May 13, 2021 - Indian Boundary YMCA

National Water Safety Month Q&A with the Y’s own swim instructors

Though May is National Water Safety Month, the right time to learn (and reinforce) water safety lessons is all the time. At the Y, we offer swim lessons for all ages at all levels because we believe that swimming is a life-saving skill that anyone can benefit from.

We spoke with two of the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago’s own swimming experts—South Side YMCA swim instructor Julia Harper and Lake View YMCA Aquatics and Sports Manager Jacquelyn Lelo—about important principles and perspectives surrounding water safety.

Here’s what they had to say:

How does the Y's swim curriculum promote water safety at every age and level (beginners/toddlers, advanced swim, adult classes)?

Julia: The Y swim program integrates basic safety and swim skills into practiced, second-nature movements.

Jaque: Everything that Y’s instructors teach promotes water safety. For example, we teach our swimmers when they are jumping in the water to always turn and grab the pool wall. That way, if they were to fall in the pool, turning and grabbing the wall becomes a muscle-memory instinct. 

What are some common misconceptions about water safety that you hope to dispel?

Julia: Many people assume that once you learn water safety, you no longer need to relearn it. All learning occurs in a continuum, and practical skills that were prevalent in the past change. It’s always good to brush up on techniques or have your swim stroke assessed and recalibrated.

Jacque:  "Once my child learns how to swim they don't need lifejackets" is another misconception I hear all the time. Even though a kid may know how to swim, there are water conditions in which everyone may need to wear a lifejacket. For instance, one should always have a lifejacket nearby when boating, as you never know when water conditions are going to change.

Are there any specific rules or words of wisdom you use while teaching to reinforce water safety?

Julia: Confidence in your environment and confidence in your skillset is what I preach. Of course, I think it all depends on whom you are reinforcing that mantra to. For those ready to brave the waves, you want to make sure they know how to transition between strokes, what water situations to be mindful not to swim in, and how to mentally overcome fatigue and other obstacles. For our more modest swimmers, you want them to be aware of the environments they choose to swim in. You want to know your physical limitations as well as your emotional ones. 

Jacque: The two biggest rules I tell people are never to swim alone and always ask permission before entering the water.

Why is water safety important?

Julia: Water safety is important because all living things need water. It’s a fundamental part of life. A lack of knowledge about water safety impedes individuals from fully enjoying aquatic environments, be that at the beach, the lake, or the pool. You don’t need to know how to swim to be able to appreciate aquatic activities, but having the knowledge to navigate the waters will make for a safer, more enjoyable experience.

Jacque: Water safety is so important because we are teaching skills that can help save lives.