Basic aquatics skills - part 7
by Ron Coleman
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In the past few months, we have been looking at conditions that need to be present to facilitate learning basic aquatic skills.
Level of effort, tension or excitation should be optimum for this cybernetic type testing.
"IF YOU WANT TO DO BETTER — TRY HARDER."
This simple solution to better performance permeates every level of our society. From home to school, right through to the grandstand experts at the Olympics, who use terms like … "not hungry enough".
In reality, as any good coach will tell you, more races have been lost by athletes "trying too hard" then not trying hard enough. "Choking" is a term often used.
Whether it be a competitive athlete or a learner, for every skill to be learned, developed or executed, there is an optimum level of "trying hard" that will give best results.
The use of terms "level of effort" and "how hard one tries" is over simple. The interaction of the nervous system, muscle tension, muscle speed, etc., doesn't always manifest itself in apparent effort. The shooter at the Olympics can "choke" just as easily as the swimmer, yet is expending little physical energy. Words like levels of tension, nervous excitation, level of stimulus can describe the state we can call "trying too hard".
However, for the purposes of this paper, I will use the term "level of effort" and "trying" to be as general description. In the learning, development or execution of any skill there appears to be three general considerations:
The higher the degree of difficulty of the skill, the lower should be the level of "effort".
You don't mind a man digging a ditch hurrying to finish before 5pm, but you may not be too keen on the brain surgeon rushing to finish early to meet his girlfriend
The lower the level of development of a particular skill in that individual at that point in time, the lower should be the level of "effort" for maximum efficiency.
Personality factor: In simple terms, some individuals can take, and in fact need, higher levels of stimulus to perform at maximum efficiency. Some people can only operate efficiently under low pressure.
This personality factor is more easily recognised in the competitive athlete than in the learner but should be kept in mind.
In the child learning basic aquatic skills by themselves with only the right conditions and opportunities, he or she is usually playing, exploring, experimenting, testing and evaluating. He / she regulates levels of "effort" instinctively. If we watch them, they are going about their business in a relaxed manner.
In our lesson situation we have to learn from this natural phenomenon. If, in our ignorance, we try and defy the natural laws of learning that are there for us to see, and place the child in a situation where they are pushed too hard, instead of speeding up the learning process, we may only succeed in retarding it.
As discussed in previous articles, the learning of basic aquatic skills depends on the child experimenting, testing, evaluating the efficiency of movements to achieve results they feel they need. The movements of basic aquatic skill have been described as simple, but in reality, the pitches of hands and feet to move and change direction, interacting with body balance, breath and buoyancy control … are hardly simple.
While the general rules suggest that a fairly relaxed child is going to get the best learning result — it is in the pool where we see the proof.
Take the child, for instance, who is placed in a situation where he is required to get back to a wall, say one metre away. If the child feels insecure and goes like hell to get to the well, he may well make it. Mum and Dad clap and idiot teacher struts like a genius, but what about the child? Sure, he may be conned into feeling he did something good, but let's examine what happened. Let go by Mr. Idiot, his body starts to go down due to the pull of gravity and child has not yet learned the effects of buoyancy.
The child is faced with two demanding needs … to stay up, and get back to the wall. The urgency of the situation stimulates the child to use rapid movements, dragging on the water rather than developing sculling type actions. In addition, the child is working at a rate that exhausts him very quickly.
The child, given enough assistance to feel secure, but not enough to take away the need to contribute to the effort, should be relaxed enough for the normal testing and evaluation process he uses every day to refine everyday skills.
Pressure for higher levels of "effort" can come from the teacher, parent, the environment, or how the child perceives the environment. So, we need to motivate enough to set in motion the learning process, but control the level of stimulus to a level that permits the learning and refinement of the skills.