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Lesson 1, Topic 6
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Supported Back Glides

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Supported Back Glides

Swimmers are upside-down, backwards, and vulnerable.

Be supportive!

Start low to avoid face slipping under.

The Script:

  • “Turn away from me.”
  • “Put your shoulders in the water.”
  • “Tilt your head back.”
  • “Push off with me.”

There are three levels of support for back glides.

1) Swimmer’s head resting on your shoulder with a cheek to cheek connection.

2) Swimmer’s head resting in your palm with your other hand supporting their lower back.

3) Swimmer’s neck supported by your two fingertips.

Going slow and at the swimmer’s comfort is extremely important for this skill. People who cannot float on their own, or move in the water, or are afraid of going underwater will be afraid of doing back glides.

Earn their trust by demonstrating one of the holds with another willing child first. Get close. Get their head on your shoulder and press your cheek into their face. The cheek to cheek
connection will soothe most hesitant swimmers, especially infants.

This is generally appropriate up to about age 5; older move directly to the hand under the swimmer’s head position.

Open your hand.
Put your palm up.

Notice how your thumb and pointer finger create a cradle, or a web.

Push that web between your thumb and pointer finger into the back of the child’s neck so that the child’s skull rests on your palm.

If using your right hand, then your thumb would be pointed to the right and fingers wrapped around the child’s neck. Let the back of the head rest in your palm.

Some key points:

Provide Comfort

Keep contact with the swimmer when doing the Head in Hand hold.

Notice in picture how the instructor is touching the swimmer’s forehead.

This accomplishes two things:

  • 1) Comforts the swimmer to reassure that the instructor is still there helping.
  • 2) Tilts head back to make sure ears remain in the water.

Most beginners will crane their neck to their chest to avoid putting their ears in the water.

They fear not seeing and being backwards.

Arms in soldier position

Avoid doing back glides with the arms out in airplane.

Instead, do glides with the body in soldier, as seen in the black line drawing. In the color picture, the swimmer’s arms are in airplane.

Avoid doing this on back glides.

Encourage swimmers to scull near their hips, or make small motions to keep their tummies at the surface or to touch their bellies or hold a toy.

Swimmer standing in soldier position.

Soldier Glides First

Young swimmers will find streamline on their back difficult.

Reserve Back Streamlines for swimmers comfortable doing back glides in soldier.

Have your level 1 and level 2 swimmers focus primarily on back glides in soldier.

It is easier to tilt the head back and get the belly up when the arms are near the hips.

Encourage swimmers to scull, or make small motions near hips to keep body at surface.

We can also hold the head better with arms at sides.

Avoid a curving body.

Correct wrong holding immediately!

Teach good habits instead.

On the left is the correct way to hold  a swimmer when doing a supported back glide. The feet should stretch in the same direction as the instructor's belly button.

The picture on the right is an example of "wrong holding." Avoid letting the body bend into a banana.

We always want the swimmer’s feet pushing perpendicular to our chest, or their feet aiming in the same direction as our belly buttons.
Not the picture at the top with two examples.

The left picture has the feet aiming at our point of view. That is correct. Notice how the swimmer’s feet and the instructor’s belly butt is pointing in the same direction.
Look at the picture next to it.

The swimmer looks like they are a wet noodle, or a sack of sand melting through the instructor’s hands.

Do not hold the swimmer sideways, or with your arms under their back and legs.

Doing this will create a “banana” shape to the swimmer’s body and when they go to do a glide on their own they will sink to the bottom or struggle.

Our goal is to get swimmers who are terrified of being on their back or unable to glide on their back to comfortably move across the water while staying afloat at the surface on their backs.

When teaching supported back glides support the head and neck with minimal yet supportive touches and holds. If we hold the head and the neck then the swimmer is responsible for lifting their body.

When they transition to doing glides on their own they will have already established their body position as a habit and will easier transition to unsupported back glides.

Lower your shoulders in the water and remain as close to swimmer’s head as possible. Maintain a constant stream of words or sing songs like “Twinkle Twinkle” to distract swimmers and remind them that you are there and helping. Earn trust, go slow, support their heads.

Support the head.

  • Hold the neck or the back of the head, using free hand to adjust forehead tilt or lift belly.
  • Keep face above water.

“Push your belly up.”

  • Tell swimmers to adjust their body on their own.
  • “Let your belly button breathe”
  • “Make splashes!”

Maintain a straight body line.

  • Move through water to get body to straighten out.
  • Moving water will help lift feet to the surface.

What NOT to do:

Wrong holding #1

Instructor has their hands under the lower back and the knees.

Look how the swimmer is not submerged at all, and has no control over their body. See the outstretched arms of the swimmer?

This is to balance the awkward placement of the instructor’s hands.

Look at the raised head. We want swimmer’s ears in the water with a neutral float where face remains above and ears in.

What would happen if the instructor let go?

Wrong holding #2

That swimmer does not look happy.

Look at that grimace!

Instructor is holding the waist while the swimmer throws their arms to the side and lifts their head like they are about to fall onto pavement.

Swimmer’s entire head is lifted above the water and weight is pressed into the instructor’s hands.

What would happen to the swimmer if the instructor let go?

Does the second swimmer look happy?

Wrong holding #3

This is what happens when we have swimmers that aren’t ready for streamline do it on their back.

The arms are not in correct streamline position.

Face is completely submerged, which for many beginners is both terrifying and uncomfortable (why?).

If instructor was behind the swimmer’s head pulling on the hands locked together it might be better.

Avoid streamline until the swimmer is comfortable with underwater swimming.

A short, quick video of a decent back glide in soldier.

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