Most 10-year-olds in Germany cannot swim. This is also due to the fact that learning to swim has deteriorated into a science and the pleasure of movement falls on the side of the road.
What does a child really need to learn to swim? If you look around at German families, there are arm straps and a myriad of other swimming gear such as swimming pads, swim belts, life jackets and swimming noodles. She attends a busy swimming course often with the goal of getting a seahorse, her first swimming badge.
Many children struggle with the difficult exercises they are supposed to be learning about. Quite a few people go home crying because this type of swimming confuses them, they fear the water or the crowds and hustle of indoor pools too much for them.
Most 10-year-olds can no longer swim
For years, Germany is developing more and more to become a non-swimmering country. According to the life-saving association DLRG, more than half of 10-year-olds in Germany can no longer swim. This is because about 10 percent of public swimming pools in Germany have closed since 2000 – which has led to overcrowded swimming courses and school swimming lessons often interrupted. Corona-related swimming pool closures and unusual swimming sessions do the rest.
But the reason is also that the way swimming is taught in Germany is often inappropriate for children, says Alexander Galitz, president of the German Swimming Teachers Association. So what does a child really need to learn to swim? If you ask this question to parents of sea nomad children in Thailand, they will likely look at you in awe.
There are no swimming courses or swimming aids here. However, young children are already swimming in the water as if they hadn’t done anything else. Since they spend most of the day in the water, they learn about buoyancy early on. And they experiment with swimming movements that are sometimes reminiscent of dogs, sometimes fish, sometimes frogs and sometimes dolphins. It looks so easy and incredibly beautiful. Above all, children have fun in the water. No adult would ever consider correcting her swimming style or letting her practice the frogman kick for hours, says Alexander Galitz, president of the Swimming Coaches Association.
Other countries are less focused on breaststroke
There are several theories as to why in German swimming courses, as in many other countries, crawling, backstroke or a combination of the easier forms of movement are usually not taught first.
The preference for breaststroke probably came from the days when soldiers were the best way to transport their rifle across the river. Lifeguards have the best overview in breaststroke poses. “In addition, children always get good breath and can always be talked to with their heads above water,” says Martin Holzhaus of the Federal Office of the DLRG.
Having fun in the water is more important than swimming style
In the meantime, there are also swimming schools that break the breaststroke tradition. One of them is a radiologist in Berlin. “We focus on having fun in the water and for the kids to get to know its natural buoyancy and can then experiment with their own movements,” says Principal Anja Kerkow. Swimming gear such as belts or jackets that provide artificial buoyancy are just a nuisance. “Here I am participating passively and doing something I can’t do without help,” Kirko says.
Swimming coach Alexander Galitz dispensed with swimming gear whenever possible. “The child will learn to swim without just being allowed to spend enough time in the water with the parents supporting them.” If children initially prefer to do the paddle-leg kick from the front crawl to the arm movements of the breaststroke, then it supports it. “The most important thing first and foremost is that the child is safe in the water and knows how to lie on his body. When he can no longer. If that works, I can start learning swimming techniques.”