This question is a common concern of many swimming teachers and is governed by the answer to another question: How many students can the teacher see at any given moment? Obviously, the answer has to be “all of them”. If the teacher, when in water, can safely observe the entire class at all times, then this is considered permissible. However, to be in the water at the same level as the students, so that only a few of them can be seen, is considered an unsafe practice. The ability levels of the students also need to be taken into consideration, as beginner-level students need to have the teacher in the water with them.
Beginner and intermediate students benefit more and often respond better by having interaction with the teacher in the water. As long as supervision is maintained, students benefit from teacher demonstrations, communication on the same level, and a greater sense of safety and comfort.
When instructing in or out of the water, the teacher should be able to observe the students at all times.
The teacher must be prepared to enter the water in the event of an emergency and therefore must be appropriately attired.
The use of swimming aids is important for developing kicking ability. The most commonly used teaching aid is the kickboard, which should be introduced in the learn-to-swim and water safety programs. The kickboard should be thin enough to sit comfortably in the young swimmer’s hand. Initially, the swimmer should hold the kickboard with the hands apart, fingers on top and thumbs underneath (as in answer A above)
As the skill of the swimmer improves and their confidence grows they should hold the kicboard by the sides, with hands approximately shoulder-width apart, fingers curled under and thumbs on top pointing in the direction of propulsion (as in answer B above). Why? Holding the board at the leading edge (the one furthest away from the swimmer’s face as in answer C) tends to keep the swimmer too high in the water and force the hips down too deep; holding the kickboard at the edge closest to the swimmer’s face with fingers on top of the board reinforces a dropped wrist position, which is a difficult fault to correct.
As skills improve and confidence grows, the introductory strokes development group swimmer will not rely heavily on the kickboard. If skill quality is maintained, the advanced hand position should change in order to prevent a dropped wrist when releasing the kickboard to initiated a stroke (when doing drills of how to stroke). The wrist-up position (ie wrist higher than fingers) must be maintained when releasing the kickboard and this cannot be achieved with a hands-on-top-of-the-board position (as in answer D).
The hand position and the size of the kickboard should change as the skill level improves. Use a of a smaller board should be recognized as an achievement in the introductory strokes development group. The kickboard’s size can be reduced – just cut off the back end of the board. Alternatively, the board can be turned sideways, which also increases resistance.
For advanced kicking and body position skills for backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly, introductory strokes development group swimmers can advance to just holding a large rubber band or a tube band. Swimmers should concentrate on a greater kicking effort and a locked, elbow-in body position.
There is every indication that for centuries Native Americans swam in great numbers with a superior overarm stroke, while so-called civilized world persisted with breaststroke and sidestroke.
Unfortunately, early organized swimming in North America copied the European swimming style, particularly the methods brought to America by the colonial English. This was a pity because more advanced styles already existed in North America, as noted in 1739 in the diary of the English colonial William Byrd, founder of Richmond, Virginia, and a planter, satirist, and writer of diaries (Byrd 1928),
Writing on September 30, 1739, Byrd noted:
“This being Sunday, we were glad to rest from our labors; and, to help restore our vigor, several of us plunged into the river, not withstanding it was a frosty morning. One of our Indians went in along with us, and taught us their way of swimming. They strike not out both hands together but alternately one after another, whereby they are able to swim both farther and faster than we do (Byrd 1928).“
Even when the better American style was exported to England 100 years later in an 1844 London exhibition by two Native Americans from the Ojibbeway Nation – Flying Gull (we-nish-ka-wen-bee) and Tobacco (Sha-ma) – the English paid little attention and refused to change, despite the obvious superiority of the Native American swimming style. This forerunner of the modern crawl (freestyle) stroke was described in The London Times (April 22, 1844) as being totally “un-European,” declaring that the Indians thrashed the water violently with their arms like sails of a windmill and beat downward with their feet flowing with force and performing grotesque antics.