It’s Not Crazy to Be Afraid in Water As an Adult

A good half of the adult population in the United States is afraid in water over their heads, according to a national Gallup Poll. That’s just in pools. Two-thirds are afraid in deep, open water.

What makes people afraid? Is it silly? What does it take to overcome it?

A story of how someone became afraid in water is not silly to most people. Most often, a child becomes afraid in water because his/her mother or father is afraid. The parent passes on the fear to the child, often unintentionally but sometimes—in order to “protect” the child—intentionally. A parent can’t be blamed for this if she doesn’t understand the water.

A child who believes his mother and heeds her warnings is not silly: it’s normal. A child’s beliefs are heavily influenced by messages from parents. Commonly, kids believe and do what their parents believe and do.

Besides learning fear from a parent, people become afraid from experiences where they lost control in water and couldn’t recover it. One example is being thrown in by a well-intentioned uncle who says, “Sink or swim!” He learned that way, but the child he threw in is traumatized for life and may never recover. Teens and adults become afraid other ways.

The finish of Miracle Swimming classes

There’s widespread shame about not being able to swim. However, there need be no shame: it is not the non-swimmers’ fault.

Stroke mechanics (freestyle, breaststroke, etc.) have nothing to do with overcoming fear; to overcome fear, one must restore a broken trust in oneself. A non-swimmer of any age must learn how the water works. If you cannot swim, you haven’t felt how the water works. MSA invites non-swimmers to let yourselves— and tell your friend to let him/herself— off the hook. It is not your fault. Panic is not part of learning to swim!

If the cure for cancer were known and not publicized it would be a public wrong. Because MSA has a system that works virtually 100% of the time, it has a responsibility that comes with such power: to affirm that fear in water is not a non-swimmer’s fault and to make its system available to all who can benefit.