Swimming - People Often Overestimate Their Ability to Swim

Swimming - People Often Overestimate Their Ability to Swim

Dick Moss

A recent study has shown that a large proportion of the population think they are better swimmers than they really are. The main reason for this is that their definition of swimming competence may include only the most basic of skills in the water.

The Study
The study, conducted at Clemson University, supplemented earlier investigations in which it was found that subjects tend to overestimate their ability to swim. This study involved interviews with 45 young adults, aged 18 to 35 years, randomly selected at parks with water features. The subjects were asked what it meant when somebody said they could swim.

Twenty-nine of the 45 subjects (64%) described only the most basic of water skills in their definition. This included skills such as dogpaddling, floating, being able to hold one's breath, not panicking, keeping one's head above the water, and "staying on top of the water and not sucking in too much water."

When asking students if they can swim, be aware that their definition and yours may differ. In fact, their swimming skills may be quite poor and may not be enough to keep them alive in emergency situations.

Yet, the very students who may most need swimming lessons may fail to take them because of an inflated sense of their current level of skill.

Be aware that attempting to use traditional methods of persuasion--that taking swimming lessons could save their life-- may not convince them, because they already feel they can swim.

When asking students whether they can swim, also ask them what that means to them. If you are using student feedback to determine their level of skill for swimming classes, you might find that you have to start at a level that is lower than their initial responses indicate.

And if you are attempting to persuade students to take swimming lessons, be aware that traditional arguments--such as being able to save themselves if they fall in the water--might fall on deaf ears, because they already feel they can swim...even if they can't. Other arguments, such as looking cool at the beach, might be more persuasive.

Reference : Harriet Dixon & Robert Bixler, "Failure to learn to (really) swim: Inflated Self-Efficacy:" Recreational Sports Journal, 31, 14-20, 2007. http://www.nirsa.org/publications/rsj.aspx


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