Aquatic Motor Skills #
The Aquatic Motor Skills domain is one of the three domains in the Aquatic Safety Competencies taxonomy. It is the set of eight competencies that define different methods of physically interacting with aquatic environments in a safe, consistent, and repeatable manner. In addition to being used for everyday recreational and fitness activities, the application of one or more of these competencies is required for both the avoidance of and the recovery from hazardous situations — including unintentional entries. The physical abilities defined by these competencies, together with associated cognitive and affective abilities, provide individuals with the tools necessary to safely engage with a variety of aquatic environments.
Safe Entry Competency #
Safe Entry Competency is the knowledge, skill, and experience necessary to enter aquatic environments without harming or placing inappropriate risk on oneself or others. Physical abilities associated with this competency include being able to lower, step, jump, dive, or otherwise move into the water, and to surface after entry. Cognitive abilities include determining how to enter a body of water safely by identifying, understanding, and analyzing characteristics of different aquatic environments.
Safe Entry Competency is developed by practicing multiple methods of controlled entry into various types of aquatic environments, and includes practicing recovery to the surface for methods involving submersion. Development also requires learning how to determine if a specific location is safe and appropriate for entry and what the suitable methods of entry are for that location. This includes the identification of water conditions (e.g., depth, clarity, temperature, currents), physical features (e.g., rocks, reefs, submerged objects, loose or unstable ground), and other potential hazards, such as other people or floating objects. Safe Entry Competency is further developed by simulating unintentional entries and practicing returning to a position at the surface in a controlled manner.
Sudden immersions and unintentional entries can result in highly dangerous situations in any aquatic environment. Developing Safe Entry Competency does not eliminate the risk that unintentional entries pose, but the safe-entry-competent individual can lower their risk of injury because they have prior experience in coping with submersion. Intentional entry can also be dangerous, or even life threatening, especially when the hazards and conditions of an environment are not considered before entering the water. Thus, developing the cognitive components of this competency aid in the ability to enter aquatic environments under different circumstances without harm.
Learning how to enter the water and recover to the surface is fundamental for all aquatic activities. By practicing different methods of moving into the water, individuals are able to enter a wider variety of aquatic environments without putting themselves or others in harm’s way. Additionally, by practicing recovering to a stable position at the surface after submersion, individuals are better able to cope with unintentional entries. The development of Safe Entry Competency reduces an individual's risk of drowning and other aquatic injuries because they become better at selecting appropriate places and times to enter the water intentionally, and are more equipped to handle unintentional entries.
Safe Exit Competency #
Safe Exit Competency is the knowledge, skill, and experience necessary to exit aquatic environments without harming or placing inappropriate risk on oneself or others. Physical abilities associated with this competency include being able to walk, climb, lift, pull, or otherwise move out of the water. Cognitive abilities include determining how to exit a body of water safely by identifying, understanding, and evaluating the benefits and challenges posed by specific locations and features, as well as being able to create a plan for exiting both before and after entering an aquatic environment.
Safe Exit Competency development involves practice removing oneself from various types of aquatic environments (e.g., pools, lakes, rivers), with different physical features (e.g., pool gutters of different heights, deep end versus shallow end), and in various conditions (e.g., while wearing a life jacket or clothing in rough water, while fatigued). Although this physical practice is vital in developing Safe Exit Competency, equally important is the cognitive practice of determining the safest location to exit the water. This includes practice with identifying features and hazards that may either make an exit easier or more difficult to manage.
Regardless of whether entering an aquatic environment is intentional or unintentional, the ability to exit is a critical component of aquatic safety. Experience with exiting from different environments, and under different conditions, means there is a greater chance of being able to apply a previously practiced exit strategy after an unintentional entry. This experience also increases the number of possible locations available for an effective exit in a given environment. An example might include being able to climb out from the side of a deep pool instead of needing to move to a ladder or stairs. In the case of an intentional entry, the safe-exit-competent individual is able to enjoy aquatic environments and exit them at will, and can apply the concepts of Safe Exit Competency before entering the water. By evaluating the aquatic environment before entering, individuals can identify easy exit points and can make a plan for where and how to exit before there is an immediate need.
Exiting an aquatic environment is necessary in every instance of entering an aquatic environment. By practicing different ways of removing themselves from the water, individuals broaden their capacity to exit under different conditions. The development of Safe Exit Competency reduces an individual's risk of drowning and other aquatic injuries because they become better prepared to exit any type of aquatic environment.
Breath Control Competency #
Breath Control Competency is the knowledge, skill, and experience necessary to breathe effectively in a controlled manner without using excessive energy, interfering with other movements, or compromising body position while in the water. Physical abilities associated with this competency include the physical exchange of air and keeping the body in a position at the surface so that the exchange of air can occur. Cognitive abilities include determining when to breathe and when to hold the breath. Affective abilities include responding to stimuli and situations in a calm manner with the face both above and below the surface of the water.
Breath Control Competency is initially developed by practicing techniques for air exchange and by holding the breath in simple and stable body positions. An example of this may be standing in chest-deep water and lowering the face to blow bubbles. The competency is then further developed by applying the same concepts while unsupported in the water, in different body positions, and under more strenuous conditions. Practicing breath holding and practicing controlled exhalation during physical exertion are both required for the development of Breath Control Competency. Also important is learning the timing of when to take a breath and understanding how breathing actions affect other movements of the body.
Effective breathing and the ability to hold the breath are foundational for learning all other aquatic motor skills. Breath Control Competency is therefore important across the broad spectrum of water-based skills and activities, and is typically an early focus during aquatic education programs. When individuals are first learning how to interact with and move in aquatic environments, the ability to breathe comfortably aids in building confidence and increasing the willingness to try new skills. This is especially true with stationary skills because of the direct relationship between breathing and buoyancy. Breath Control Competency is also highly relevant for propulsion and other activities. In these circumstances, there is an aerobic demand for oxygen to reach the muscles and a need for regular breathing that does not interfere with the efficiency of the stroke, kick, or other body movements of the activity.
The ability to control one's breathing is paramount while in aquatic environments. By learning to hold their breath and determining when to breathe, individuals are able to be more confident in aquatic environments and comfortably breathe at will. The development of Breath Control Competency reduces an individual's risk of drowning and other aquatic injuries because they are better able to breathe in an effective manner during a variety of skills and situations.
Stationary Surface Competency #
Stationary Surface Competency is the knowledge, skill, and experience necessary to remain at one location on the surface of the water for sustained periods of time for both strategic and energy-conservation purposes. Understanding the relationship between breathing and buoyancy and utilizing that relationship to affect buoyancy and body position are core components of being able to stay at the surface for extended periods of time. Physical abilities associated with this competency include being able to float in more than one position and being able to generate upward (vertical) propulsion with the arms and legs to keep the head above the surface. Cognitive abilities include understanding whether a floating skill or a treading skill is best suited for a given situation and set of conditions, and determining which specific floating or treading technique may be the most effective for the task at hand.
Stationary Surface Competency is primarily developed by practicing floating and treading skills. Learning to float should be introduced and practiced with the body positioned both on the front and on the back, with continued development incorporating different forms of floating in both body positions. Learning to tread starts with instinctual movements to keep the head above the surface and progresses to multiple forms of treading that utilize different styles of controlled and efficient arm and leg actions. Development of both floating and treading should include practice in calm and rough environments. This not only provides necessary experience with the physical skills in challenging situations, but it also helps to develop an understanding of the circumstances in which a float skill or, conversely, a tread skill is more appropriate. Additionally, practicing in varied conditions helps develop the ability to identify when specific forms and techniques of floats and treads are best used.
Although the ability to float can aid in the development of body position and buoyancy control for a variety of skills and activities, it is perhaps most crucial when there is a need to conserve energy. An example of this is resting and catching one's breath during a long-distance swim. In scenarios with calmer water, floating on the back with the face up provides ease of breathing and the ability to call for help with minimal energy expenditure. However, being positioned on the back limits the field of vision and may result in waves splashing on the face, which can disrupt breathing. Floating on the front is often preferred in scenarios with choppy or rough water, where holding the face under the surface can be more relaxing and — if survival floating techniques are used — can allow for better breathing control. Additionally, floating on the front provides better visibility of surrounding locations and hazards, including those under the surface.
Treading skills, while also providing some potential to rest and conserve energy, are best used in situations where keeping the head out the water is desired. The higher above the water surface the head is held, the farther an individual can see in any direction, enhancing their field of vision. Reduced heat loss is another benefit of keeping the head out of the water. Additionally, the vertical body position of treading can be maintained using only the legs, allowing the hands and arms to be free for other tasks, such as waving for help or reaching for a nearby object.
Being able to remain at the surface comfortably and for extended periods of time is beneficial in many emergency and survival situations. By learning to float on both the front and back and to tread, individuals are able to stay at the surface and rest, look around, or perform tasks with their hands. The development of Stationary Surface Competency reduces an individual's risk of drowning and other aquatic injuries because they become better prepared to conserve energy and keep breathing in a variety of conditions for long periods of time.
Orientation Competency #
Orientation Competency is the knowledge, skill, and experience necessary to transition from one body position to another, to change direction of travel, to keep one’s bearings, and to locate and navigate to a desired location. Physical abilities associated with this competency include being able to roll, tuck, turn, and spin to move the body into different positions or face different directions, both on and under the surface, while remaining stationary and while propelling. Cognitive abilities include monitoring and comparing one’s current position relative to the immediate surrounding, locating known safe areas, and planning a navigation path in desired directions.
Development of Orientation Competency often begins with learning to recover to a stable position after practicing other aquatic skills. A back float, for example, is performed on the back, but once the skill is complete, a tuck or similar movement is required to return to a vertical position. As an individual becomes more comfortable in different body positions, they can continue to develop this competency by practicing transitioning from one position to another without returning to a vertical or stabilized position between each one. Similarly, turning is often first practiced in a vertical or semi-vertical position, as with treading. As an individual becomes more comfortable and proficient with propulsion, they can begin making adjustments to their pulls and kicks to shift which way they are facing and to change their direction of travel. When learning to change direction, it is important to practice turning both to the left and the right, and to practice turning while positioned on both the front and the back.
Orientation Competency is also developed through the practice of maintaining or regaining one's bearings, especially after submersion or during navigation. Drills and activities such as swimming out and back to a buoy or through an obstacle course are designed to build an awareness of direction, position, and location relative to objects or obstacles. Further development includes learning methods of “spotting” (sighting an object or location) while swimming that do not excessively hinder breathing, body position, or efficiency of propulsion.
Most individuals have a preference for, and may even be more proficient with, a specific body position (e.g., on front or on back). However a non-preferred position may be better suited during an emergency situation. Additionally, a different position or skill may be required when circumstances change. Individuals with a well-developed Orientation Competency are able to smoothly transition from one position to another to suit the needs of any given aquatic situation.
Rolling, turning, and orienting are fundamental skills required for intentional movement about aquatic environments. By learning to roll and turn, individuals are able to transition between skills to best perform the task at hand. Additionally, by learning to orient and to maintain awareness of their location relative to the surroundings, individuals are able to keep their bearings and avoid hazards. The development of Orientation Competency reduces an individual’s risk of drowning and other aquatic injuries because they become better prepared to adapt their position to meet the needs of any situation and to navigate routes that steer clear of dangers.
Propulsion Competency #
Propulsion Competency is the knowledge, skill, and experience necessary to travel through the water using the movement of limbs in a controlled and efficient manner. Physical abilities associated with this competency include being able to perform gross and fine motor control patterns necessary to swim using different techniques in more than one body position. Cognitive abilities include determining which body position and technique is best suited for the conditions and circumstances of the task at hand, and an awareness of energy expenditure to regulate pace or speed.
Propulsion Competency is developed by practicing propulsive swimming strokes in each of the three body positions: front, back, and side. There are multiple methods of propulsion in all three positions — each offering unique benefits. Methods that have alternating or opposite limb movements tend to offer more speed and maneuverability, whereas symmetrical limb movement patterns typically have a resting period during each cycle and therefore may be less energy demanding. Methods on the back allow for easier breathing, where as being positioned on the front allows for better vision. Development of Propulsion Competency involves becoming proficient at swimming in each body position and with multiple methods in each position. It also requires practice in both closed and open water environments to improve technique and to allow individuals to experience how rough conditions impact body position and limb movements.
Being able to move and travel in aquatic environments is essential for a wide variety of aquatic activities and situations, not the least of which is simply enjoying the experience of being in the water. The ability to propel is also vital for self-rescue and moving away from hazards or dangerous situations. Individuals proficient in Propulsion Competency are not only able to perform a variety of stroke types while in each body position, but are also able to identify which position and which technique is best suited for the current task at hand.
The ability to swim is often the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about any aquatic activity. By learning multiple ways of swimming, individuals are able to select techniques to efficiently travel through a variety of aquatic environments. The development of Propulsion Competency reduces an individual's risk of drowning and other aquatic injuries because they become better prepared to choose an optimal position and method of propulsion for the current situation and conditions.
Underwater Competency #
Underwater Competency is the knowledge, skill, and experience necessary to submerge and control buoyancy to travel and negotiate hazards underwater. Physical abilities associated with this competency include being able to use the limbs to propel, to control and hold the breath, and to control and change body position and direction. Cognitive abilities include understanding position and orientation in three-dimensional space, to understand the relationship between breathing and buoyancy, to monitor and compare one’s current position to surrounding objects, and to plan navigation paths. Performing tasks underwater also requires being able to cope with depth, pressure, and reduced visibility.
Development of Underwater Competency primarily occurs through practicing skills of other competencies while submerged, and by learning to modify skills to cope with the additional factors posed by being underwater. These include drag resistance, reduced visibility, depth pressure, and the lack of immediate access to air. For example, a modified alternating-arm stroke or front crawl may recover the arms closer than normal to the body to mitigate drag resistance and may keep one arm reaching forward to protect the head. Development also involves orientation and learning spatial awareness in an environment where gravity cannot be used as a compass and where continuous movement in nearly any direction is possible.
One specific skill that is unique to Underwater Competency is submersion and depth control. The first stages of development center around learning how to hold the breath and cope with water covering the eyes, nose, mouth and ears. This progresses to practicing multiple methods of submerging down to depth. As an understanding of the relationship between breathing and buoyancy is developed, it is crucial that the dangers of hyperventilation and shallow-water blackout be discussed. Further development can be made through discussion about the compression and expansion of air in the lungs relative to depth when breathing compressed air.
Underwater Competency can be valuable in a wide range of aquatic activities and situations, from simply retrieving a dropped object to swimming below hazards in a life-threatening situation. Further examples of its use may be to avoid an oncoming boat or watercraft, or diving below a breaking wave. Proficiency with Underwater Competency is particularly important during unexpected entries and submersions, which can place an individual in virtually any position and facing any direction. When submerged, the need for underwater orientation skills to find the surface is critical. In the case of tipping over or capsizing while paddling or sailing, for example, individuals may also need to navigate hazards and confined spaces, such as a cabin or sails.
While most aquatic-related activities, including swimming, take place on the surface, the vast majority of each aquatic environment actually lies below the surface. By learning to hold their breath, propel while totally submerged, and cope with pressure and other environmental factors experienced underwater, individuals are able to be proficient and comfortable throughout the depth of aquatic environments. The development of Underwater Competency reduces an individual's risk of drowning and other aquatic injuries because they become better prepared to control their buoyancy and navigate aquatic environments.