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Where's the Trust in O'Brien's Pool?

July 17, 1994

Mike O'Brien may be an Olympic gold medalist in swimming, but his teaching method is out of the Dark Ages ("It's Sink or Swim--for Dad Too," July 6).

I taught swimming at Boy Scout camps for a number of years. We used a gradual method that coaxed the most timid child, some of whom were afraid to even stick a toe in. First the toes. Then wading, then blowing bubbles. Finally holding the breath and putting one's face in the water.

"How many fingers am I showing?" I'd ask, and they'd hold their breath, bob under and proudly tell me. Later, they grasped their knees to their chests, and floated. Then the prone or "Dead Man's" float. And when they eventually combined the float with a kick and arm stroke, they were delighted to discover that they were swimming. Every step was gradual. And every step was dependent on gaining the child's trust.

Did Mike O'Brien gain trust when he let the first child sink, then "pulled her out, kicking and screaming, gasping and coughing"?

And a question for the author: What kind of a parent would allow his or her child to be so frightened?

JERRY COWLE

Pacific Palisades

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