Yesterday I attended some training provided by Level Water, the amazing charity that helps get disabled kids swimming. I recently started giving one to one lessons through them, one afternoon a week, working at my local pool. So it was very good to get more of a grounding in work with children with disabilities and to meet and share ideas and experiences with the other Swim Teachers - and all just before I took my afternoon's lessons.
Ever since I first came across Level Water I’ve wanted to be involved. These last two years I’ve done some spectacular swim events to raise money for them (spectacular in terms of the locations rather than necessarily my performances!). I continue to be very grateful to all who have given their support. Over the last twelve months I’ve also undertaken the necessary Swim England qualifications to be a Swim Teacher and have now been taken on by my local pool, specifically for the Level Water kids.
And what super children they are – just a joy to be in the water with. More of which later.
One of the challenges posed to us on the course was to reflect on what we mean by disability and the assumptions we carry into our teaching. Instinctively I found myself thinking in terms of limitations. A typical dictionary definition that we looked at was also framed around a negative "incapacity to perform or function", so essentially about what can’t be done. On the course we were challenged to define disability in positive, rather than negative terms. What if we were to think of our swimmers being differently able? Our role becomes one of helping our swimmers find and make the very most of their resources – less of the limits and more of the amazing possibilities.
I feel I am just at the very start of learning here – and no doubt my new discoveries are things that more experienced teachers of children with disabilities have been practising for years.
But what fun to learn with these young Level Water swimmers! In each lesson I continue to be amazed by how liberating being in the water can be for some of them, having a wonderful, playful exuberance and easiness in the water.
A spectator or regular swim coach might not recognise all that we do as swimming – in fact with one boy we have some fun inventing new strokes or, as in yesterday’s lesson, ways of treading water, giving our creations fanciful names. His mother told me yesterday that her son has now been moved into the Confident Swimmers Class at his school and is being treated with a newfound respect by his classmates. How brilliant.
Alongside the LevelWater Swim Teaching I'm continuing to work with new adult swim clients - some looking for stroke improvement for their next big challenge, others essentially learning to swim from scratch. I've found here, too, instances of limiting assumptions - of people having previously been told they can't do a certain activity or swim a particular way because of a condition. I don't for a moment play down or cavalierly dismiss the difficulties some people face, particularly coming to one of my sessions for the first time. What a joy, though, to see them surprise themselves with what they can do.
To finish: another unashamed plug for Level Water. As a charity it is entirely dependent on donated support to fund the one to one lessons. They now have around 50 pools around the UK signed up and providing lessons – and have ambitious plans to double this. The Just Giving page for my big events is still open if you’d like to contribute or of course there’s the Level Water site too. Go on - it only takes a few minutes and you'll be helping others discover the joy of being differently able.