A Guide for Swimming Instructors

Developmental coordination difficulties are though to affect between 5-10% of school-aged children. In the UK these difficulties are often referred to as Dyspraxia although in other countries the term Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) is more commonly used.

These children often struggle with physical activities and sports. They can appear awkward and clumsy, and make slow progress compared to other children. Children with dyspraxia/DCD have particular difficulty learning new movements and they aren’t able to transfer learned skills easily to different situations.

If children with movement difficulties are not encouraged to participate in physical activities this will affect their fitness and general health over time. It is important to encourage people with dyspraxia/DCD to participate in and enjoy physical activities throughout their lives.

Swimming is particularly good for children with dyspraxia/DCD as it is made up of repetitive sequences of movements and it isn’t as unpredictable as team and ball games. Although difficult to learn the early skills it is worth encouraging the child to persevere as he or she will often become quite proficient. Swimming style can however be rather individual!

Swimming can help with the development of balance, strength, flexibility, endurance and coordination as well as self-esteem and social skills. Children with dyspraxia/DCD will however need special encouragement and individual attention to prevent them from becoming dissatisfied and disillusioned.

Difficulties experienced by children with dyspraxia/DCD when swimming

  • Movements appear awkward and uncoordinated.
  • Children often swim better underwater or on their back rather than on their front.
  • They have difficulty using limbs separately from their body so the torso lifts when doing front crawl. Sometimes they may turn right over.
  • Children may have difficulty attending to instructions because of the noise around them and there may be a delay before they respond.
  • They may have difficulty organising their body to get into the swimming pool.
  • Some children have no fear of water while others are very afraid of their feet leaving the ground.

How you can help

  • Reward effort.
  • Encourage participation and fun rather than competition.
  • Teach skills in smaller, more manageable parts.
  • Breast stroke may be easier than front crawl because both sides of the body move at the same time.
  • Give clear, concise instructions and repeat these for the child if necessarys.
  • It may be helpful to use pictures to illustrate the required stroke if the child has real difficulty focusing on verbal instructions.
  • Position the child next to a wall so that he can follow the pool edge when swimming lengths.
  • Try throwing something into the water for the child to fetch as a way of getting him/her into the water.
  • Send the children first to do their last width/length so that they get back to the changing room before the others.