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Waterworks Aquatics
Creative Problem Solving

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Effectively Applying Empathy & Compassion

CONTEXT: 


Waterworks Aquatics has every swim instructor go through about 40+ hours of in-water shadow sessions and detailed online training modules. These include videos on swim technique and common mistakes. There were also callouts on common mistakes most folks make and how to correct them. Some training modules also discuss child psychology and setting boundaries for managing their behavior.

Every swimmer is assigned a swimmer proficiency level and rewarded a ribbon every time they "level up" by successfully meeting the current level's skillset requirements. Swim Instructors need to memorize up to 12 levels of curriculum. I also took on the "Parent & Me" baby classes and Adult lesson curriculum.

I applied this knowledge alongside my innate sense of empathy & compassion with every client that has booked me. You can find Yelp reviews mentioning me by searching keyword "Norma."

Here are the stories of the swimmers I am particularly proud of. 💖✨

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TABLE OF CONTENTS: 


Click to jump immediately to a specific story, or continue scrolling to experience them in succession.

Makayla & Kai Omata's story 

74-year old Miss Margaret's story 

(Autistic) Eric Figueroa's story 

(Autistic) Teighlor Countreman's story 

Makayla & Kai Omata
 

Makayla Omata has been taking lessons with me even since I was relatively fresh out of training in Spring 2023. The Omatas love me. Usually Mama Omata is the one who brings the kiddos to Waterworks. Initially, Makayla was stagnating at level 9, struggling with Butterfly stroke (her body would go down too low and she’d struggle to get a productive stroke).  Another contributing factor was the high instructor turnover rate resulting in Makayla having inconsistent instruction. They apparently went through 8 different instructors before crossing paths with me. It can be hard on the child when they have to keep starting over and over, getting different people telling them different things. 

 

Mama Omata also shared that Makayla was irrationally afraid of jumping into the pool, and would also freeze in place when it was diving time. Previous instructors had her start off with kneeling dives and she’d stay completely tensed and stiff in one place.

 

I built up rapport, trust, and a strong connection with Makayla over time, gently encouraging her along and always reassuring her: “I will never force you to do anything, but I will always give you a chance to try.”  And she’d smile and look relieved every time. We started off with her sitting at the poolside at the deep end while I held one hand and she’d hop in. Eventually she was ready to try without holding my hand. Then she was able to move on to trying sitting dives. I had her doing sitting dives for a long while and then eventually moved on to kneeling dives when she felt ready to give it a try. While she got the hang of standing dives, she was stuck on level 10 because her freeze response would constantly kick in once she was actually on top of the diving block.

I asked lead trainer Raven what I could do to help her with that and she suggested that I try being next to her OUT OF THE WATER as she was getting ready on the block. After trying this with me bracing her sides, she felt braver and more empowered to just go for it. And in no time at all, she became eager and happy to jump + dive off the block as a level 11.

We are now working on getting her used to racing start dives & building up speed + endurance as a level 12 swimmer.

Little Kai Omata used to be majorly fearful and didn’t want to take lessons anymore after having an unpleasant time with a prior instructor. He was stuck at level 4 and would instead choose to just frolic in the play pool sometimes while Makayla would do her lessons. One day he noticed that Makayla was having so much fun in my lessons that he looked as if he felt like he was missing out.  He looked at us from the play pool longingly like he wanted to have fun in the water with me too. That day, Makayla & I reached a stopping point earlier than expected (she had already done all 4 strokes) so I asked Makayla and Mama Omata if they’d be alright with me saving the last few minutes of Makayla’s lesson for Kai. Everyone (including Kai) thought it’d be a great idea to see if I could get him to open up and try to swim freestyle. I ran a mini free sample lesson in the completely empty play pool (2ft area) that evening with Kai and he had a great time. He was eager to try things with me and decided that he wanted to try taking lessons again after all with me. He’s now a level 10 swimmer that can swim all four strokes. I’m always delighted to see their names on my schedule on Wednesdays and some Thursdays.

Miss Margaret Elmore
 

She was 74 years old when I first worked with her. She was inspired by her grandbabies’ Parent & Me classes to sign up for adult lessons. Miss Margaret said that she wanted to overcome her decades of fear/avoidance and learn to have fun in the water with her grandchildren before it was too late. I got her nearly all the way through the adult 10-step outline in the span of about 1 month.

 

The last time I saw her, she had made it 5 yards forward to the triangle flags. Unfortunately, the last time I saw her was the last time I saw her. One day Office Manager Olivia pulled me aside to talk in private in her office. She shared that Miss Margaret had passed away and that the family wanted to thoroughly thank me for making such a difference in her life. They also shared that she would always look forward to lessons with me and would be so excited to apply her learnings in their community pool. I cried a lot that day. I will never forget Miss Margaret and the strong connection we built up over her lessons. It’s remarkable that I was able to get through all my lessons charismatically and perform well enough that none of my families noticed I was grieving. Several of my fellow instructors noticed though. Whenever I had a rest break or down time, the waterworks would just happen to fall before I knew it. Getting Miss Margaret to successfully relax and have fun in the water is my proudest accomplishment at Waterworks.

 

May she rest in peace and know that I thoroughly looked forward to seeing her just as much as she was looking forward to seeing me. 

Eric Figueroa

When he had his first lesson, his hispanic mom who spoke little English used google translate to tell me that he was autistic. No problem, I knew exactly how to approach the lesson. I made sure to clearly narrate everything that we were going to do and why it mattered.

I have been his primary swim instructor since he was a fearful Level 1, unconsciously tensing up and avoidant of putting his face in the water like it was the worst sensory issue in the world. He is now a Level 9 swimmer that can manage all four swimming strokes. 

Eric and I built up a great connection and he went from only being able to fearfully backfloat for a few seconds at a time to now learning how to coordinate butterfly arms and legs. He can do both individually but struggles to coordinate the timing of everything together. He also used to be very hesitant and fearful of jumping into the deep end, but now can do standing dives (after hyping himself up and slapping his own cheeks haha).

 

I’ve been a gentle cheerleader pushing his comfort level ever so slightly with every session, and now I see their whole family on a weekly basis.

Teighlor Countreman

Also autistic. In a very chaotic and playfully hyperactive way, with a cute speech impediment.   

I have been her primary swim instructor for many months.  Several swim instructor colleagues know her to be notoriously difficult to wrangle. I’ve submitted many shadow requests for her and got lots of tips on how to be firmer and faster-paced with her lessons to keep her engaged.

She can do a standing dive and coordinate breast stroke across the pool now. Teighlor is now a level 9 swimmer learning how to swim Butterfly. Mom is stunned. She looks at me like I’m a miracle worker sometimes. It’s great. We’ve built up rapport and mom is very understanding whenever a lesson with Teighlor is difficult and listening is nearly nonexistent. Miss Raven has helped me out many times in my shadows with Teighlor and she has said that I’m doing much better with her lately. Teighlor has improved a lot in her time with me and apparently only wants me specifically whenever she has lessons at Waterworks.

As a neurodivergent person myself, it brings me great joy to see my neurodivergent kiddos succeed and feel better about themselves as they progress through the level system. The families of my neurodivergent kiddos tend to really appreciate my approach. I put in significant effort into connecting and effectively communicating with them in the way that suits them best.

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