With the pool’s high dive lurking ominously overhead, Louis Schoener’s Swimming:
Timid Non-Swimmer class was just working on the basics in preparation for the class’s first venture into the pool’s deep end.
“Today, no matter what you’re doing or how you are doing it – just relax,” the assistant professor told a group of slightly distracted students, each working on a different skill.
For most of the 15 students, swimming in the pool’s deep end will be a huge departure from the first day of class.
“Eighty percent were just afraid of the water,” said Schoener, who mentioned that several students recalled a bad experience from youth and decided to avoid learning how to swim all together.
Schoener said that many of the students are athletes who, while they excel in other sports, avoid the water for one reason or another.
Sophomore kinesiology major Johnson Tanyi plays three hours of soccer a day and hopes to make the school’s team next season. But before enrolling, he didn’t know how to swim and would shy away from the ocean and deep end of the pool.
“I can swim right now,” he said. “I just have problems floating.” Stories like Tanyi’s apply to most students.
“When I was little, I hated the water,” said junior kinesiology major Brian Chan. “But I knew sooner or later I had to suck it up and just do it. [I] might as well do it now and get the credit for it.”
On the other hand, a few of the students
like senior BTMM major Hammad Bashir, already know how to swim and simply take the class to fill two credits.
“I wanted to take regular swimming, but it wasn’t open,” he said, mentioning the few alternative courses left for seniors. “It’s all right, though. I get to help some of these guys who can’t swim. But if I get anything less than an A, I might have to repeat for my own personal satisfaction.”
More psychologist than trainer, Schoener must be therapist and coach to each individual student, and therefore has devolved a unique one-on-one teaching style. While the teacher might instruct the whole class at once in other classes, Schoener must paddle from student to student, assess the problem and help them overcome any obstacles, whether they be physical or mental.
“Initially I was scared of the deep end,” said sophomore biology major Kojo Abohaye. But with some help he was able to overcome his fear, especially after learning basics like treading water.
Schoener attributes success stories like Abohave’s to leaving enough flexibility for students to decide how fast and far to go. For example, at the onset of the course, Schoener tells the students to either
get their faces wet, bring the water up to their faces, or to submerse their faces completely and then work on an individual basis from there.
When not being attended to by Schoener, it is common for the students to be working on their skills in pairs or just simply goofing off, something Schoener encourages.
“As adults we have totally stripped away the idea of play, and that’s how you learn physical skills,” he said. “They are adults – it’s not like a class of kids where everybody does things in lockstep.”
Another reason for the one-on-one attention
is to avoid peer-pressure situations when a student may be too embarrassed to learn. The embarrassment often quickly fades away as students become more and more comfortable.
One student even progressed far enough to go whitewater rafting; progress that Schoener enjoys and believes is necessary
for personal development.
“Just imagine if you didn’t learn how to walk until you were 16 years of age and you had to enjoy the thought of falling 300 times,” he said. “Adults would never do that. We all would be crawling around campus on kneepads.”
Thankfully Schoener won’t have to hand out kneepads, or life vests, anytime soon.
Sean Blanda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.