"Learn to Swim Before You Get In"

by Joe Lee Griffin , PhD

Reviewed by Will Armstrong

A simple how-to book, with a twist. Griffin maintains that relaxation is key to learning physical skills. In traditional swim classes, children learn more rapidly and easily than adults

This book by the creator of The Original Dry Land Swim Class and Joe's Wet Swim Class includes and illustrates learning practices and principles from those two classes. Griffin says that traditional swim classes, though they work for children with play time in the water, are not effective for most adults.

Griffin claims that half of American adults need this book, that one in four adults is not safe or comfortable in the water and that another one in four has stroke and breathing problems.

Is Griffin the expert these people need? He has credentials. He did muscle and brain research at Walter Reed, has a Ph.D. from Princeton, and was Assistant Professor at Brown and NIH Special Fellow at Harvard Medical School. He also knows aquatics and has experience teaching adults. He taught his new methods for ten years before writing the book.

What of the book? Griffin writes smoothly and confidently about some unusual methods. For example, he says non swimming adults don't learn well when they are wet, so you should start learning while you are dry and relaxed, then transfer your skills to the water. He uses simple exercises called learning games to develop your physical reflexes and connect you with your body actions. What you need to learn is broken down into small bits you learn physically. Each learning game is illustrated, has a brief description, and ends with a principle, the reason for it or what you can learn from it. Each game gets its own page.

The learning game illustrations are line drawings of Griffin himself. He says he wouldn't ask you to do anything he doesn't do. Drawings of animals that like the water, like fish, dolphins, whales, and water birds, are in text spaces. Although a Washington Post article about Griffin's dry land class said he looked more like a lumpy walrus than the sleek dolphin you might expect a swim teacher to be, he looks in the book illustrations as though he likes the water.

The book starts with the basis and practice of the method, followed by three major sections, Home Learning Games, Pool Learning Games, and The Structure of Swimming (strokes). The strokes section includes how to learn and improve side, breast, crawl, and back strokes as well as water exercise, treading water, leaping, and beginning diving. Griffin says he put stroking at the end because learning about strokes just gets in your way until you have a foundation to build on. An appendix includes a book list, some fables, approaches to body awareness, a list of word definitions with some scientific background, biographical material, a list of learning games, and an index. The pages are large (8 1/2 by 11 in) and the book will lie open to games being practiced.

Griffin admits that the book may be longer than some readers will want, but explains that if you need a certain kind of learning game, he wants you to have enough that you can choose ones you enjoy, since enjoying speeds up physical learning. Space is also given to gradual transitions, with evaluation steps, if you are not yet a skilled athlete in the water.

Should you try this book? It offers solutions to real adult problems like breathing, tension, fatigue, and coordination. The new approach differs from traditional swim lessons in ways that make sense and Griffin's methods are focused on the process of learning, on accepting support, and on finding comfort and relaxation. I believe it could help many people who are not comfortable in the water. Those who teach swimming and other physical activity to adults may also find helpful ideas.

Griffin tells a success story from a dry land swim class. The student said he had not been to a pool, but his tennis improved. Since we use our bodies for everything physical we do, the insights in this book about listening to body signals, using your functional mind, and adult learning could make it of use even to those who already swim.

“Learn to Swim Before You Get In,” by Joe Lee Griffin, PhD. ISBN 978-0-9624417-1-4.

The reviewer is an occasional contributor who writes mostly about athletics and merchandising.
© 2007, W. Armstrong.

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