There Is An Answer to Drownings: Panic-Prevention

Note: this post was edited 3/2012 to place a missing video (the first one below).

If you want to teach your child to tie her shoes, do you say, "Tie your shoes!"

No. She'd be lost. Where to start, she'd be thinking.


If you want to teach people to prevent panic, do you say, "Don't panic!"?

No, but people do. It doesn't work. It's been tried. And how many people have drowned since then?


If you want to prevent most of Laurie Batter's reported 1592 U.S. drownings of Summer, 2011, you must teach people:


1) how to prevent panic, and 2) how the water works. In that order. When they know these, they know how to swim. After that, you can responsibly teach them strokes.


How do I know? I know from the empiricle research of hearing the stories and working with 4000 adults who were this year's drowning candidates. They did not drown, however: they learned to swim in the truest sense of the word, a word that holds more confusion than the public knows.


These people came to learn to overcome their fear because they knew they'd "lose it" if they found themselves in deep water by surprise... and chances were good that would end their lives.


2012 is the 100-year anniversary, more or less, of the beginning of formalized swimming instruction in the U.S. Other countries learned our system and are now in the same boat we're in.


In 2012, there will be a conference to change the course of swimming instruction to one that works for all, rather than for half: those who are already comfortable in water. That means, a new age of teaching swimming instructors to teach panic-prevention is due. The gears are in motion to make it happen.


June 1-4, 2012, bring yourself and your staff and journalists to the End of Drowning World Conference for Swimming and SCUBA Diving Inst... Learn why and how to teach people the two absolutely-essential-to-safety-things no other swimming instruction agency or school teaches, which are the obvious answer to the vast majority of drowning prevention. Be transformed for good.


Chances are, you'll leave with your age-old teaching questions answered.


A question for you.

Here are 2 of 3 students learning to become comfortable with their faces in water and floating on Friday. This was a Beginning class at 21st Century Swimming Lessons in August in Sarasota, FL.



Here they are on the following Tuesday.





Could you do teach that?

It happened because these people learned how to prevent panic.


The 2 mm vests are for warmth.


EVERY SINGLE CITIZEN can be taught this, bar none (unless they're particularly disabled). This ease needs to be passed on to every human being in the world, by every swimming instruction organization, bar none. Safety first; strokes second.


Come see it in June!


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Comment by Melon Dash on September 18, 2011 at 4:42pm

Thanks, Joe.

I hope this clarifies it: people who need the first 20 steps never get to the point of exposure you and I have had. They panic and leave lessons, discouraged for life or at least for a number of years, years before exposure gets a chance. And this is half of the United States. Children and adults. The current world order of swimming instruction has the cart before the horse. "CBH instruction."

Thank you.

Comment by Joe Batarse on September 16, 2011 at 9:40am

Thank you for your very thoughtful response. I'll limit my response to a single point of clarification (although I disagree with some finer points). I am not negating your strategy just seeking clarification on your two-point priority.


"When you and I swim—I'm hopefully correct in assuming you are a comfortable deep water swimmer—we know so much about how the water works and how to keep it out of our noses, how to keep our balance, what it feels like when we're low on air, and how to get air when we need it..."

This is exposure. This is precisely my point: exposure is prior; while panic prevention merely follows. You can't just explain or describe the phenomena, students learn these experientially.


Thanks again. Wishing you success with your instruction strategy. 


Comment by Melon Dash on September 16, 2011 at 8:16am

Hello, Joe.


You may or may not know it, but your post carries the voice of the Red Cross, the Y, Swim America, Starfish, Total Immersion, and the rest of the traditionally-trained swimming instruction organizations out there. It's good to have your questions.


Panic-prevention (as we teach it in Miracle Swimming) reduces drowning risk long before adrenals kick in. When you and I swim—I'm hopefully correct in assuming you are a comfortable deep water swimmer—we know so much about how the water works and how to keep it out of our noses, how to keep our balance, what it feels like when we're low on air, and how to get air when we need it, that we very rarely reach the point of concern, let alone panic. But half of the United States doesn’t know these things. (Gallup Poll, 1998) Though you (collectively) assume that teaching swimming mechanics will also teach those bits of knowledge just listed, the collective you hasn’t noticed that it doesn’t. And that’s the rub. But perhaps I don’t know exactly what you mean in your last paragraph by “directed exposure.”


To remove the experience of panic, remove the reasons for panic.


“Removing the experience of panic does not necessarily remove the threat,” you say.

What threat? Being held under water is a threat. Running out of air under water is a threat. Do you have a better chance of surviving a threat if you panic or if you stay present? And if you had been present all along, wouldn’t you have more chance of preventing the threat than if you had not been paying attention?


Why is intoxication a threat in the water? Is it because it makes a person not care and not try? It doesn’t make them sink. It doesn’t make them run out of air.


Most people who drown drown because they panic…not because they can’t swim. Though many people who drown indeed CAN’T SWIM, most of them, as humans, float. So why should a person who floats drown? Because they are afraid they won’t float. Or because they got a nosefull. Or because they feel themselves sinking. These things create the biggest threat. And they are only a threat to people who don’t know that these things are not dangerous (half the country). The biggest threat IS panic. In panic, a person can’t remember the knowledge and skills that his swimming instructor was sure he knew (the water skills you mention in your 3rd paragraph?). And, the skills the instructor taught, unbeknownst to him and his student, are irrelevant to preventing panic. Anyone who panics on account of being afraid they won’t float, or getting a nosefull, or sinking does not know how the water works. This must be taught.


In panic, a person is thinking ahead, thinking of getting up for air, afraid of running out, burning up air and energy in hurried actions that are ineffective instead of staying present. However it does not feel safe to slow down and stay present in a situation of panic. So we hurry, instead. Just as it was counter-intuitive in lifeguard training to NOT go into the water to save someone, it is counter-intuitive to not speed up inside when you’re in danger. But it’s the best approach. It takes training to teach people not only to prevent panic, but to handle their own panic wisely. And the current world order of swimming instruction is not teaching it. They don’t even know it.


I agree with you that “swimming instruction should be an incremental process.” However, your progression, that of traditional swimming instruction, skips the first 20 steps; and that house, without a foundation, will not stand.


I ask you to examine the situation of students you have who are struggling; of those who have quit; of those who refuse to take lessons.  These are the people who must have those first 20 steps or they will panic and fail. People aren’t willing to take too many rounds of lessons when that’s been their e

Comment by Joe Batarse on September 15, 2011 at 10:00pm

I am unclear on your drowning prevention strategy when you state: “you must teach people to (1) prevent panic
and (2) how the water works. In that order.” This operative seems at variance with my aquatic experience.

Point of clarification: I do not understand how preventing panic necessarily reduces drowning since panic is adrenal driven; it’s the body’s chemical plant priming the “flight or fight” response when it registers an existential threat (such as potential drowning). Removing the experience of panic does not necessarily remove the threat; intoxicated victims, for example, still succumb even when they don’t panic, yes?

I know the stock argument might be that panic inhibits self-help and this is why we must teach panic prevention. My thinking, however, is that to minimize panic – which admittedly can be deleterious – essential water skills must be developed and dangers that initiate panic response avoided. The later requires water safety education that transcends mere swimming instruction.

If I have misconstrued your position I apologize, but I believe that for your new learn-to-swim world order to
prevail, you must reverse your stated priorities so that students: (1) experience effective water education and instruction to effectively (2) displace fear (leading to panic) with well-founded confidence.


In my view swimming instruction should be an incremental process comprised of four interlinking phases: water exposure & acclimation; body positioning; propulsion; and breathing. Each phase transitions into the next facilitated by an evolving self-defined comfort zone.

Control points are self-formed artifacts resulting from directed water exposure. The swimmer comes to
recognize the boundaries of her comfort zone defined by her cache of control points; the greater the number, the more expansive her comfort zone.

This is precisely why directed exposure precedes any prevention-panic tactics: To avoid undesirable
circumstances, the actor must recognize the inherent dangers of water. But to appreciate the dangers she must experience the properties of water first hand.

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