School Swimming: The Total Immersion way
by Total Immersion
Susan Cheshire is a Level 3 Total Immersion Coach and is Head of Swimming at Bancroft’s School in Woodford Green, UK. She coaches pupils aged 7-18 and has successfully implemented the Total Immersion methodology into the PE curriculum and training of the school’s competitive teams. Susan also works with a broad range of adult clients ranging from beginners, triathletes, open water swimmers and those looking to swim for rehabilitation and fitness.
So many of us come to Total Immersion keen to swim more easily. We see a beautiful TI swimmer and think ‘I want to swim like that.’
My introduction to Total Immersion in 2011 was exactly that. When I first watched Terry and Shinji swim, their grace was utterly mesmerizing. I was already a swimming teacher in the UK, having qualified through the Amateur Swimming Association, but my swimmers certainly didn’t look like they did.
I wanted to take part in an open water event and improve my own swimming. I came across Total Immersion and their website caught my attention; “At Total Immersion we have a fool-proof approach to coaching swimming’, ‘By improving the way swimming is taught and practiced we aim to make the whole experience more accessible, enjoyable and satisfying for all.” I booked onto a two-day workshop with TI Coaches Jai Evans and Gill Anderson. That workshop transformed my swimming. The information that was delivered in a logical, sequential system of learning made absolute sense.
I had also joined Bancroft’s School in 2011, a co-educational school with 1100 pupils aged 7-18 as Head of Swimming. The PE teachers were using the same methods I had been taught during my A.S.A. training. In my first weeks, it was clear the pupils were finding swimming difficult to master. Instruction focused on pulling and kicking and many were struggling to complete the length, and there were children across all age groups still unable to swim. A school with it’s own 25m pool is no guarantee pupils will learn to swim.
After attending the workshop I knew this revolutionary method wasn’t just going to improve my swimming, but everyone’s at school.
Total Immersion was indeed about to change my life.
Following the workshop I continued to practice with a level of dedication and excitement I’d not felt before, developing my understanding further. I needed to be absolutely certain this was going to work in a traditional school environment.
In September 2013, we put away the floats and introduced Total Immersion to the PE curriculum. We made little reference to pulling and kicking, after all aquatic mammals don’t have arms or legs. The children were going to start ‘thinking’ differently about how humans swim.
The first priority, regardless of ability was for all our pupils to find their balance and comfort in the water and learn how to manage their breath. These skills quickly replaced the sinking sensation with the sense of being ‘weightless’ and supported by the water. The impact on the children was immediate and provided them with both the body control and the mental and emotional calm to learn all other skills.
Lessons became an opportunity for mindful and deliberate practice of the ‘skill’ of swimming. Distance and speed became an outcome and not the focus of their practice. Pupils became more confident and mentally engaged. They began asking questions, and we started discussing the science of swimming. We explored our understanding of swimming as well as common misconceptions. The children were improving faster than I had anticipated.
My P.E. colleagues were learning alongside the pupils and I cannot thank them enough for trusting me when I said there was a more effective way to learn to swim. For them it felt like I had turned swimming on its head and it was a massive cultural change, but they could quickly see the positive impact it was having on the children. The school’s support has been incredible.
“We were failing pupils previously, we had numerous, quite often athletic pupils unable to swim 25m or who remained in fear of the water, even up to Year 10, we put this down to lack of time and resources. Total Immersion swimming has been the most significant development to the PE Curriculum that I have witnessed in 20 years of teaching. I look back at a career of ‘splash and dash’ teaching with nothing but regret for those pupils who have missed this wonderful opportunity”
Jonty Pollard, Head of Physical Education, Bancroft’s School
My colleagues are more confident teachers. They have a greater understanding of swimming and regularly have their own moments of magic when the children they are teaching show significant improvements during a lesson.
The vast majority of pupils are now comfortable and confident in the water. They are more efficient swimmers and the overall standard of swimming continues to improve. Swimming is inclusive and representative of the school diversity. The programme continues to evolve and our pupils regularly work in pairs, sharing the roles of pupil and coach. This has allowed them to develop their observational and communication skills, and has really helped to cement their understanding giving them the knowledge to improve and practice independently away from school.
The number of swimmers attending after-school training has increased significantly; with over 110 children training weekly.
In 2017 97% of our Year 4 Pupils (Aged 8/9) achieved 25m and 61% of our Year 6 Pupils (Aged 10/11) swam 200m.
“My daughters confidence and swim technique has improved immensely since swimming with you at Bancroft’s. She continues to swim at our local leisure centre; she swam more than 1000m front crawl effortlessly this evening.” Mrs Sangha, Year 4 parent
The children are faster in competition, the standard of our annual inter-house galas has improved, and most importantly levels of participation are much higher at over 90%. Pupils continue to swim outside of school, taking up triathlon, open water swimming and joining local swimming clubs.
“I have been at Bancroft’s since I was 7 and I am now 15. I arrived in the prep school a confident swimmer, but not an efficient one. Despite swimming at school since year 3, it is only in the last 4 years that my swimming has really improved. Swimming used to be a chore, and many who came to the prep had not improved a huge amount by the end of year 6. Not so when the Total Immersion program was introduced. Taking apart my stroke and rebuilding it step by step, as well as understanding the science behind the technique, has transformed my swimming and allowed me to compete and I feel confident in my swimming that I now swim in the sea on holiday.“ Eleanor, 15
A growing number of our pupils are volunteering with our Community Swimming project, allowing local children with Special Educational needs the opportunity to learn to swim.
‘Total Immersion is a significant and brilliant progression in teaching swimming and I value it as one of the most important things in school. I am still improving and I hope to swim a lot more in the future.” Kemi, aged 18
It’s been an incredible challenge and I’ve loved every minute. I continue to enjoy improving my own swimming and am looking forward to my next open water adventure.