King, A. M., & Kruisselbrink, D. (2009). Effect of breath retention on the development of swimming skills in preschool children. ACSM 56th Annual Meeting, Seattle, Washington. Presentation number 2554.

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"Little research has examined breathing strategies for preschool aged swimmers. The standard Canadian learn-to-swim program focuses on exhaling while performing swimming skills. In pre-school aged children, the attention demands of exhalation combined with the attention demands of coordinating the arms, legs and body position to execute a swimming skill may exceed a preschooler’s attentional capacity. Alternate private programs teach children to hold their breath for the first number of skill levels guided by the belief that breath retention makes children more buoyant and feel safer in the water atmosphere."

This study examined the effect of exhalation and breath retention breathing strategies on the development of swimming skills and perceived comfort in the water in preschool children. Skill development and overall comfort in the water were examined in four Level 2 swim classes (N = 16, average age 4.8 years). Two classes were randomly assigned to be taught to exhale while performing front glides, back glides, front floats, and back floats, and two classes were taught to hold their breath. Each skill was rated by three swim instructors on the first and last week of an eight-week program. A Modified Erbaugh Rating Scale was used to rate the front glide, rating scales were developed for the front float, back float and back glide. Inter-rater reliability for all but the pretest back glide (0.68) ranged between 0.89 and 1.00.

Classes using the breath retention strategy showed significantly greater improvement for the front and back glides and back float. The groups did not differ substantially for overall comfort in the water.

Implication. Skill development was increased when preschool children were taught to hold their breath rather than exhaling while performing front floats, back floats, front glides and back glides. The coordination components of skills should be learned before the skills are made more complex by adding the breathing components.

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