Swimming Is Easy
"You can learn the crawl as quickly as any other stroke** ... A famous swimming coach tells how he trains beginners and champions
Editor’s Note—Gus Ryder is an internationally known swimming expert and former lifeguard who, as organizer and chief coach of the Lakeshore Swimming Club at New Toronto, has been responsible for teaching more than 5,000 persons to swim. He is a member of the Royal Lifesaving Society and has rescued 24 persons from drowning. He has trained many of Canada’s champion swimmers.
YOU ARE never too old to learn to swim. You can start when you are 60 or as a child barely out of swaddling clothes—well, say, at five years of age, anyway. During the past winter in our swimming classes at the Lakeshore Swimming Club in Toronto, we have taught adults ranging in age from 40 to their late 50’s. And there have been five-year-olds, able to swim many widths of the pool.
Swimming is a sport for all people of all ages, all their lifetime. The blind can swim. The maimed can swim—and the crippled and the aged and, yes, even the sick. And, as the world knows, it provides the best means of muscular development for those stricken with infantile paralysis.
The beauty of swimming is that it is easy to learn. Many people don’t realize that. They mistakenly think it’s a complicated business requiring years of patient instruction. This is not true.
You can learn the crawl—that smooth, swift stroke used by the champions—as quickly as any other stroke. The crawl is not exclusively for experts. Rather it is the easiest and most natural of all swim strokes. That’s why the champs use it.
For the purpose of this article I am assuming you are a rank beginner—that you want to become proficient in the crawl. Later on I’ll tell you about training champions.
First, are you afraid of the water? Well, you shouldn’t be. Fear of the water is one bogey you must get rid of before you can become a good swimmer. And it is easy to shake that fear, as we shall see later on. And you had better throw away once and for all that foolish idea about being able to toss a nonswimmer into deep water on the sink-or-swim theory. That’s extremely dangerous and has caused death. Another generally accepted belief—that a person comes to the surface three times before drowning—is also a fallacy. If you expect to get three chances in
the water, your expectancy of drowning is indeed high.
If you learn to swim with me, or any of the other coaches at the Lakeshore Club, or any modern instructor, you will learn the crawl stroke first. Yes, I know you have always thought this the most difficult one—but it isn’t. And by learning the crawl first you have this excellent advantage—you have nothing to unlearn. Not knowing any other stroke you haven’t learned any of the faults that might retard your mastery of the crawl. And, actually, when you have mastered the crawl you can swim any stroke.
How can you rid yourself of any fear of the water? Well, usually when I am teaching youngsters I let them play around in the shallow end of the pool the first couple of times they go in the water. They gain confidence that way and learn many things by playing that instruction would not teach them.
If you happen to be at a beach or river instead of a pool, the kiddies should be started in very shallow water—often not above their ankles. This may sound strange, but it is best. In that depth they can lie flat in the water, pushing themselves up off the bottom to practice the various motions necessary to swimming. Even for adults learning to swim, two or three feet of water is plenty. The idea that a grownup needs five or six feet of water isn’t right—nor is it safe. I don’t recommend that children or adults try to learn swimming around a dock, because it often runs out into very deep water. The same applies to many parts of a river. The drop is too quick, the risk too great. Do your practicing in very shallow water.
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Swimming Is Easy
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The best way for youngsters or adults to shake fear is to learn the float position. The float teaches you that water ¡ will hold up the body by buoyancy j ; alone and with no help from the pupil. ' Once you have learned the float you S not only have gained confidence in yourself but you have, automatically, learned the initial position for the crawl.
How to Float
The float is really very simple. IfJ in a pool, stand with your back to the side of the pool and with the water just above your waistline. Lean forward, stretch your arms out at full length, hands flat on the water, thumbs together. Once in this position, bring the left foot up flat against the side of the pool. Inhale deeply and in the same movement bring the right foot up even with the left. Seal your mouth, hold your breath and push off across the surface of the water. Your feet should be only six inches apart and the legs straight. Your head, of course, is down between your arms—not too deeply submerged, ho'wever, and your eyes are open. In this position you will float effortlessly.
To practice the float position in a lake or other water you do the same thing, except that you don’t have the edge of a pool to push away from with your foot. This, however, will not make floating any harder.
The second movement to be learned is the flutter kick—one of the most ; important parts of the crawl stroke.
I This requires a good deal of practice but it pays off in swimming dividends. The simplest way to learn this is to grasp the side of the pool and push your legs straight out behind you. If in lake water simply place your hands, palms down, on the bottom, and support yourself in that way. The knees should he straight but not stiff. The legs I should be about six inches apart and ! never touch. Now work your legs from j the hips in a fast up-and-down motion, j hut do not, at any time, allow the legs to come above the water or to go more ; than six or eight inches beneath the I surface. Don’t work hard on the down! stroke because the legs will drop j themselves. The flutter kick should be worked very fast at first. After a few I lessons you will acquire the speed best suited to you.
The next step is to combine the : float with the flutter kick. Go back to the float position. That is, take a1 j lungful of air, then stretch flat out on j j the water, face down, hands extended. •
I Now start your kick - fast—just as you ! did while practicing the flutter. You ! will find that you are propelling ! yourself through the water by the motion of your legs alone. Practice this ¡ I repeatedly without using your arms at I all because it is imperative that the leg movement be made mechanical j before the crawl stroke can he accom: plished. Once you have mastered the flutter kick you are well on your way to ! becoming a swimmer.
Now for the use of your arms. Return to the float position. If you’re in a pool give yourself a good push away from its edge. If not, try and give yourself a push off with one foot against the bottom of the shallow lake water in j which you are practicing. Now start your flutter kick. Keep your hands extended in front of you, head down, eyes open. Then draw your right arm down (or your left if it’s easier for you to start with your left) under the water. This should be done in a straight, scooping action, palms open and fingers together. Bring the hand out of water j at the hip. As your right comes out of1
the water, your left hand and arm start under in the same scooping motion. And as your right omes out of the water roll your neck a little so your head turns to the right and your face is out of the water. Gulp air and then follow through with your next arm stroke. Now you are doing the crawl. The right and left arm make a continuous rotary action, using the shoulders as the axis. The legs are fluttering continuously. If it is easier to roll the neck so air is taken in on the left side, do this—but, remember, you breathe only on the one side, not from side to side after each arm stroke.
The important thing to do is to learn each part of the crawl separately and perfectly. Then combine them into the completed crawl. This will cut your learning time by 50%.
Breathing is generally considered the most difficult part of the crawl but with practice it becomes easy and natural. You will breathe while swimming just as you breathe while walking —without noticing it.
Breathing can be practiced in your washbasin at home—or in the bathtub. The idea is to gulp in a reasonable amount of air, turn the face into the water and then force the air out. I say force it out because it will not come out otherwise. Force it out either the nose or mouth, whichever is easier for you.
In the pool or lake water the best way to practice breathing at first is in the float position, with the flutter kick working. Flutter-kick yourself across the water, rolling your neck, always to the same side, so you can snatch gulps of air through the mouth. A common mistake of many swimmers is that they twist the head from side to side, gulping air first to the right and then to the left. This not only exhausts them, but in a few yards makes them so dizzy they don’t know where they are. After gulping in air, don’t force your head back too deeply into the water. Don’t force your shoulders under either. This only adds obstacles to your swimming. Just gulp air quickly then turn your head straight, nose submerged, eyes open, and force the air out. During all this keep your legs fluttering and arms moving.
If you follow these simple rules you can, in a few months, become an accomplished swimmer. Try it for an hour a day, three days a week, for six months and you’ll be able to swim at least half a mile with ease. This is a conservative estimate. 1 have youngsters eight or 10 years of age who can do a half mile in the water today whereas six months ago they couldn’t swim a stroke.
A Mile At Seven
Allan Jones and his brother, Jack, are good examples. I began teaching Allan when he was only six. Before he was seven he could swim a mile. Later he went on to win many honors in “tadpole” aquatic competitions. Before the war Jack Jones was being called a second Bob Pirie, and you know Pirie Was one of the greatest swimmers Canada ever turned out. Today Jack Jones is a star of the RCAF swim team and tough to beat at anything from 200 yards to two miles.
Bunny Starchuk began taking lessons from me when he was only seven. He became a great distance swimmer—a pro at only 16. In the last 10-mile marathon swim at the Toronto Exhibition, young Bunny finished 10th in the field. He was with the troops invading Kiska and later, when I talked with him, he told me his swimming ability had been invaluable to him in that operation.
And look at Bill Mcllroy. I taught him when he was only seven. And before his eighth birthday he won a three-quarter-mile swim event at Trenton. He’s 12 now, a backstroke expert, and has won many titles. Yes, sir, swimming is easy and you can learn quickly.
There is one thing to keep in mind if you are going to learn swimming from an instructor. Place yourself entirely in his hands. Obey him implicitly. Remember, he will never ask you to do anything harmful. And I do think everybody wanting to learn to swim should have competent instruction. About 99% of those who teach themselves to swim pick it up the wrong way. About 1% can learn successfully by watching others do it and then imitating them. It’s like trying to run a typewriter. Anybody can do it with a couple of fingers. But no matter how much they practice, they won’t be able to run the machine as quickly or efficiently as the person who learns the proper finger exercises. I believe instruction is best for the swimming beginner—and even the advanced swimmer—because no swimmer can see himself in action. For this reason he can’t tell what he’s doing wrong. He needs somebody to pick out his faults and suggest a remedy.
For instance, Bernice Looney had great difficulty with her breathing and left arm position. I started to teach her when she was eight and it took quite a while before we had that left arm moving as it should. She was a bit lazy about how she brought it through the water. Then when we had the trouble ironed out her swimming improved 40%. She went on to win the Junior U. S. A. national one-mile title, the Barker Trophy and was picked for the U. S. A. All-Star swim team several times.
And Dorothy Hobson, who amazed everybody by winning the Canadian open one-mile event for women (the Barker Trophy) four times, had a tendency to keep her fingers open. This cut down the efficiency of her stroking and she was unaware of what she was doing until I pointed it out to her. Later she won the Wrigley and BeeHive Trophies many times, was an intercollegiate champion, and went to Australia with the British Empire teams. 1 doubt if anybody will ever i repeat her feat of winning the Barker ! Trophy four times.
One more word about instruction. If i you want to be able to get the most out j of your swimming during a summer, i you should start your instruction the j previous September. By the time the I warm weather rolls around you will be j well on your way to real swimming I ability. Many parents bring their J children to swimming coaches in May I or June and expect the child to be a ¡ good swimmer by July or August. This is a mistake.
This advice applies only to those ¡ persons who learn to swim in a pool.
If the kiddies are going to learn in a j lake I’d caution every parent to make sure of the depth of the water in which | the children play. Walk out into it and j a few yards on the shallow side of where j it gets too deep for the kiddies anchor | a colored float. Tell the children they ! can go as far as the float and no farther. \ Too many parents at summer cottages ! have no accurate idea of how deep the j beach water is—or if it drops off ' suddenly from its shallows.
Professionals or potential champions ; must go through the same learning j routine I have outlined here. Exactly j the same. After that it is a matter of ! intense training under an expert i instructor for several hours a day, every i
day of the week. He or she must learn I each part of the stroke to absolute perfection. An instructor might, fer instance, make his pupil practice the flutter kick for months on end —nothing but the flutter kick. Or the arm movement. Or the breathing. The usual routine is to train a pupil for many months on just one movement. Then later spend more months on the combined movements.
I do not believe in special diets for swimmers — either professional or amateur. If they are swimming every day, as a pro must, they should eat normal food and lots of it. Of course, no swimmer should eat before going into the water.
Girls are easier to teach than boys. They are less afraid of water, they work harder and are more conscienj tious. Usually they obey their instructor to a far greater degree than do the boys. I don’t know why this ; is so—only that in any group of boys and girls the girl beginners make faster progress. It is also true, however, that girls are not as fast as boys when clocked in competition. Time records are all held by men.
It is also true that youngsters learn to swim faster than adults. They not only have more resistance and endurance, but they have the time to devote to perfecting their swimming technique. Adults, ordinarily, are too busy to spend several hours a week practicing swim strokes. Swimming is a child’s natural sport between the ages of five and 10. During that time they are too young to play ball or the other sports seriously--but they all can swim if shown how. By the age of 10 every youngster could be an accomplished ! swimmer.
All swimmers should learn to dive. By that I do not mean they must become experts on the high boards or in fancy displays. But they should learn how to get into the water with grace and speed. Diving is a matter of | practice and any beginner should watch and imitate a good diver wherever possible. A few simple rules | should be followed: Learn first off the edge of a pool or dock or floating raft and then oft’ a low board. Keep your hands outstretched, your head down and give an upward fling of the feet and | legs as you leave the board. As soon as you are in the water turn the palms | of your hands upward. This gives you a shallow dive. Don’t dive too deep. Don't dive off bridges into rivers. River water is usually muddy and the bottom is continually shifting. You can never be -sure of the depth or what obstacles you might hit. Know the water into ¡ which you are diving!
Lifesaving, too, is something that should be known by every man, woman and child in the land. Ninety per cent of all drownings occur within 20 to 60 feet olf shore.
Like swimming, lifesaving is not difficult to learn. All my championship pupils are expert lifesavers. They hold lifesaving degrees in both the United States and Canada. Although I teach the crawl to all swimmers, the crawl is never used to rescue a person—except, of course, as the swiftest means of reaching that person. However, by the time you have learned the crawl you will have mastered the other strokes, too —the breast and side strokes. In teaching a beginner lifesaving, I first teach him to bring up inanimate objects from the bottom of the pool. When he is accomplished in this I train him to bring up from the bottom and tow to safety a person who is feigning drowning. I send an expert swimmer to the bottom and have him stay there for a moment, relaxed. In Í
the same moment, or a second later, I send the pupil after him. The pupil must learn the correct way to hold and tow a drowning person and, above all, must learn how to break any panicky grip that might be attempted.
There are several methods of rescue. The fastest of all, for any but a baldheaded man, is to grab the drowning person by the hair—it won’t hurt him— and tow him to shore. While towing, use the scissors kick and a downward drive of the free arm. The scissors kick is merely using the legs like a pair of scissors when they are opened and closed.
Another is the cross-chest method. Approach the drowning person from behind and hook one arm across his chest, anchoring the hand firmly in his armpit. In that position your arm keeps his head and chin above water and you are able to tow him to safety. Still another method is to grab a person by the wrist and swim hard for shore. The constant pull and jerk on his arm will keep the face clear of the water. Remember, any person in water is quite buoyant and there is no weight to lift. It is only when you attempt to lift a person out of water that he becomes heavy.
When you are attempting a rescue, ■ keep your head. Be calm. This gives j the person in trouble confidence. You 1 shouldn’t have to break a panicky grip, j but if you do, merely push away from your subject until you can approach ¡ him from the rear. Always approach j from behind. If he gets a strangle hold ; on your neck, reach up and force his ! head and chin back until he frees you.
Might I also say that, though I have trained some of the greatest swimmers ! Canada has ever produced, I would ! rather teach 100 youngsters to swim ! than train one boy or girl to become a ¡ champion. A good coach can teach 100 pupils in the same time it takes to make one champ.
For years now I have been advocat’ ing that all public schools should make | swimming and lifesaving courses compulsory and that there should be a pool or pools in every school in Canada. I do not believe any pupil should be permitted to graduate from public school without a certificate in swimming and lifesaving.
That way we would not only build a wonderfully healthy nation of men and women, but we could reduce by 75% the number of deaths by drowning.