Many parents of a newborn are often of two minds in regard to their baby. They feel a natural instinct to protect and nurture their child while at the same time, wanting to introduce them to new experiences.
One of the ways in which parents often achieve this is through swim lessons.
Although babies are not born with the ability to swim, they do have natural reflexes that slow their heart rate and allow them to hold their breath for short periods of time when submerged in water.
Coach Jean-Paul Pinzon knows this and likes to take advantage of what he calls a “natural head start.”
“The younger the child, the closer they are to life in the womb,” said Coach Jean-Paul. “Unlike some older children who’ve experienced trauma or otherwise been taught to avoid water, babies have no preconceived fears. In fact, they are born with a kicking reflex that goes away around six months, so it’s great to take advantage of this natural head start.”
Coach Jean-Paul, a Culver City native, has made swimming part of his life practically since birth which is not surprising, considering that his mother Kathleen is a well-known swim instructor with several A-list clients.
In fact, it was his mother’s success and dedication to teaching that motivated Coach Jean-Paul to continue what she started.
“I’d been swimming competitively through all my school years then, after college, decided to jump right into the family business,” Coach Jean-Paul said. “I taught just a few kids at first, then increased my clientele to a point at which I now teach over 130 kids a week.”
Coach Jean-Paul who, along with his mom, runs Swim4Me, said that the method he employs when teaching babies to swim involves building a sense of self-assurance within the child by getting them used to being in the water as early as four months of age.
“It incorporates the successes my mother achieved teaching children with disabilities, using love and repetition to overcome limitations,” he said.
The method Coach Jean-Paul’s mom used to great success, was taught to her by the late great swim instructor Crystal Scarborough who taught many celebrities including Marilyn Monroe, Bob Dylan, and Jane Fonda.
“The technique my mother developed with pioneer swim instructor Crystal Scarborough balances structure and praise with games and raw positivity,” Coach Jean-Paul said. “Of course, it’s important to tailor the experience for each client, adjusting to different levels of ability and expectation. I distract some kids from their anxieties about having water in their face by using toys and animation. I also use projection, pouring water onto dolls so they can see how it’s safe.”
When teaching others to swim, Coach Jean-Paul finds that babies are not necessarily easier to teach than adults, they just require a different mindset on the part of the instructor. Staying positive is the main thing but being able to shift the focus of a lesson is also key.
“Teaching babies and toddlers to be ‘water safe’ is all about instilling confidence and basic skills before fears and other troubles kick in,” he said. “The main techniques involve “head down / feet up in back,” blowing bubbles to release tension, popping up for breath, and doggy paddling to safety. With older kids, the focus tends to be more on specific stroke work, helping swimmers become more competitive for clubs, school teams, and scholarships, or even Olympic trials.”
When it comes to lessons, the number of them can vary depending on the aptitude of the student. Coach Jean-Paul said some can pick up the fundamentals fairly quickly and may need only a few lessons while others may need more time to overcome anxiety and coordination issues which could require dozens of lessons. In either case, Coach Jean-Paul’s mission is to teach them to swim properly, thus attaining an essential skill that will serve them for life.
“My goal is to be the last swim teacher they’ll ever need,” he said.
To help solidify the lessons he teaches, Coach Jean-Paul recommends that parents repeat the positive reinforcement that he provides during each lesson. If the parents have a pool or regular access to one, Coach Jean-Paul also recommends that parents provide opportunities for plenty of practice.
To encourage both his students and their parents, Coach Jean-Paul likes to create videos of the babies and toddlers at various stages of the learning process.
“Using appropriately triumphant music, I edit clips together showing their little ones succeeding in the pool,” Coach Jean-Paul said. “It’s a personal touch that many people seem to respond to.”
While Coach Jean-Paul’s style involves teaching fundamentals and eliminating anxiety, he stressed that swimming is a natural skill that should be seen as a fun activity, not as something to fear.
“We are a family-oriented business, taking a long history that’s passionate about swimming and swim instruction and bringing it to families across the L.A. area,” he said. “All of our lessons are one-on-one, with a structured, yet sensitive, approach that builds confidence, strength, and the skills to be safe in the water. I firmly believe learning to swim should be creative and fun! Water is your friend. You don’t have to fight the water; just share the same spirit as the water, and it will help you move.”