My father tried to teach me swimming by tossing a seven-year-old me into a murky pond in the countryside from a two-meter ledge. He threw a swimming tube that was tied to some railings into the pond before throwing me and told me to swim to it.
Even then he was not satisfied with his Spartan training. As soon as I was thrown into the water (yes, literally picked up and thrown), he began reeling the swimming tube away from me whenever I was getting close without telling me, in hopes I would swim further.
I just ended up swallowing fish poop and saw an eel slither by as I frantically thrashed around.
The Swimming Trip
Since then I had not swum again, and I had a delayed explosion of emotions at eleven years old when my dad’s friend’s children were visiting, and he planned a swimming trip.
I refused, and he wouldn’t take no for an answer. Oh man I cussed the hell out my dad with the worst vocabulary I could muster at eleven and literally fought my dad.
It ended up with me barricading my room door and shoving against the door with everything I had. I didn’t even know such emotions existed in me.
Learning to “Swim” on My Own
The next time I went swimming was when I transferred to a new high school and enrolled in a gym class at 16, where we had mandatory swim classes. I was scrawny and was the only one in the class that couldn’t swim.
The class teacher didn’t really care due to it being a gym class in a public high school, so I just ended up being left in a corner.
I eventually learned by myself how to “swim” around the pool, but I still could not float or tread water properly. The teacher wouldn’t let me swim to the deep end because I couldn’t tread water.
So I asked if anyone could teach me, but I only got a “just practice at the shallow end.”
I had so little body fat that the only way I could stay afloat was by holding my breath, and I sunk as soon as I exhaled. I never figured out if it was a technical problem or just being too dense.
The swim class only lasted two weeks, but I actually enjoyed the feeling of being in the pool. It was at the same time that I started learning to meditate.
Meditating Underwater and Dolphin Kicking
When I checked out a local swimming pool by myself, the ability to sink so easily led me to discover meditating underwater – which felt really nice.
I would take a deep breath above water, slowly exhale and sink, hold for 40 seconds and slowly jump back up – and repeat.
Eventually, I got even more comfortable being in the water and somehow discovered that despite not being able to float properly, I was really good at underwater dolphin kick even though I didn’t even know it was a thing.
The underwater meditation helped very much with holding my breath, and I managed to dolphin kick my way along an Olympic sized pool in one breath, and it felt great the whole way.
This also came about because the lifeguard freaked out once about me repeatedly sinking while meditating.
I’d probably never be able to a decent swimmer, but I still found my way of enjoying water.
To sum up, I was and still am bad at swimming due to a predisposition to sinking, while being raised by a Spartan father. I enjoyed swimming nevertheless.
Below a few thoughts about nevergonagiveyouup’s story and why I find it so compelling.
The Perspective of the Person Being Afraid of Water
For someone who is not afraid of water, it can be difficult to identify with someone who has this fear.
The unaffected person is quick to dismiss such fears as irrational and may think that they can be simply controlled by willpower.
However, this isn’t the case. The fear of water, which is closely related to the fear of drowning, is driven by our survival instinct and can easily overpower our emotions.
The episode of the swimming trip planned by nevergonagiveyouup’s father illustrates this well, as nevergonagiveyouup gets to experience emotions he didn’t know existed in him.
Causes of Fear of Water
The story also illustrates one of the causes leading to fear of water.
Nevergonagiveyouup’s well-meaning father tries to teach him how to swim at a young age.
But his father’s approach is wholly inadequate, as he literally throws the young boy in the water without any preparation whatsoever.
Quite understandably, this is a frightening experience which ends up traumatizing the young boy instead of teaching him to swim.
This bad experience has a lasting effect and triggers violent emotions that preclude any recreational water activities for many years.
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for people who have been subjected to poor approaches to swim instruction to develop fear of water.
Getting to Know and Trust Water
Fortunately, nevergonagiveyouup is courageous and doesn’t give up.
As a teenager, he takes advantage of the fact that he is left to his own devices during a swimming class to learn the basics of swimming by himself in the shallow end of the pool.
Then, by applying meditation techniques, letting himself sink to the bottom, then jumping back up, he learns to relax and trust water, which feels very nice.
As a side note, the reason that the lifeguard freaked out when nevergonagiveyouup let himself sink in the water by holding his breath is explained in the dangers of swimming underwater.
Finally, he discovers that he is good at underwater dolphin kick and is able to feel at ease swimming across the pool.
I quite like the way nevergonagiveyouup overcame his fear of water and learned to swim. He gradually accustomed himself to water at the pool, then learned to trust water and in the process acquired some basic swimming skills.
Incidentally, we propose a similar approach for people to overcome their fear of water. If you want to find out more, please have a look at our overcoming fear of water article.
Bad at Swimming Forever?
In his closing thoughts, nevergonagiveyouup states that while he has learned to enjoy being in the water, he most probably will never be good at swimming because he is scrawny and sinks easily.
However, I’m not convinced that he can’t improve, as male elite swimmers have around 10-12% body fat, which is quite low and consequently, they don’t necessarily float that well either, but swim very well.
If you have fear of water, nevergonagiveyouup’s story shows us that it does not have to be definitive and that it is possible to get rid of this fear with the right approach.