Most traditional learn to swim programs fall short in their efforts to teach both children and adults who suffer from fear of water. The problem is simple, but the solution remains complex.
Until a person successfully comes to terms about their fear, confronts it and then is given the resources to overcome that fear, learning to swim will be almost impossible. An aqua phobic or any other person who feels an unusual amount of anxiety when placed into a non-threatening aquatic environment faces difficult challenges that will prevent them from learning even the most basic swim skills. They think, feel, react and retain information much differently than people who feel comfortable in and around water.
The foundation of a SOAP program is that it offers participants a unique opportunity in which their feelings are validated. They receive a cognitive awareness of their struggle and then are presented with a set of aqua phobic-specific water adjustment skills that allow them to wade into aquatic environment and change their lives forever.
Regardless of what event or process led a person to fear water, they all have the potential and ability to overcome their fear and learn to, at the very least, become functionally comfortable in water, or perhaps, even become recreational swimmers. However, what's important for them to remember is that they must be patient and trust their instructor, not their own feelings and what their mind and body is telling them.
Breathing is the single most important skill involved in this process. All aqua phobics believe that they will not have enough air to survive even the quickest dunk under the water. Teaching a person to breath in the water is comparable to teaching them how to breathe all over again.
Swimmers inhale in through their mouths and exhale through their noses. When we breathe on land we usually inhale through our noses and exhale through our mouths. Most people do not find it difficult to make the transition from land to water.
Aqua phobics find it extremely difficult to make this change. They also find it hard to breath deeply when in and around water, so deep breathing exercises are useful.
Another of the exercises that is mandatory in SOAP are the rollovers, where participants learn to roll over from a front float to a back float and visa versa, while continuing to inhale and exhale.
Teaching them how to move away from the side of the pool, roll over in the water, even standing up in the water, can be like teaching them to walk all over again.
The simplest of aquatic skills turn out to be the most difficult task for an aqua phobic, no matter how old, fit or successful they are in other areas of their lives.
Providing a forum for these individuals to talk and learn with others who are faced with similar challenges has allowed them to feel more secure, more willing to explore this opportunity. The presence of an instructor who feels compassion and has a solid understanding of how painful this experience can be for them, helps them to dig deep inside themselves, to be honest with themselves and others about their fears.
A SOAP Program provides them with, perhaps the only time in their life, where they will feel comfortable enough to not want to quit, to be willing to fight the discomfort and remove a major obstacle in their life.
The fact that this program consists of both dry land and pool time means that participants are able to take time to take an emotional inventory of their situation, discuss it and with the help of their peers and instructor, arrive at a strategy that will help them accomplish their goals.
The importance of the counseling/coaching component of this program can not be stressed enough. Validating feelings, as well as verbal and non-verbal communication and skill building are much more significant in this program than teaching someone how to move their arms and legs while swimming the front crawl.
It's more about redefining how a person views the world (aquatically speaking) around them and how they react to that specific environment.
The psyche of an individual who suffers from aqua phobia is far more fragile and at risk than the developing mind of a child who is simply learning how to swim for the first time. If the experience is not handled correctly initially, the chances for that person to ever successfully overcome their fear of water and learn how to swim properly greatly diminishes. The motto of this program is, "Failure no matter how large is only temporary, success, no matter how small, lasts forever."