Shaw Steps to Building Confidence in Water


Fear of swimming, or to be more precise fear of breathing in water, is a much larger problem than most of us realise. Just take a visit to your local swimming pool or health club and look at the scores of people swimming up and down with their heads jammed backwards, desperately struggling to get across the pool without getting their the faces wet. We tend to assume that if a person can swim they have necessarily conquered their fear of the water.

However, the vast majority of adults know how to swim in spite of their fears and anxieties about being in the water. A common excuse for swimming with the face out of water is that ‘I do not like getting my hair wet’, when in reality they are nervous about breathing in water. However, if you were to ask someone who was afraid of open spaces or heights they would have less difficulty in acknowledging the nature of their apprehension.

It is not surprising that as a society we do not take the fears and anxieties about swimming seriously when most nervous and anxious swimmers do not admit their feelings to themselves.


Ingrained Fears and Anxieties


Where does it come from? It all comes back to the way that swimming is taught. There is something fundamentally wrong with the way in which swimming is taught in this country. In Victorian Britain, it was believed to be good teaching practice for teachers to stand on large platforms and lecture their pupils. Today much more is known about the process of learning and teachers sit at the same level as their pupils and interact with them in a much closer way. Yet these advancements have unfortunately not found their way into the teaching of swimming, where the teacher still towers over the group, a situation that does little to encourage confidence in the water.


Addressing Fundamental Fears and Anxieties.....

There are countless courses throughout the country that offer adult swimming lessons. You can even find ones that guarantee that you will ‘Swim In a Weekend, Or Your Money Back’. However most of these courses rarely address people’s fundamental fears of being in the water. People are instructed to try harder, applying more effort instead of letting go and learning to trust the water. The underlying goal of speed and competition, which is at the heart of conventional swimming instruction, often gets in the way of the acquisition of the most important swimming skills.

....through The Shaw Method

The Shaw Method is a radical new approach to swimming developed by Steven and Limor Shaw. The Shaw Method, which is based on the Alexander Technique, is a system that promotes body awareness and good alignment, and has succeeded in helping thousands of people improve their swimming style and enjoyment of the water.


The Shaw Method is based on four core elements

  • Recognition of Habit

The first step in changing a habit lies in its recognition. Each lesson begins with a swimming assessment in which the pupil's way of swimming is analysed. Due to their lack of body awareness, pupils may initially distrust this feedback and we have found video cameras a useful tool.

  • Demonstration

Next, the pupil needs a clear understanding of what is required of them. We questioned the traditional practice of instructing from the side, and found it much more effective to demonstrate from the pool. This is reflected in our teacher training programme where our trainees are required to perfect their own swimming skills before they start learning to teach others.

  •  Guidance

Physical contact with a teacher helps pupils to unlearn postural patterns and habits of movement. It is much easier to guide the pupil from the water, as it allows us to use our hands to aid them to release tension and improve their orientation.

  • Breaking down the Stroke

The force of habit is often so strong, that even after following the above stages pupils still find it very difficult to change. Breaking the stroke down into a series of separate stages that can be practised in isolation, and then integrated with the whole, is the key.


The Shaw Method is being put to use with swimmers of all abilities, ranging from those who lack confidence in the water to Olympic competitors. Our aim is to help more and more people to improve their relationship with the water, so that they can maximise the health and fitness benefits of swimming.



Sian at Brainwaves gave me a "refresher course and she really made a difference for both my breathing and confidence."

- Denise


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