How Long Will It Take to Learn to Swim?
This would be right up there in the top five questions we are asked constantly as instructors and coaches. The other four we will save for another day.
Our go to and truthful short answer is, “each swimmer is an individual and results will be completely varied and unique to them”.
But that’s not an answer
We live in a results-oriented society and we recognise that the above statement may be a let-down to anyone wanting a black and white answer such as “it will take you exactly 10 lessons to master perfect freestyle allowing you to compete and win ribbons”.
There are numerous research papers, TED talks and multiple theories on how long it takes to acquire a skill.
A quick google search of “how long will it take to learn a new skill” will quickly bring you to the theory that it takes 10,000 hours to acquire a new skill.
In swimming lesson terms, if attending one thirty-minute lesson each week, without skipping any lessons ever, it would take approximately 384 years to master a stroke!
The good news is that the above figures are for mastering and reaching expert level. In our swimming world this may equate to becoming an Olympic gold medallist.
We also know that this level of swimming mastery is not achieved by attending one thirty-minute lesson per week.
What we do know
To be considered proficient at a skill such as swimming, the movement and coordination of our limbs needs to be performed automatically.
When learning any new skill, our short-term memory or pre-frontal cortex is what figures out how to drive the function required.
The first step to performing a skill on autopilot is repetition, repetition, repetition. Sorry, there are just no short cuts.
In swimming terms this may mean practicing kicking over an over again until a nice consistently fluid kick pattern emerges.
To a parent watching their child’s weekly swimming lesson, repetition of skill may appear ‘boring’ or ‘not challenging enough’. ‘Why can’t they do something different each week instead of the same old thing?'
The second step to performing a skill automatically requires that training becomes progressively more difficult.
This is when instructors and coaches may push their swimmers to perform the acquired skill in a new way or situation in the form of different drills and over different distances. Who doesn’t love a long kick set?
The third step in mastering a skill is performing under differing constraints. For example a time constraint.
In swimming terms, this may equate to performing a stroke within a time range such as a sprint set.
Just as an aside, don’t be the swimmer who goes all out in the first rep of a long sprint session. You have been warned!
There is no getting around the fact that swimming is a hard-won skill which will take time to master. Each swimmer will need to tread their own individual path until they can perform each stroke ‘automatically’.
Think about how we learn to stand and walk. If we had only put aside 30 minutes a week to ‘practice’ walking, there may be many of us still be crawling through our daily lives.
What can I do to speed up this process?
The short answer is – swim often.
Whilst attending a paid lesson more than once a week may not be possible, swimming as much as you can outside of your regular lesson will help. This includes playing in the pool as well.
We often see our swimmers make fantastic improvements over summer because they are in a pool or at the beach nearly every day.
Understand that instructors are performing repetitive drills and activities to shift the swimmer’s responses from the prefrontal cortex to an automatic instinct that can be performed in a variety of situations.
If you have concerns or would like more information on your own or your child’s progress, talk to us.
There is one thing instructors and coaches love talking about it is their swimmers!
During class time an in-depth discussion is not possible. Get in touch either by phone: 0413 201 534 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
This gives us the opportunity to talk to instructors/coaches and give you accurate feedback.
Swimming is a skill for life. It may bring you equal parts joy, frustration, self-satisfaction and heartache before it is mastered.
We may be a little biased, but we think it is absolutely worth it.