Goggles...are they a good idea?

Look at those goggle marks! This is my lovely mum (Joyce Cahill) with her dad (Bill Bristow) following his successful Channel race in the 1950's.

"Should my child wear goggles?"

As swimming teachers, this is a question we get asked a lot! Goggles are brilliant and an essential piece of kit for many swimmers, but are they suitable for children?

The Pros

Goggles were an amazing invention and they certainly boosted the accessibility and popularity of swimming when they were invented. Early goggles were made from glass and rubber, and swimmers weren't allowed to wear them in indoor pools in case they shattered, but over the years the design changed and they became less expensive, which meant that people were able to swim for longer distances without the chlorine hurting their eyes. They have always helped nervous swimmers - a fear of water on the face and in the eyes can be a huge barrier to learning to swim, and goggles can remove that issue. They help children who are learning strokes on their front, and give children a better awareness of what's around them when they're swimming under water or in a lane.

The Cons

Goggles can also be a crutch, a distraction and a danger to small children. If your child will only put her face in with goggles on, that really does limit her swimming. What happens if the goggles are forgotten one week, or if they break? It becomes a wasted swimming lesson for your child, and damages her confidence in her ability to swim. If your child doesn't know how to put on her own goggles, or how to adjust them - or if they don't fit well and let in water, that becomes a distraction. More time can be spent on the goggles than on the swimming, and a swimming teacher doesn't have time to adjust goggles mid-lesson when she should be focussing on the class. I have taught a number of children who never really got over a fear of water going into their eyes - the goggles literally mask that fear. When (inevitably) the goggles come off or spring a leak mid swim, that sends the child into a panic - they stop swimming, they shut their eyes and they are a massive safety risk in the water. A child who could swim perfectly well a second ago starts to drown when their goggles fail them.

The Answer

In my opinion goggles can be a huge asset to an older swimmer, as long as they are good quality and fit well (see the tips below), but they should be carefully considered for younger swimmers. If your child is terrified of putting her face in the water, goggles don't deal with that fear - the anxiety is still there and will become apparent as soon as the goggles fail the swimmer. If your child is scared of the water, that needs working through first. A child who can't swim without goggles, or panics when the goggles come off is a huge danger in a swimming pool - all the skills they've learnt evaporate and they're as unsafe as a complete non-swimmer. Children should be taught strategies for dealing with water going in their faces, and strategies for what to do when their goggles come off.

Top Tips for Introducing Goggles

1. Buy the right pair! A good quality pair of goggles will completely cover the eyes. I usually recommend the brand Aqua Sphere, who make goggles that are big enough to grow into and relatively easy to adjust. Goggles often leak water around the sockets and the bridge over the nose, so you want a pair that fit well in those key areas.

Here is one of our lovely little swimmers in a pair of well-fitted goggles. The band is around the upper part of his head and they are tight enough on his eyes so as not to leak.

2. Put them on properly. A pair of goggles worn around the base of the head/top of the neck are of no use to anyone. For your goggles to fit properly, the band should be in line horizontally with the eye pieces, around the largest part of the head. Your child might complain that their goggles are uncomfortable when worn around the top part of the head - it does make them feel tighter, but goggles worn incorrectly will leak or slip off if your child jumps in or pushes away from the wall.

3. Have your child adjust the fit. Show your child how to make their goggles bigger or smaller. Look together in the mirror - is the band in the right place? Are the goggles centred on the face, or are they skewed to one side? The evening before swimming, try the goggles out in the bath and have your child shake her head up and down and from side to side - do the goggles leak or come off? Are they so tight that they leave deep red rings around the eyes and give your child a headache? Either of these problems will distract your child during a lesson, so they need to be sorted before you come to the pool.

4. Work through a fear of water in the eyes before introducing goggles. Get your child used to putting their faces in and jumping in before your introduce goggles - that may take an extra family swimming session on top of a weekly swimming session. Develop strategies together to deal with water in your child's eyes - I often teach them to blink and shake their heads. If your child relies on being able to wipe water from her eyes with her hands, explain that it might not be possible to do that effectively in the middle of the pool when she can't stand up, and suggest alternatives.

5. Goggle - free swimming. Children should be able to submerge, jump in, push and glide and swim front and back without goggles, and they should regularly practise doing so.

Goggles can be a huge bonus, but a child shouldn't be unable to swim without them. Let's make sure our children are safe around the water!

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