Learn to swim: bet on aquatic ease to fight against drowning


boy learn to swim in the swimming pool

In 2021, the Public Health France survey recorded, from June 1 to  September 30, 1,480 accidental drownings , 27% of which led to death. It is the youngest and the oldest who are the most affected by this scourge. Children under 6 represent 22% of accidental drownings and 6% of deaths, and people over 65 represent 26% and 41% respectively. It should be noted that 47% of drownings occur at sea, 26% in swimming pools of all types, 23% in waterways or on a body of water and 4% in other places (bathtubs, basins, etc.)

In view of the increase in these accidents between 2015 and 2018, the prevention of drowning is one of the Government’s priority actions , through the program for subsidized “aquatic ease”, in the same way as the “Know how to ride a bike” scheme. », by the National Sport Agency founded in 2019. In 2021, the ANS invested 1.7 million euros for around 50,000 children who were able to benefit from this plan thanks to 232 structures involved in this operation (local authorities, associations). In addition, the ANS financed in 2021 the construction or renovation of aquatic sports equipment (20) and the acquisition of mobile pools (10) for an amount of 12 million euros.

Aquatic ease

On a political level, faced with the risks of drowning, these investments aim to reduce inequalities in access to the practice of swimming. Thus, after the time for baby swimmers up to 3 years old, this national program is divided into two successive and complementary phases. Initially, for children from 4 to 6 years old, it is a question of developing the aquatic ease which constitutes the gateway to knowing how to swim.

According to Thierry Terret, this concept of aquatic ease is “too versatile” in view of the evolution, since the 16th  century, of the proposals of didacticians in the matter (Digby, Hébert, Gauthier, Lalyman, Schœbel, Catteau) According to him, there are three forms of aquatic ease:

  • a provision prior to the actual learning of one or more swimming techniques (breaststroke, crawl, backstroke, etc.);
  • an ease given by mastering the principles of balance, propulsion, breathing and taking in information;
  • available driving or experiential capital.

As François Potdevin and Fabien Camporelli (2020) show, while the concept of aquatic fluency does not exist in swimming instruction programs around the world, on the other hand, the notions of aquatic skills and aquatic abilities are more mobilized to structure training programs for safe swimming.

Overall, it is now understood that aquatic ease refers to a positive experience of water, therefore not anxiety-provoking, of a subject capable of acting appropriately in a variety of situations accidentally encountered in an aquatic environment. (fall) or volunteer without a buoyancy aid (fries, cork belt, etc.) in deep water, i.e. at least greater than the height of the person with the arm raised, while being able to move and get out of the water independently. Thus defined, the fact of being comfortable in the water refers more to the second form identified by Thierry Terret.

Levels of acquisition

Logically mobilized to fight against drowning among the youngest, the Ministry of National Education, Youth and Sports circumscribes ( memorandum February 28, 2022 ) aquatic ease through three levels of progressive acquisitions by placing students in situations at great depth without flotation equipment.

The first stage corresponds to “entering the water alone, moving completely immersed and coming out of the water alone”, stage 2 “to jump or fall in the water, to let yourself go up, to float in different manners, to regain the edge and to go out alone” and, finally stage 3 “to enter the water by the head, to rise to the surface, to cover 10 m in a prone position with the head submerged, to float on the back with the basin on the surface, to regain the edge and to go out alone”.

Compared to the accidentology of drowning, these requirements aim to protect the youngest children during an accidental fall into a private, family swimming pool or in a natural environment (sea, lake, river) with a lack of supervision by parents or qualified personnel (lifeguard, national water safety and rescue certificate). In view of the age of the targeted learners (4–6 years), the aquatic ease sessions do not lead to the acquisition of a swimming technique such as the breaststroke. According to the latest scientific work, it is from an 8-week program comprising 8 to 16 sessions that these young children acquire, by transforming their motricity and earthly reflexes, this ease.

As part of the Blue Classes at school, children have the opportunity to have access to aquatic ease sessions in the form of a massage learning at the rate of 8 sessions of 40 minutes over or two weeks. Outside of school time, they can follow, with the same volume of learning hours, Blue Courses set up by local authorities within the framework of leisure centres, for example.

It is also possible to develop aquatic ease and learning to swim within the framework of sessions given by qualified lifeguards (private or public swimming pools, fitness rooms equipped with pools, etc.) or federal swimming instructors in within the framework of swimming clubs affiliated to the French Swimming Federation (FFN). In addition, when summer comes, children can also follow this type of session in the beach clubs located on the French coast. These courses are chargeable.

Certificate of “knowing how to swim”

After the time of aquatic comfort comes that of “knowing how to swim” and the national system “I am learning to swim” . This device is aimed at children between 6 and 12 years old and contributes to obtaining the certificate of safe swimming (ASNS) expected in sixth grade. The FFN, through its affiliated clubs, is a partner in these operations. Outside the walls of the school, “I learn to swim” is mainly aimed at children in priority neighborhoods and rural areas. This device, which generally includes 10 sessions of 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the age and level of the children, is generally free or modest with local authorities.

Since 2006, the Certificate of Safe Swimming (ASNS) has been part of the common core of school skills such as reading, writing and counting. The ASNS certification test takes place in the swimming pool. It is based on a sequence of eleven taskscarried out “in continuity, without taking up solid support (at the edge of the pool, at the bottom or on any other element on the surface). No constraint or time limit. Without glasses “. In addition, students are assessed on a set of knowledge and attitudes relating to aquatic prevention, such as knowing how to identify the person responsible for surveillance to be alerted in the event of a problem, knowing and respecting the basic rules related to hygiene and safety in a bathing establishment or a supervised space and knowing how to identify the environments and circumstances in which the ASNS allows you to move around in safety.

In other words, children must be trained to recognize, before getting into the water, the conditions in which their ASNS does not cover them, particularly with regard to the dangerousness of the environment (tide, bath, current, height of water, etc.), climatic elements and the absence of qualified surveillance personnel. Because it is essential, not to say vital, to teach them that when safety conditions are not met or guaranteed, the first thing to do is not to get in the water.

Obviously, this education in water safety, through the management of its risks , is often lacking in training programs. Finally, between primary school and middle school, with the introduction of aquatic ease and the ASNS, the principle of learning the swimmer’s breaststroke first to get out of it is regulated for the benefit of the acquisition of transverse motor principles (body, floating, projectile body, propelling body) and common to all strokes.

Secondly, learning to crawl, which constitutes common aquatic sense in action to swim long and/or fast, took precedence over the breaststroke. However, this is frequently the first swim taught by lifeguards in public or private swimming pools. Moreover, parents, because of their safe representations of swimming, are currently asking for this technical acquisition more than secularly attached to safety.

Author Bio: Emmanuel Auvray is aLecturer at UFR STAPS, Researcher associated with the Histemé team at the University of Caen Normandy