Chapter 8-C
The Home Pool


Controlling Panic and Relaxing Floats

In Chapter Six--Drowning Prevention, it was explained how one becomes panicked but this chapter will explain what is panic.

An old Red Cross definition of panic, though omitted from lifeguard manuals several years ago, is still in my view, the best description of panic. The following excerpt is from an old Red Cross lifesaving manual.

"Panic is that sudden, overwhelming, unreasoning fear which overtakes a person in real or fancied danger!"

The above sentence explains it all..

SUDDEN--Panic is sudden and may come upon us when least expected and so quickly that we cannot think about anything at all.

OVERWHELMING--Panic affects every portion of the body. Muscles tighten, energy is stepped up and our skin is flushed. (If panic continues, the skin pales as blood enters the abdomen prior to a state of shock.)

UNREASONING--Anyone who is panic stricken loses the ability to reason. If any action is taken "for protection" it's usually the worst possible move under the circumstances.

REAL or FANCIED--Obvious danger or fancied (imagined.) Becoming panicked while in real danger is a hindrance and will likely cause errors in judgement as described in Chapter Six and Murgatroid's mistakes. If merely fancied, a beginner swimmer may say, "Hey! I'm swimming!" But then think, "Whoa! I can't swim--I'm going to drown!" A sudden lack of confidence, a shadow in the water, someone splashing water or any innocuous sounds or movements, may cause a person to panic.

Why do we become panicked? It's nearly always caused from a lack of self-confidence. If we perceive ourselves as being cool headed we will more likely act with reason during emergencies.

We can be trained to prevent panic by planning ahead for what actions are best in certain dangerous situations. If we think about them often enough we'll probably perform them even if we do become panicked. This is one reason for the repetition of tasks in these chapters--they eventually become automatic.

What about an immediate fear? Most of us realize when we might become panicked. Panic is sudden to be sure, however, when we first start feeling nervous with that flow of mounting adrenalin, we must make a determined effort to relax our frontal muscles and deliberately take three deep breaths. Doing this averts panic, especially if there is no real danger. It's still best to plan beforehand what to do should we begin to feel a bit frightened.

It's analogous to a man who is unexpectedly fired from his job. At first shock, he may react in negative ways--punch someone out, tie one on, or jump from the tenth floor. His self worth is shattered and he may act irrationally. However, had he KNOWN he was competent or had prepared himself for what he'd do if fired he might seek a better job, deciding it was his boss's problem and not his.

It's similar in learning how to swim. YOU must KNOW you are competent, whether blowing bubbles or treading water at the deep end. If the swim teacher says you're an excellent pupil but YOU still have doubts, you are a potential panic victim.

Instructors need to teach students not only how to swim, which is relatively easy, but also teaching them to believe in their own abilities. Pupils must KNOW they will react without panic whether it's water stinging their sinuses, getting dunked in the deep end or being chased by a shark.

In Water Shy classes especially, panic must be avoided. Each time a pupil becomes panicked, fears and self doubts are reinforced and the time it takes to lose those fears will grow.


On the Deck

There are special floats to help swimmers feel more relaxed in the water. They are fun, easy and help in preventing panic.

Before practicing the floats, you may first prefer to do some relaxing exercises on the deck. They are only briefly described as they are "old stand-bys" known to have been practiced by actors in Shakespeare's time to overcome stage fright. Most of us are familiar with them but they are still effective.

Take three deep breaths and slowly exhale at the beginning of each exercise:


Stand with feet slightly more than shoulder width apart. Bend over as far as possible letting arms and head dangle down. Head and arms are totally relaxed as if there's no muscular control in them. While in this position gently sway arms and head from side to side like a rag doll (or a chimpanzee.)


Sit on a chair or in the Yoga lotus position.
A--Let head bend forward and then lift up 3 X slowly.
B--Let head bend backward and then up 3 X.
C--Bend head down to the right side and back up three X.
D--Bend down head to the left side and up three X.
E--Rotate head in a complete circle clockwise 3 X.
F--Rotate head counter clockwise 3 X..
This exercise relaxes muscles throughout the whole body and soothes the brain stem nerves as well.


Often, when tense we lift our shoulders and hold them tightly without realizing it. This may cause stiffness, pain or headaches. The Shoulder Shag makes us aware of the habit and relieves much of the tightness. Start with one shoulder. Lift it up, then forward and drop it down, then back and up for a full rotation. Do this slowly three X, and fast three X. Repeat the same sequence in the opposite direction, lifting shoulder up and back this time instead of forward and down. Do the same with the opposite shoulder. Finally, rotate both shoulders at once--forward a few times with a fast shaggy movement and backward rotation several times.


With partners, position one behind the other. Partner in back gently grabs top of other partner's shoulders, tightens grip and releases it back and forth in a kneading motion. After one or two minutes partners exchange positions and repeat.


Relaxing Floats


The following floats must ONLY be practiced by those who have mastered the recoveries. Some pupils may first need to turn over from a supine (back) float to a prone (frontal) position, and THEN perform the recovery. However, a supine float recovery is easy. From supine position, simply bend FORWARD at waist while bringing knees to chest and pull back hard with arms. Straighten knees, and then feet will touch bottom. As with the prone float recovery, it's important to maintain balance. Arms must pull back at the same rate and with equal strength. Legs must straighten together. A tripping motion may occur If one foot touches bottom before the other.

DEAD MAN'S FLOAT (Jellyfish):

Stand in waist deep water with arms at sides. Take a deep breath and bend forward as far as possible totally relaxed, head down. Do not move a muscle. Imagine that each body part is loosened. As arms and head dangle downward feet will lift off bottom of pool. Do not lift head. Keep chin touching chest. Hold for ten full counts and exhale. Recover. Repeat and hold for longer times

See illustration:

THE BACKBEND FLOAT: Stand in waist deep water with arms out from sides or above head. Arch head and spine backward. Let legs rise slowly and as high as you want. Totally relax in this position at least thirty seconds. If desired, lift legs so they float atop water.
See Illustration:

THE STARFISH FLOAT: Standing in waist deep water, lift hands above head. Arch back and neck backward. Stretch hard to make body taut. After going into a float slowly bring arms down and out at sides and spread legs apart. Point toes. It's important to keep body stretched. Though body is held taut, this is actually a very relaxing float.


The above exercises will make you feel more at home in the water and at the same time have a calming effect throughout your body. If performed during particularly stressful situations, these floats are helpful in overcoming panic.


Chapter Nine-A--Swimming Laps, Instructor
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