For the past two weeks, two-year-old Gillian and five-year-old Isaac have been taking Red Cross swimming lessons at our local pool. Isaac has been taking lessons since he was one and this was Gillian’s first experience in organized swim classes. For both kids, they accomplished so much in the water:
Gillian, despite being comfortable in the water when we’re at the lake, during her first lesson she gave our instructor the stink eye, cried and wouldn’t let go of me. By the end of the nine-class session, she was giving him high-fives, jumping in and kicking independently with a noodle.
Isaac, also a fearless fish in the water, amazed us by swimming the 400 of the pool on his back and jumping in the deep end and then swimming to the edge of the pool unassisted.
Despite the new skills they learned, at the end of the session both kids failed their levels. Isaac needs to repeat Swim Kids 2 and Gillian needs to repeat Sea Turtle and I am happy about this and thanked the instructors for holding my children back. There were a number of requirements that the kids didn’t meet (Gillian never went under water on her own and Isaac can’t swim 10m on his own). Gillian doesn’t know what failing feels like, but Isaac did and he was devastated and cried most of the way home from the pool. Sure, I felt bad for Isaac but I’m a firm believer in that kids need to know failure in order to be successful adults. There are two reasons for this.
Swimming, unlike knowing how to perfect your soccer penalty kick, is a survival skill. Our property is on the water and here in Ontario’s cottage country, we spend our summers at the beach and swimming. It’s more than learning technique when your children take swimming lessons — water safety skills are built into the curriculum for a reason. As a former lifesaving instructor, I often saw students lacking these skills in my own courses and when I failed them, it was their first time failing at anything. A strong foundation sets the scene for successful future lifeguards.
The sports Isaac has participated in so far have been ones where everybody wins and gets rewarded with a party and a medal. It’s great to see him happy when rewarded, but what does that teach him about perseverance? At home, we make a point of not letting him constantly win board games or impromptu mini-stick games for this reason (we’re still working on his sore loser behavior). In this family, good sportsmanship trumps the scoreboard.
What are your thoughts on children failing swimming — or even other summer sports lessons?
Photo by Department for Communities and Local Government via Flickr.