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Graphic by Nick Orabovic/Illustration by Tim Bobko
By “Melon” Dash

Here’s a look at the five circles of consciousness that swimmers go through when they’re in the water, and how instructors can use those circles to teach.

  • Panic: Body in one place, attention in another. In panic mode, the person has “lost it.” He’s “not home.”
  • Terror: He knows he’s in trouble, but he can’t do anything about it. He has no connection to his body. He’s in his head only.
  • Scared: This person is still present enough to move and be in control of some actions, but can’t choose any action he wants. He’s not thinking clearly. He’s partly “gone.”
  • Nervous: This person would say he’s “OK, but not great.” Don’t try to teach him anything in this stage unless he says he’s having fun. If he’s having fun, he’s just in control enough to succeed.
  • In control: This is where your students must be so they can trust you, ask questions, feel safe about trying new things, have fun, learn, and be able to say “no.” You want them to be calm and in this circle all the time. You want them to say “no” to anything that would cause them to go to the third circle (above) or higher.