I was honoured to have the chance to interview Rebecca Adlington. At the time, she was launching her own swim school for children. We had a chat over the phone and I asked her all about her tips for building water confidence in children. She had some great ideas for how to help children to overcome fear of the water. We also talked about competitive swimming and how to keep young people interested in sport once their competitive swimming days were over.
Q1. Recent research has shown that swimming has a great effect on children’s confidence. What is it about swimming above other sports that gives children such a confidence boost?
You start swimming at a young age and initially you’re supported by parents so it’s a real achievement to be able to swim on your own. It gives you a great feeling of independence and pride. Lots of people can swim so children want to learn to seem grown up like their friends and parents. There isn’t that milestone in other sports such as running, everyone can run from a really early age but it’s a huge step to be able to swim alone and a really proud moment.
Overcoming fear of the water to learn to swim
Q2. What advice would you give to children who don’t want to learn to swim because they’re frightened of the water?
It takes time. Lots of people are scared and it’s important to take small baby steps, even just sitting with your feet in the water is a good start. it helps for parents to take their children swimming on their own as well as their lessons. It helped me to see my two older sisters in the water because they weren’t scared. For a child to see that their parents aren’t scared can have the same effect.
What age should children start swimming lessons?
Q3. I have a 15 month old daughter and we take her swimming every week but we haven’t taken her to lessons yet. What age do you think children should start swimming lessons?
Most lessons start at around age 3. Younger than that it’s all around water confidence. Swimming lessons for very young children are great for building confidence if parents don’t feel able to do this themselves but the children won’t be swimming independently at that age. If children start going swimming young, they will be more confident in the water by the time they get to age 3 and then lessons won’t be such a big scary step.
Q4. 81% of children have said that they wish they could go swimming more often. What could be done to enable parents to get their children in the pool more often?
There are great products available these days it’s such an improvement from the old brick that you had to fetch from the bottom of the pool when I was learning to swim. If parents take toys swimming with them, kids think they’re playing a game when they go to the bottom of the pool to pick up a fish but it’s actually building their confidence. It makes it fun for kids and it is a fun family time that everyone can enjoy.
How Rebecca Adlington wants to empower all children to learn to swim
Q5. When you retired from swimming, you said that your ambition was that every child in Britain would be able to swim 25 metres by the time they left school. You’ve also said that you think it should be compulsory for all children to learn to swim. What scheme would ensure that all children were taught to swim?
I’ve got my own learn to swim programme, Becky Adlington’s swim stars that starts at age 3 so that’s my way of helping with this. I also think that parents should take children swimming more and more should be done in schools. It’s not going to happen overnight.
Q6. Competitive swimming is quite an expensive sport, how can it be made more accessible for children from less well off families?
I don’t agree that it’s that expensive. In comparison to other sports such as cycling where you need a £300 bike, it’s not expensive just to buy a swimming costume. You can find different price levels, lots of places do free kids swims. You can compare the choice between going to McDonalds once a week or going swimming, it’s about what’s important to you and your child.
Children and open water swimming
Q7. The recent research has shown that many children’s dream swimming lesson would be to swim with dolphins. We’ve already taken my daughter swimming in a lake, river and the sea in safe places. There has been a lot of controversy this summer about open water swimming following several deaths during the hot weather. What are your thoughts on open water and wild swimming?
You can never control the environment. There should be signs up where it is dangerous and there are strong currents rather than assuming people know not to go in. Swimming outside is a beautiful thing and I wouldn’t discourage it but you’ve got to be safe in the right environment. I personally don’t like the sea because I don’t know what’s under there so it scares me. I like watching my good friend Keri-Anne Payne racing in open water though.
Rebecca Adlington’s views on how to stop children from giving up sport
Q8. Many people give up competitive swimming in their teens when they can’t fit all the training in around their other interests. I personally felt a bit of a void without swimming and years later got into triathlon and water polo. Do you think more could be done to encourage people to move to a different sport rather than giving up completely?
Yes, there’s so much available for both disability and non-disability. It’s all about finding the right sport. Parents can research online, speak to people and let children try something new.
Q9. Do you still swim now that you’ve retired from competitive swimming and have you taken up any other sports?
I still swim but I’m not training in the same way, just swimming as a member of the public. I also love going to the gym, I’ve played tennis over the summer and I enjoy doing classes at the gym.
Q10. As someone who knows how much parents give up for their children to carry out competitive swim training, would you want your children to be competitive swimmers?
I’d always teach them to swim. I’d support them if they want to be competitive but I’d let them choose what they want to do.