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Swimmer Experiences

Dive In! A holiday to turn your child into a water baby

Dive In! A holiday to turn your child into a water baby

By Hattie Garlick, Travel Writer, Daily Telegraph, July 16th, 2016

As a critic, it’s useful to travel with a companion who knows his own mind. This time, however, I had a feeling my son’s attitude could prove an obstacle: “I don’t want to go. I hate swimming. And if you make me, I just won’t get in the pool. At all.”

Based in west Wales, where the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park meets Cardigan Bay, Swimming Without Stress runs residential courses with a twist. The two luxury holiday cottage companies with which the group works both have private, indoor heated pools. Book in for a break at either and Ian Cross or his wife, Cheryl, will visit you daily for one-on-one swimming tuition, using an “intensive, but sensitive” method incorporating the posture-improving Alexander Technique.

Swimming, Ian told me, should be “like yoga in the water, an almost meditative experience, as good for the mind as it is for the body.” As a confident swimmer for whom the pool is a place to unwind, I couldn’t disagree. But I wasn’t so sure that a five-year-old, pool-phobic non-swimmer would see it the same way.

Ian, however, was confident that his approach would help Johnny. And so we headed to Wales, arriving late at night in the pitch dark. Opening the door to the Dairy, one of 10 properties on this rural site outside Cardigan, we found fresh cakes waiting on the table for the children and locally made mead for the adults. The place had all the relevant equipment for children, ample space for muddy boots, and an open-plan living space with a wood-burning stove and deep, comfy chairs.

At 9.30 the next morning, Andy, the owner, was ready to tour the farm with the children, feeding the goats, pigs, sheep, rabbits and guinea pigs. Splashing through the mud, the kids took in the football pitch, the mini adventure playground and the play barn, with air hockey and table tennis for teenagers and, for smaller children, play vehicles, slides and a sand pit.

Another thing revealed in the morning light was the pool complex. A tiny sprint across the gravel drive from our cottage, it was spotlessly clean and warm. There was a sauna, a small gym and a mini soft-play area. At 30ft, the pool is long enough for more accomplished swimmers to work on their strokes, while the shallow end is 3ft deep, ideal for small children.

When Ian suggested that I too might benefit from lessons, I signed up, aware that seeing me practise might help persuade Johnny. Sure enough, after watching my first half-hour session, he forgot his pledge and waded happily into the shallow end.

From the moment we learn to swim, Ian explained, most of us take gasping breaths and kick wildly to stay afloat. In fact, our first step should be to learn to trust the water and let it support us. If we can allow our heads to sink below the surface, blowing bubbles calmly, we are far less likely to panic.

This was one step too far for Johnny, who refused to submerge his head. Five lessons followed, in which Ian gently encouraged him first to submerge his mouth and blow bubbles, then his nose, too. By the end of the first session, Johnny trusted Ian so completely that he was floating on his back, his body completely relaxed, with just Ian’s hands gently supporting his neck.

In between lessons, we explored the countryside. The location is perfect: just 15 minutes from the jaw-dropping Poppit Sands beach; and the same to the awe-inspiring Cilgerran Castle. St Dogmaels and its cosy pub and restaurant, The Ferry Inn, are also worth a visit. The trouble was, the kids didn’t want to leave the pool – and nor did I, having developed an almost evangelical enthusiasm for swimming.

Breaststroke has always been my best stroke. Ian filmed me doing a length and showed me the footage. My technique looked good, but my neck was frozen as I held my head above the water. To correct this, I practised floating, letting go of all tension and allowing the water to support my body. It felt amazing – restorative, even – to let my head sink as I swam, then, as I raised my head to breathe, let my eyes lead the way so that my head was always in gentle motion.

From the start of our week-long break, Ian emphasised the benefits of learning together, as a family. While our lessons were separate, Johnny and I watched each other and my husband and daughter later joined us in the pool, testing what we’d learnt.

My lessons, like Johnny’s, were about getting back to basics: enjoying the support of the water and doing less. Passing on this ease in the water is one of the most valuable lessons we can give our children. Soon, he said, Johnny would be dunking his head under the water and swimming like a fish.

Sure enough, five minutes after we said goodbye to Ian, Johnny took off his armbands and jumped in. He tunnelled down below the water, then bobbed back up again, his head dripping water and with a huge grin on his face. Mission accomplished.

Also see:  Don't Pass It Up, Pass It On / Play Comes First But What Next?  /  Kick Kick Kick  /  360 Front Crawl /  Need for Speed /  Rotation Rotation Rotation  / In At The Deep End, Sink or Swim


18-Jul-2016 /  written by Ian Cross
Two Weeks To Thailand

Two Weeks To Thailand

John Learns To Swim Just In Time

26 year old civil servant John badly wanted to swim before a big holiday to Thailand. Here's his account of the process of learning. 

When I told people I couldn’t swim they’d say they didn’t believe me. Of course I could, I just needed to get in the water and I’d be fine. And if I didn’t know how then I could have someone show me. But swimming’s not like that. It’s not as complex or simple as learning and practicing a set of motions. Before anything else you have to be comfortable in the water; in submerging and enjoying it. For most people, that’s something they’ve either never had a problem with, or conquered at an early age. I hadn’t ever got there.

I called Ian desperate to learn how to swim before a holiday in Thailand. I had two weeks before I flew and wanted to be able to enjoy the water as much as everyone else on the tour I’d signed up to. I wanted him to teach me how to do strokes. Ideally I wanted to look like a passable (if weak) swimmer. Ian set me straight. There was no point learning how to traverse a stretch of water if I was fearful of it. He couldn’t guarantee what progress I’d make just by chatting to me on the phone, but he could guarantee that I would make serious progress. And I did.

We started with some exercises that gently eased me into submerging my mouth, then nose, and eventually my face into the water. Ian must have done this countless times and it showed. I made more progress in this session than I had done throughout the swimming lessons I had as a child. The next challenge was letting myself go in the water, allowing it to support my weight. After a few attempts it felt natural and I started to understand Ian’s point that it can be incredibly enjoyable just to float in the water.

The rest of my week in Wales was about consolidating and building on those foundations. Being comfortable under the water meant we could have me glide through it, introducing basic movements, and swimming on my back. If I could make the transitions between different states: going from underwater, raising my head up, or onto my back for example, I could manage in any depth of water.

When the final lesson came I could submerge and explore the water. I was able to glide and swim for a stretch on my back and transition between the two. When I got to Thailand I had a completely different relationship with the water. Ian had given me a pass to a privileged club. I wasn’t swimming the Pacific like Phelps, but I wasn’t scared of it either, I’d started to enjoy the water and could do so much more than I could just a week of tuition before. I’ve got more progress to make and I’m looking forward to the journey.  

Here are some more first hand accounts of swimmer experiences...


15-Sep-2015 /  written by Ian Cross


A Second Course

Here's a short 'before and after' video clip of Ellie, at Croft Farm for a second course in February 2015. 'Before' was largely the result of a lesson with a coach whose emphasis seems to have been speed. Funnily enough, after some more Swimming Without Stress lessons, as well as being more relaxed and better coordinated, she's swimming a bit more quickly!

"Doing a short course with Ian and Cheryl last year really helped me to relax and enjoy being in the water.

I've put a lot of effort into developing my crawl since then, including getting some video analysis from a swimming coach. He pointed out the faults with my technique but it seemed the more I tried to correct them, the worse they got. I was getting very frustrated with my inability to change and my swimming was becoming less enjoyable.

So I decided to go back to Ian and Cheryl and I'm so glad I did! Within two sessions my movement in the water was much smoother and more relaxed. The whole stroke seemed easier, more fluid and much more enjoyable. 

With Ian and Cheryl's expert feedback and guidance I made rapid progress on things I'd been struggling with for months - so I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself and very grateful to them. 

I can't recommend them highly enough!"


09-Feb-2015 /  written by Ellie
Coming Up For Air!

Coming Up For Air!

Jacquie Transforms Her Swimming
Throughout my adult life, I have enjoyed swimming but have been restricted to ‘head out of the water’ breaststroke and an ability to tread water. 

I came to Swimming Without Stress,  hoping to develop a 'proper' breaststroke and, with that, much more confidence in the water. 

From the start of the first session, I knew that I had made the right decision. With a pair of goggles selected by Ian, and a simple breathing exercise, within minutes  I was comfortable placing my head under the water.  

From there my confidence grew, as Ian and Cheryl helped me to relax and to learn to float on front and back, to shift position and, finally, to try the ‘head under water’ breaststroke that I was so keen to master.   

By the last of the eight sessions (on day four), that ‘new’ breaststroke had begun to develop and I was beginning to realise that activities which might have seemed out of reach – such as snorkelling – were entirely possible and could actually be looked forward to. 

In four days, Swimming Without Stress has given me a huge amount of confidence in the water and has transformed the way that I feel about swimming. 

Thank you!


12-Oct-2014 /  written by Jacquie
A Lover Not A Fighter Of The Water

A Lover Not A Fighter Of The Water

Bert needed help to slow down so he wouldn't tire so easily
A million thanks for all your tips and techniques when I was in Wales for 8 lessons in September 2014.

I have learnt a lot, honestly! I always remember the proper way you taught me every time I swim in my local swimming pool in Exeter.

I have put in the practice and become more relaxed and confident being in the water which is what I really enjoy. I just loosen up and let go of my body and it's very therapeutic indeed!

Both of you are excellent swimming teachers!

Here are some first hand accounts of swimmer experiences...


02-Oct-2014 /  written by Bert
Gym Bunny To Zen In The Slow Lane

Gym Bunny To Zen In The Slow Lane

Rachel Adds Another Dimension To Her Fitness Programme

I would like to say a big thank you to you both for teaching me how to ‘swim without stress’ back in March 2014.  

Despite being fit (regular gym exerciser), before the lessons, I used to attack the water and be out of puff after just one length.   My goal was simple; learn how to enjoy swimming with less effort. 

I am so glad I took the plunge to do your swimming course.   Your lessons were relaxed, fun, tailored to my needs and well paced.  

I can now swim 20 x 50 meter lengths in approx 45 mins (breast stroke) comfortably without being out of breath and stopping.   My breast stroke feels calm, almost a ‘Zen’ like rhythm. During each length I tell myself to reduce neck tension and resist the temptation to try harder and go faster! 

My front crawl needs further work; however it is much less strained than it was.   I have a great deal left to learn, and am sure I will be in touch for more lessons on how to improve my front crawl and correct my new ‘bad’ habits.  

I am now a regular swimmer - at least once a week and much more importantly, a happier swimmer in the very slow lane. I strongly recommend Ian & Cheryl’s swimming course!

The video above might be useful for Rachel. Unfortunately, Ian has lost some nice 'before and after' footage of her breaststroke.

Here are some first hand accounts of swimmer experiences...


07-Sep-2014 /  written by Rachel