A primary assembly about swimming

Eleven year old Ella Batchelor from Essex won a competition run by ‘Swim4life’(part of the NHS ‘Change4Life’ campaign) to invent a new swimming stroke. Ella calls her stroke the ‘Dolphinella’. The assembly describes Ella’s new stroke and looks at how swimming strokes have developed, and at the almost mystical attraction that being in the water has for enthusiasts. (Ella’s win will be formally announced by the Secretary of State for Health, Andy Burnham at this weekend’s Great North Swim in Windermere.)

You need, if possible, a video of Ella and her new stroke.

Who enjoys swimming? What’s your favourite stroke? Can we name all the different swimming strokes?

(Write them on the whiteboard. You’ll probably end up with the ‘official’ racing strokes which are breaststroke, front crawl, backstroke, butterfly. There are others that aren’t used in racing such as doggy paddle and the once popular sidestroke.)

Do you think you could invent a new swimming stroke? After all, the strokes we swim now had to come from somewhere. Some were invented, some developed from watching animals in the water. The breaststroke came from imitating frogs. In fact, in Victorian times, children learning to swim were taught to watch frogs. In 1875 a popular magazine for boys called ‘Boys Own Paper’ told boys who wanted to learn to swim to put a frog in a bowl of water, and then lie on a stool looking down on the frog and try to imitate its movements.

The front crawl has been in use since ancient times, but was first seen in the Western world, in a competition held in 1844 in London, where it was swum by native North Americans, who easily defeated the British breaststroke swimmers. We later imitated it and it became popular due to its speed, but at that time the crawl was regarded as quite undignified (1). They thought all that splashing and rolling was a bit messy. People preferred the breaststroke, where you held your head up proudly and didn’t make any splash. In the end everyone saw that the crawl was much faster, but even now some people like to do a gentle breaststroke with their heads up, their sunglasses on and their hair nice and dry.

The butterfly stroke came along in the Thirties. It seems to have been invented in America by a swimming coach called David Armbruster. At first it was an improved version of the breaststroke. The disadvantage of the breaststroke is that your arms go forward under the water, and that tends to hold you back. In the butterfly you throw your arms forward over the water. Armbruster taught breaststroke swimmers to do that, and so the butterfly stroke was invented. They used it in breaststroke races at first, but it soon had to be classified as a separate stroke (2).

So, with all these strokes, are there some still waiting to be invented? Do you think you could you invent a new swimming stroke?

Well, that’s what some children have been doing this summer.

Earlier this year, ‘Swim4Life’ campaign, which encourages children to be healthy, ran a competition to invent a new swimming stroke. As you can imagine there were lots of entries, and some really creative ideas. For example, Gabe invented the Torno Twister, where you go along twisting your body, sort of rolling in the water, one stroke on the back, then one on your front.

Isobel watched hippos in the water and invented the Hippo-Operous stroke, which is a bit like doggy paddle with the arms and a bicycling movement with the legs. And you pop up to breathe every now and again like a Hippo.

April’s stroke is the Seahorse. You stay upright in the water, tuck your elbows in and make quick little movements with the hands and feet.

And Billie transferred star jumps to the water. You spread your arms and legs out and like a star.

They were the finalists. But the winner was 11 year old Ella Batchelor from Essex. Her stroke is called the Dolphinella. She invented it by watching dolphins. She says, ‘I got the idea when I was on holiday and got to kiss a dolphin on the nose and then watched it swim away.’

To swim the Dolphinella, you clasp your hands and stretch them out in front and you wiggle your legs and bottom up and down together. And you come up to breathe every four strokes.

Ian Armiger, an expert with the Amateur Swimming Association, says Ella’s stroke is good because it needs rhythm and timing, and it’s good training for other swimming skills.

Ella’s won an all expenses trip for all her family to Alton Towers, which sounds like a very good prize. She says, ‘I will be going with my mum, brother and step-brother and they are all excited about it too.’

Why is swimming so popular? It can be quite difficult to explain, but for most people it’s the feeling of being supported by the water, so that you’re gliding along without having to put your weight on your feet. Almost like being an astronaut in a way. In fact American astronauts spend a lot of time training in water, because it’s like being weightless in space.

That sensation of gliding in the water, cut off from other people, and the feel of water on the body has always been fascinating to people. Olympic swimmers can sometimes be seen rubbing their hands on a diving board or other rough surface before a race so they can feel the water better on the skin. The sixties Australian Olympic champion Murray Rose preferred to swim in the open air at night under floodlights, when he seemed to be in another world.

A prayer
Lord, we thank you for the joy of swimming – in swimming pools, and in the sea. Help us to keep safe and always to show consideration to others who share the water with us.

A thoughtWe’re swimming before we are born, and so it’s really as natural to us as walking.

Links and references

Breaststroke and frogs and ‘Boys Own Paper’ story, and the description of Murray Rose are in the classic book on swimming history, ‘Haunts of the Black Masseur’, by Charles Sprawson.

The details of the other finalists’ strokes in the Swim4Life Competition were on their website, but they seemed to disappear a day or two ago when the final winner was announced, so now only Ella’s stroke is described.

Things to think about
Can you write about what it feels like to be swimming? Are you aware of the feel of the water on your body? Or of being in a different world?

A swimming poem
From The White Seal in The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling.

You mustn’t swim till you’re six weeks old,Or your head will be sunk by your heels;And summer gales and Killer Whales

Are bad for baby seals.

Are bad for baby seals, dear rat,As bad as bad can be;But splash and grow strong,And you can’t be wrong,

Child of the Open Sea!

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Front_crawl#History
(2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterfly_stroke#History

This e-bulletin issue was first published in September 2009

About the author: Gerald Haigh