasoning above to its logical conclusion then we should insist on teaching children to swim outdoors in cold murky water and fully clothed, which we don’t.
The problem arises if we see the teaching of swimming as primarily a tool to potentially save your life: something unpleasant but necessary and, for schools, a means to meet their national curriculum obligation. If those attitudes prevail, then it’s not surprising so many people fail to learn to swim and instead develop an aversion to water – and that has long-term consequences for people’s participation in swimming throughout their lives.
Instead, wouldn’t it be better to first focus on the joy of swimming and the fun of playing in the water? I still remember my early experiences with wearing goggles and the fun of diving for coins my parents flicked into the water. When children play in the water they learn to swim without even trying. They will want to come back for more and will quickly develop the confidence and competence to achieve the national curriculum target of 25m, and much more. If instead you make swimming an uncomfortable experience by forcing them to put their faces in the water without goggles you will discourage them and make them look for excuses to avoid swimming.
There is no requirement for secondary schools in the UK to provide swimming so once children reach the age of 11 the only reason they will keep on swimming is if they like it. If they don’t, the ability to swim 25m (if they ever managed to achieve it) will be lost.
Yes, being able to swim may save your life and that’s an important reason to teach children how to swim. But if you learn to love the water, those life-saving skills will develop automatically and be much stronger, and you will also have access to a life-long activity that can make a huge difference to your health, fitness and well-being. It would be a shame to lose that for the sake of a pair of goggles in your school swimming lessons.