Sunday, February 22, 2009

Learning To Swim

Swimming brings back a lot of memories for me.

When I was young (around 12), I was a morbidly obese kid (now, I'm just overweight :) ).

Anyway, my mum thought that it would be great for me to shed off those pounds by learning how to swim at my school. So there I was, enrolled in the beginners section, together with some of my classmates at a swimming club near the coast.

Straight away, I had problems learning how to swim. The thought of dunking my head in water for an extended period of time seemed very unnatural for me and I was frightened. This fear hindered my progress. Soon enough, by the end of 4 months, everyone in my swimming class had learnt how to swim, all except me.

I still don't know how to control my breathing. I looked at my classmates with a great deal of envy. My friends could do it. Why can't I?

The swimming instructor for my class had given up on me and just put me in the baby pool and left me there because I had fallen so behind as compared with my classmates. So he usually asked me to practise on my own instead which naturally got me nowhere.

Self-recriminations started pouring in and soon, I dreaded going to swimming classes. I started to skip a couple of lessons or feign illness when I could. I was miserable.

After a few lessons by myself, one of another group's instructors walked by. He was very puzzled. When he saw me splashing and struggling in water, he realised the problem was not that I was not learning. It was that my mind was subconsciously preventing me from what I wanted to achieve because of my innate fear. As a result, basic swimming techniques like learning how to control breathing, adopt proper strokes became uncoordinated.

The first thing he did was to instil confidence in me. He did this by constantly encouraging me to dunk my head beneath the water level and opening my eyes underwater. The idea was that I should learn to be in total control and not panic. If I know that I had absolute control of when to raise my head above the water level for air and when to lower my head to swim, my fear would disappear quickly and would not be a hindrance anymore.

The first couple of weeks was bad, he chided me when my fear took over but slowly and surely things improved. And my swimming strokes became more regulated and pretty soon, I knew how to swim.

6 months later, I finished my swimming class in that section. I subsequently took part in my school's swimming competition and won 3rd prize in my section. I was delighted and my teacher could not be any more happier.

And what has this to do with chess? Not much.

But what my swimming teacher taught me was that sometimes, all we need is a little confidence in ourselves in order to improve.

PS: And yes, I did manage to lose a lot of weight during that period.


  1. Great post! I really enjoyed reading your story about learing to swim and having confidence in yourself.

    I've noticed in my play and practice that when I'm feeling good (confident) everything seems to flow as it should. But when doubt creeps in or I let those negative thoughts take over, it is an uphill battle.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Great story, yes sometimes all one needs is to believe, or the right type of instruction.

  3. Believing in yourself is step one. Having the power (will) to continue and learn is another step.

    You lacked the first step but you had plenty of step two!

  4. Rocky: Very true. It seems that confidence and more importantly, self-confidence, is a lot more harder to achieve than one realises.

    wang: Yes, a coach and self-confidence seems to go hand in hand. I was fortunate to have a good swimming coach who took the time to fix my mistakes.

    chesstiger: How very true! If I had not overcome the first step, I would still not know how to swim.

    Thanks everyone for your generous comments.

  5. Heh. Good stuff. :)

    Fyi, I responded to your Chessbase transpositions ? on Greg's blog.

  6. hi likesforests:

    thank you. and thank you for responding to my question on chessbase.

  7. I think its wonderful to hear how swimming made a positive difference to your life.