Parents of children with learning disabilities in Salford are being encouraged to send them to swimming lessons to build confidence.
Anne Marie, founder of and coach at Aqua Links Swim School, said: “It gives the children with disabilities an opportunity to not be at the back of the lesson all the time and feel like they’re failing. It’s very focused on making sure they know how good they actually are.”
The ‘Learn To Swim’ Programme is for people with a learning or physical disability as well as able-bodied swimmers to improve their swimming, at the same time building water confidence and technique.
Anne, who was a Salford squad swimmer, trained as a lifeguard and a teacher until becoming a coach six years ago. She believes that the sessions help improve fitness and wellbeing, as well as educating about nutrition and hydration.
Her son Jacob, 16, suffers from a learning impairment and it was after taking her child to swimming lessons that she realised the difficulty for people with learning disabilities to get involved and follow along.
She explained: “If you are disabled and were to go down the mainstream route, it can be very soul-destroying.
“My son, if you look at him, you don’t think there’s a disability. But if you get him a test to do, you’ll soon very quickly realise that there is something going on.”
The programme is built on the understanding that no two swimmers are the same, thus creating a personal training method for each swimmer in one-to-one sessions.
“We have ventured now into groups but we’re very careful about how we do so. If we think a person is going to be at the back of that class we won’t take that chance. We’ll wait until we know they’re going to be fine and comfortable and feel like they’re part of that group.”
For those who take part in AquaLinks Swim School, it is a chance to find a new skill and get fit, but most importantly it empowers a disabled person and gives them the confidence to grow and achieve other goals in their life outside the pool.
Anne added: “Swimming has so many benefits. It makes you feel miles better, and that’s got to be good for your health mentally and physically.”
Sport England has invested £8.2m on mental health projects as part of the government’s Sporting Future strategy, however, Anne says there needs to be more awareness.
“I think we’re just touching the tip of the iceberg to be fair. We’ve got a lot to work on on a bigger picture but swimming definitely has its benefits for mental health. There’s something definitely about it and I’d love it to be known on a bigger level.”
Aqua Links Swim School provides swimming lessons at Eccles Leisure Centre every week, including one-to-one support with the aim of helping people become more confident in the water.
The club offers one to one, one to two, small group, group classes and parent or baby group lessons as well as sessions for local community groups.
Click here if you would like to find out more information about the swimming club.