The most active current thread on the TI Discussion Forum is "Swimming Teaching" in the Freestyle conference. There is an impressive range of insight and passion by people who have experienced or observed ineffective instruction — which in the aquatic world may be the closest thing to a universal experience. A question on the mind of many of those who’ve had such frustrations must be "how did this come to pass?" My response to a question about the Red Cross ventures an answer.
Originally Posted by Rhoda
Terry, would it be advantageous for a person to start with the Red Cross water safety instructors course before becoming a T.I. instructor? The Red Cross course is frequently offered through parks & rec. here. I don’t think they’d hire an instructor who didn’t have this in the city pools.
Rhoda’s question points to what should be-indeed is-the real charter and mission of the Red Cross. Their expertise is in disaster-relief. In the pool what they do is Teach Water Safety. Teaching Water Safety (TWS) is a completely different activity from Teaching Aquatic Skill (TAS), but even today very few people understand the distinction.
However, the Red Cross – and equivalent organizations in other countries (E.G. ASA in the UK, ABC in the Netherlands, Austswim in OZ) – have seen their "area of expertise" expand so they are now widely recognized as the accepted authorities on teaching swimming, and training those who do.
This occurred because: (1) There was a void — no alternative body to be recognized as the authorities on Teaching Aquatic Skill; and (2) It’s difficult to draw a clear line between TWS, and TAS. At what point do you make the handoff from one to the other? As well, the few people who raised similar questions pre-TI (Howard Firby being the one I’m most familiar with) lacked the platform or voice to get them heard.
Howard Firby on Swimming, published in 1975, is the most sensible and logical non-TI book I’ve ever read on swimming but is out of print now because it was aimed mainly at competitive swimmers, who gave it an indifferent reception because its concepts (i.e. reducing drag is more important than increasing propulsion) seemed so alien. Johnny Weismuller’s Swimming the American Crawl, published in 1939, also has stunning insights, utterly lacking in either Red Cross instruction manuals — or even most of what’s written for swim coaches today.
Even Benjamin Franklin, writing over two centuries ago, gave advice on learning to swim that recognizes the importance of first experiencing simple buoyancy or weightlessness, before worrying about pulling or kicking. In a letter to a friend who wished to learn swimming, he suggested they start by wading into a shallow pond, turn around to face the shore, then drop a cooked egg (bcz it would sink and not break) to the bottom, and reach down to pick it up (the water must have been clearer then). Upon doing so, you’d find yourself lifted off the bottom and floating! How many current Red Cross instructors do anything similar?
TI was the first organization that attempted to gain broad recognition for its ideas – and backed by a best-selling book – to propose an alternate approach to learning. That has led to the conitive dissonance experienced now by those who’ve come to recognize the distinction between TWS and TAS.
Returning to Rhoda’s question, it does make sense for a would-be TI Coach to start by taking a Red Cross (or similar) class to learn the safety aspects of teaching and class organization. TI-UK requires its teacher trainees to complete the ASA’s Assistant Teacher class because it addresses those needs, but to avoid wasting time on learning their ineffective ways to teach the strokes.