Unintended Consequences

Some YMCAs offer a homeschool PE program.  My children have enjoyed getting one hour in the gym, playing typical PE games with other children, then spending another hour in the pool learning how to swim.1  It’s a great program.

Different Y’s have different approaches.  Some hire instructors, and consequently charge a monthly fee in addition to the membership fee.  Other programs keep the cost low by training parents to be the instructors.  The homeschool PE program that we’re involved in is included in the cost of our membership; parent volunteers are the teachers.

I volunteer in the pool, and have nearly three years experience teaching swimming lessons.   I love teaching kids to swim, and have been included in training sessions required of paid swim instructors.

When I teach, I break a stroke down into small parts and help the kids learn one piece at a time.  We start with a demonstration, then I work one-on-one for a very short distance to make sure kids are doing it correctly.  Once their technique is right, we start increasing the distance.  Swimmers in my classes know that they’re learning two things:  1) stroke technique, and 2) endurance.  When they listen well, we get through all the things we want to cover, which means they have five minutes at the end of class for a game.  The kids love it.

Another thing I like to do is periodically let any parents who are observing know what we’re working on.  I give them tips on how they can help their kids improve.  Swimmers learn faster and do much better when they have free-time in the pool.  More practice means they learn faster; imagine that.

Parents have always appreciated the approach I take, knowing why we’re doing things the way we do.  That is, until yesterday.  Yesterday two teachers were sick, so I taught not only my own swimming class, but another one, too.   It was interesting.  I’ve done that before with no problem.  Not yesterday.  One mom showed up ten minutes late with two children, and insisted that her kids belonged in the class I was covering for, despite the fact that they weren’t on the roster and had missed the first two weeks of class.

Since the mom stayed to watch, I treated her like every other parent and told her the things we were working on, and tried to point out a couple of things she could help her kids with.  Instead of looking, asking questions, and nodding her head as most parents do, she got belligerent and snidely retorted, “I don’t swim. I can’t help them.”  Really? I was thinking.  You can’t stand at the edge of the pool and remind your daughter to keep her thighs together when she’s kicking?  You won’t listen to what we’re doing so you can have an intelligent discussion with your kids on the way home?  She didn’t want to hear any of it.  I felt sorry for the kids.

This lady’s children did not focus, did not pay attention, and had trouble with the strokes.  Having to repeat myself used up all our game time, so the regular students weren’t very happy with the two who weren’t paying attention.  When I dismissed everyone, I asked the new girl to stay in the pool, and spent about two minutes helping her correct some problems in her side stroke.  After all, it’s not the kid’s fault her mom skipped 40% of the classes and is trying to stick her up in a level she doesn’t belong.

Two main criteria to pass the minnow class are 1) side stroke, and 2) endurance to swim four strokes (crawl, backstroke, elementary backstroke, and side stroke) for 25 yards.  That’s what we work on in this class.  We’d had four previous classes, so my kids all have pretty good technique and are working to improve endurance.  These new kids 1) don’t do side stroke well, and 2) can’t swim 25 yards without stopping to grab the wall and rest.

After class, I made the mistake of mentioning to the belligerent mom that according to the YMCA’s criteria, her kids might have better success as minnows, not fish.  People who don’t know how to do side stroke correctly should stay in the class that teaches that stroke.  People who can’t swim 25 yards will be in a world of hurt when they’re moved into a lane away from the wall and expected to swim 50 yard laps.

The mom was highly offended, and told me that I needed to talk to the paid swim instructors who know what they’re doing, because the professional swimming teachers in the evening class moved her kids up to fish.  Ah, well, sorry to disappoint her, but the paid swim instructors are high school kids who teach toddlers. The volunteer swimming teacher in the evening class moved those kids up to the next level to get rid of them.  That mom might not realize that when her approach is to blame others instead of considering what’s being said, her kids will pick up on it and do the same thing.

Another issue, much bigger, was that the son quit.  The class was working on kick form, using a kickboard to practice their flutter kicks.  Part-way down the pool, this boy threw his kickboard up onto the pool deck and got out of the pool.  He was frustrated and didn’t want to do it any more.  His mom allowed him to quit.  She also allowed him to leave the pool area without saying anything to me about it.  Nothing like coming up short on a head count!  I was appalled that she would enable her son to be a quitter.

In my book, if you get frustrated, that means you need to practice more, try harder, or ask for help.  Quitting is not an option.  What a terrible lesson to teach a child.

This kid doesn’t listen, and the mom makes excuses as to why he has trouble listening.  No excuses.  He doesn’t listen because she doesn’t require him to do it.  He doesn’t follow directions, either.  Any guesses why?

People live up (or down) to expectations.  Even kids with medical problems can be taught to be polite, to listen to instructions, and to do what they’re told to do.  They can be taught perseverance and fortitude.  They can also be taught that it’s okay to be disrespectful, do whatever catches their fancy, and give up when things don’t come easily.  There are consequences outside the home when we tolerate misbehavior inside.

Blame others instead of taking responsibility for yourself.  Be disrespectful.  Be a quitter.  Probably not lessons that mom planned to teach her kids.  It makes me step back and take a good look at what I might be unintentionally teaching my own family.

1Technically, it’s only 40 minutes for swimming so that the kids have time to get to the locker room, shower, and change clothes.  A 60 minute swimming lesson would be exhausting!

2Toddler-age (3-5 year olds) swim levels are pike, eel, ray, and starfish. Swimmers who pass the starfish level can move up to the school-age fish class.


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