Odd props used for teaching swimming: mussel shells

Fig.1 Mussel shells

Three times a week I teach swimming to kids age 7-12. All classes run for 45 minutes. Each week we work on a different stroke or school. Every time include some fun in the session and not having them bash up and down the pool doing drills or parts of the stroke. The fun brings them back. At this age make it a drag and they either play up or don’t show.

I do this thing called ‘sea otter’. For one length, 25m, they have to pretend to be a sea otter. I don’t need to show them a picture. Most can visualise it from a natural history film. The sea otter swims into the kelp and pulls up mussels. They bring a rock to the surface too, then lay on their backs, breaking open the shells and eating the content. I take them through the actions: long armed doggie paddle, duck dive to the bottom of the pool, onto their backs at the surface, a gentle flutter kick while they break open the shells, eat the contents, throw away the shell pieces then roll onto their fronts and repeat the exercise. I expect them to do this four to five times as they swim the length of the pool. Some like to make squeaking noises. All grin. All take their improvisation seriously and do a great job.

I tick off the long armed doggie paddle, the duck dive, the push-off the bottom, the flutter kick on their back, and developing fluency and love for the water as all worthwhile. From this they improve their front crawl and back crawl, they make steps towards a tumble-turn and even diving (several don’t, none do well) and they have fun – always deserved after 15/20 minutes of ‘real’ swimming: lengths up and down the pool to warm up, kicking with a float or on their back.

I play other games. Maybe three such interludes for a couple of minutes at most across the session.

Six years of doing this with this club and the teenagers laugh about ‘otter’ some even insisting once in a while to add it to their coached session where they are swimming over 2200m in an hour.

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