Learning to crawl!


Hurray I taught myself front crawl!  This morning I realised that after months of trying I have taught myself front crawl! I’ve always been able to do a pretty elegant breast stroke, but whenever I tried a crawl I ran out of breath, my legs didn’t understand what to do  and I always gave up, but now I can do it. This might seem a bit of a silly blog, but when you spend all day thinking about learning, it’s nice to get right inside it and experience it yourself.

This got me to thinking about how my experience might relate to my day job, which after all revolves  around the question of what it means to learn, and learn well.  I asked myself this: how did I go from no hope, coughing, spluttering and looking like I was drowning, to a pretty nifty crawl (faster than some of the show off blokes in the next lane I might add).  How did I learn well?

  • Firstly, after watching the good swimmers only doing crawl, I knew that it was better to do crawl and that was what I needed to do next. I knew I could do better.  First of all, I ignored this and tried to find dignity in my cautious breast stroke, but every time I left the pool, seeing the nifty crawlers bombing along,  I’d think ‘I wish I could do that.’
  • From then on, whenever I swam I placed myself in the lane next to the really good swimmers and I watched. I watched how they moved; I watched how they breathed. At first it made me feel like I’d never be able to do it; nevertheless, I kept watching.
  • Then I got myself a pair of goggles. I began to swim breast stroke like the good lot: head right under, breathing out under, breathing in when I popped up. I started to feel like them – just a bit. I also began to watch how they moved under water too.
  • Then at the end of every swim, I’d try a few strokes of crawl. At first, I felt ridiculous. I couldn’t get the breathing, and even though my legs were going crazy, I didn’t seem to go anywhere. But – I didn’t stop. I just did that bit of crawl at the end each time.
  • Then one day, someone gave me a pair of mini flippers – a support! At first I just started using them with a float going up and down at the end of my swim. My legs started to feel like I thought the good swimmers’ looked.
  • After a while, I started to try a length of crawl with the flippers. The breathing was everywhere and I felt like I was drowning again. I almost felt like giving up.
  • Then I found myself looking up how to breath doing crawl on YTube. I watched a number of cheesy American clips of good breathing techniques, and yes, I drew the curtains and lay across a chair at home and practised.
  • The next time I swam, I tried the breathing I’d practised at home and I also tried to add in everything I’d learnt watching all the good swimmers around me in the pool.
  • The first few times were really hard work, but each time I was a little better.
  • Then every time I swam, I pushed myself to do at least five or six lengths in crawl with my flippers on. It was exhausting, even with the flippers, but I just did it.
  • Gradually each week, those lengths got easier.
  • Then I decided I’d try it without the flippers. Immediate disaster, my legs went to jelly and I felt like drowning – back to flippering.
  • I did this for about two months – but each time did more and more crawl with flippers. All the time, my muscles were learning, memorising. Now and again, I‘d take the flippers off and try a length or two. Not bad, but tiring, but I so wanted to do that flipperless crawl like the ‘really good’ swimmers in the lanes next door!
  • Then today – I thought, I’m just going to do it! I did a few lengths with the flippers then gingerly took them off and left them at the side.
  • Off I went – what was this? My legs were kicking away doing what I wanted at last. My breathing just seemed to come naturally and the arms too. Suddenly, I was swimming up and down WITHOUT FLIPPERS, head down under, breathing in a rhythmical way with my strokes. I was doing a good crawl. I taught myself to do a good crawl!

I know this is completely obvious to most of us all now, but isn’t it nice to genuinely experience this yourself as a teacher! All that fixed ability nonsense and over emphasis on the teacher! What’s inside the head of the learner is everything; what they see around them; what they want to get out of it all..

Here’s my very own experience then of ‘what makes good learning’!

  • Examples of quality all around you. (Kids need these models – but not quality that’s seems out of reach  – some recent research has shown that quality exemplifiers that are too perfect actually stifle learning.  I knew those ‘good crawlers’  were good, but they weren’t Olympians).
  • Self-belief and perseverance. (Teachers need to  help children develop strong approaches to all types of  learning – all that Learning to Learn/ Learning Power stuff is so important).
  • Motivation – you need to want that quality for yourself.  (This is hard for us because not all learning is that tantalising for pupils is it? However, we just have to sell it as best we can, put it in context and show its importance in the big picture. I don’t believe that all learning has to be fun – learning isn’t entertainment.)
  • Enjoyment in improvement – pleasure in that feeling of getting better at something, even if it’s slow. (This we can give pupils, make them recognise their own achievements, see how far they’ve come. We can then use this feeling of self improvement as a motivator – this will get them through learning the boring stuff too and through having to practice lots and lots.)
  • Time! No pressure. (We are limited here sometimes by time, but we can ignore pressure to cover topics too quickly and move on and we can try to linger more when we need to).
  • Support sometimes to get you going- sometimes practical/ sometimes emotionally. (We know all about this, don’ we?)
  • Time to make mistakes and experiment – without judgement. (This is why how we give feedback and when  we give it is so important! Leave them alone sometimes!)
  • Deliberate practice – over and over again, and sometimes regardless of the outcome. (All experts practice and love to practice because they love the feeling of improvement it eventually brings , not so much the practice itself.)
  • Faith in the idea that one can always get better at something (Teachers need to fill kids with this feeling about themselves all the time!)

What next for me then? Butterfly?



2 thoughts on “Learning to crawl!

  1. madeupteacher

    Brilliant! Never underestimate the value to repetition and constant tweaking/practice to embed technique without consciously having to think about it.

    A far cry from my days at Dolphins Swimming Club ( NW England club swimmer from age 8 onwards) where we swam length after length until almost drowning with the effort, to build stamina.

    Technique was harder to get right. As with much learning, only so much is visible and that is generally above the surface. We can time and compare ourselves but there’s always a nag that habit can make us sloppy. Firm foundations are essential.

    My trainer used to tie my ankles together ( not as bad as it sounds!) during butterfly sessions because, as she correctly suspected, below the surface and beneath what appeared to be a competent stroke, breaststroke legs were taking up the (s)lack of proper technique.

    Getting someone to film your stroke is a very good way of ‘catching yourself’ in the moment (though you may have problems gaining permission to do this in public pools). Enjoy your swimming. Many a time I have marvelled at the club breaststroke specialists effortlessly overtaking competent front crawl swimmers. All is relative🙂 Having said that, front crawl will always be more cool🐬

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