How Adult Non-swimmers Learn To Swim: An Action Research

Por: Tommi Pantzar.

Athens 2004: Pre-olympic Congress

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Most motivated adult non-swimmers have negative thoughts and fears of water, which makes the process of learning and teaching swimming very challenging. The purpose of this presentation is to question the methods and teaching of swimming to adult non-swimmers. Cognitive psychologists Beck and Freeman [1] state that people rely on their beliefs to interpret events and to guide them in selecting methods to cope with these events. The first problem of my study was to learn what kind of beliefs adult non-swimmers have concerning water and swimming before the teaching, during the teaching and after the teaching period. The second problem was how the teacher should support the special needs of an adult non-swimmer.


This study was implemented as a qualitative action research where the researcher was also the teacher of the non-swimmers’ group. The research group consisted of 10 students. The participants wrote an essay about their prior experiences in water and their beliefs about water. The researcher also interviewed the participants before the teaching period using the essay replies to start the discussion. During the 9 lesson swimming course the participants kept learning diaries about their experiences, their swimming abilities and the changes in their emotions and beliefs. The researcher also kept a diary of the changes in the students’ abilities, expressions of emotions and workable exercises in the pool, in order to make the necessary changes in their personal curriculum. Two weeks after the last lesson the students wrote another essay to sum up their experiences. The results will be reported in a narrative way by describing the individual learning processes by themes with the teacher’s and students’ diaries, the interviews and the essays.


The study is still in progress. The early results from the interviews and swimming course suggest that the adult non-swimmers in this group needed support both for their emotional challenges as well as their motor skills. The students described their fear of water in many ways. The beliefs about water and swimming were sometimes quite far from reality. For example: Most of the students in this group described that they would sink like a rock if they would lie on the water. During teaching they started to come up with new schemes about what would happen to them while in the water.

Discussion/ Conclusions

Learning swimming as an adult is a great challenge. It should be seen as a diverse pedagogical process, which is influenced by student’s emotions towards water and swimming as well as student’s motor skills.


  • Beck, A. & Freeman, A. (1990) Cognitive Therapy and Emotional Disorder. New York: Guilford.



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