This episode of Child Safety Source focuses on one of today’s most respected water safety experts: Johnny Johnson. He’s the current owner of Blue Buoy Swim School in California. Over the past 51 years, Johnny Johnson and his team have taught thousands of children to swim. He’s become such a trusted name that today he’s even teaching many third-generation students.
In this video interview, Life Saver Pool Fence’s Eric Lupton was delighted for the opportunity to pick Johnny’s brain.
About the Blue Buoy Swim School
As you learned during the interview, Blue Buoy Swim School has been around for quite a while. Johnny Johnson even learned to swim there when he was a boy. Later, Johnny was proud to become owner of the school that helped him and so many other children throughout the years. Today, he dedicates himself to continuing this mission.
Located in Orange County, California, this time-honored institution is committed to custom-tailored swimming lessons for each individual customer. This gentle yet effective approach has been responsible for teaching students to swim for generations. Blue Buoy has become one of the oldest and most successful swim schools in the United States. In fact, the school is proud to have had eight of its former students represent the USA in the 1984, 1996, 2000, 2004 & 2008 Olympics.
To learn more about Johnny Johnson and Blue Buoy Swim School, please visit the official website.
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Below is a direct transcript of the Child Safety Source interview with Johnny Johnson from September 13th, 2018:
Eric Lupton: Live on the Internet, it’s like magic. How you doing Johnny?
Johnny Johnson: I’m doing great, Eric.
Eric: Awesome, so for the three people who watch this who don’t know who Johnny is, Johnny Johnson is the founder of Blue Boy, he started it …
Johnny: actually, I’ve been around long enough. People think I am but I swam at Blues Boy when I was 11 years old when I… Yeah so, I’ve had quite a journey there started as a swimmer on their little swim team, and became a teacher in 1967. My wife and I bought in as a partner in 1977, and about 12… 15 years ago, we bought out the partners. So, it’s been an amazing journey from student-teacher partner to owner over some 55 years.
Eric: Were you related to the original owners at all or you just knew them for swimming there?
Johnny: No, my mom was actually friends with a mother of one of their star swimmers and that was the connection. My first summer there, we lost my dad in Vietnam, he was killed in 1967 back 51 years ago yesterday, and the owner Mel, who was the swim coach for me, sort of took me under wing when I started teaching and it was a long incredible journey. He was an incredible mentor Mel Maxwell.
Eric: Nice, but my dad also served in Vietnam. He was a long-range patrol in a combat division and led a little team in the jungle there, you know. So…
Johnny: Tough times but yeah.
Eric: I know a lot of people didn’t come back so he was fortunate, you know. He says the reason he didn’t… the reason he made it back was cuz he hated running, so he would just find a good spot and stay there that with that kind of worked out for him, but he’s a bad runner. But yeah, so you also at one point where the president of the NDPA of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance and you started the Safer Three campaign; safer pool, safer water, safer kids, which has been adopted by tons of places. And, you know, you’ve just had a really fantastic history in water safety and I think it’s commendable, honestly, you know.
Johnny: Well, thank you. Yeah, it’s kind of goes with the territory you know. Teaching swimming is a main component of water safety from prevention measures and it really opened our eyes, though in meeting groups like the Orange County Drowning Prevention Network, which later became the basis for the National Drowning Prevention Alliance and realized that swim lessons alone are not the answer. It’s a combination of so many factors, so many things,
Eric: Yeah, you know, we coined it… my dad really coined in 1987 the phrase layers of protection. He put it in writing for the first time in 1989 in a book he wrote called Summertime Fun year-round danger swimming pools, you know. How you lose use layers of protection to protect your pool and yeah, the idea was that the reason he kind of came up with it is he was tired of competing with swimming lessons and alarms and the idea was, if you had them all, you’d be a lot better off. And, it’s kind of neat to see how it’s taken off from his little, little book that he wrote, and it’s caught on, you know…
Johnny: He had tremendous foresight. Yeah, really the beauty of what are Safer Three message is, it takes that concept, and we actually were inspired by Lori Lawrence in Australia with this [kids alive] program; brought in that idea of layers of protection are the multiple strategies that really are necessary, because you never know which element is going to make a difference. That’s sort of the concept of the pool safely campaign too, from the Consumer Products Safety Commission. But, the Safer Three is taking a very broad approach looking at the idea of they’re always being risk, and water there is always some element of risk. The word safe, you know, gets thrown around a lot. My kids took swim lessons; their pool safe now or water safe or water, because…
Eric: I gotta say though… and I contribute this to you a lot… the water safety community at least, has really backed off from the word ‘safe’ and replaced it was ‘safer’ to a big degree. I’m sure there’s people that you know still use it here and there, but for the most part, the people in the drowning prevention committee have all realized the correct terminology is safer, and you know, I give you, you know, most of the credit for that, you know. I think that came from Safer Three.
Johnny: Well, my brother from a different mother, Dave Dubois and Australia, together we really tried to lead the battle on that. And, you know, the word safe means that you’re free from risk of injury or harm or death, and with water, it really is not the case. I mean, you can have a safe experience; I always compare it to the automobile industry and, you know, the fact that we live on wheels in America, that you can have a safe journey… we’re gonna drive to San Diego here after this call, and hopefully we’ll have a safe journey, meaning that there’ll be no accidents involved. That doesn’t mean there is not risk during that travel, so people can understand first and foremost that with the water there’s always going to be some risk. And, you need to look for the risk and what we did with the Safer Three was to look at the elements that are common; every drowning, there’s three common elements. There’s always water, there’s always a person… quite often a child… and there’s always a response capability. So, that kind of condensed down Laurie Lawrence’s do the five, ** the pool, shut the gate, teach your kids to swim. It’s great, watch the gate, learn how to resuscitate. We brought it down to three; that you know, the idea of water where’s the safer water, where is the risk with the water; and you look for the risk in your home, the risk in your community, the risk when you travel you have different bodies of water all around the world and lots of it. So, just being able to broaden your understanding and perception of risk makes such a huge difference. You have the backyard pool, here’s where the pin comes in and the alarms and the gate latches all these things. The barriers though, are not going to help you when you’re down at the beach. Now, you need to understand some of the risks associated with open water, rip currents, hi surf, water temperature. Every year, there’s victims of hypothermia that just didn’t understand. So, education is really what our foundation, which is now called Stop Drowning Now, it’s all about educating the public about the risks associated whenever you’re in, on or around the water.
Eric: Why did you guys decide to change the name from Safer 3 to Stop Drowning Now?
Johnny: Well, Safer Three was the first message, and we created that in 2002 when I was president of the U.S. Swim School Association. And, we were looking, as part of our strategic plan, to create a national message for drowning prevention, because as you know, there are so many different facets and different areas have different emphasis. So, we came up with the idea of the Safer Three, as I’d explained about recognizing the risk, but it wasn’t an organized foundation until 2004 when we incorporated. And, we were trying to make it part of the U.S. Swim School Association, but it really was, we had to separate it. We needed to be able to have it available for all organizations, all communities around the world. So, we coined the phrase ‘Swim for Life Foundation’ and the message was still the Safer Three. And, there was confusion you know; well are you Swim for Life or are you Safer Three, you know. So, a few years later, we decided to make the foundation name that of the program of the message ‘The Safer Three Water Safety Foundation’. But, a few years ago, our board decided to change the name to reflect more of the cause of what we’re doing. Safer Three is a wonderful explanation of how you can formulate strategies depending on where you are anywhere in the world, to take this global problem and reduce it to a low or even a familial level of prevention. And, we came up with ‘Stop Drowning Now’ based on a banner that we saw at the Houston children… at the mall, at the Galleria in Houston where we had our strategic planning meeting, it was for stop cancer now for Children’s Hospital there. And, we thought that’s it, and so, we made our third name change and Safer Three is still the message. And, we’ll talk a little bit, hopefully, about the curriculum that we’ve been able to create and is about to launch within the next couple months so, yeah.
Eric: Yeah, so tell me about the curriculums, go ahead.
Johnny: Well, we’ve been closely associated with the National Drowning Prevention Alliance, we’ve been one of the major sponsors from the beginning and invested a lot of our time and resources because we understand the value of bringing all these different organizations together and the strength of the synergy and the energy of this diverse group is huge.
Eric: And, you’ve been a board member and past president, and your wife is currently a board member as the treasurer a few years ago?
Johnny: Oh, it’s just been a wonderful association and you know, we draw tremendous inspiration from the families United, those that have lost loved ones to drowning and how they’ve turned their grief into advocacy and the efforts that they’re making and trying to bring everyone together with this unifying message. We have to educate, but we also have to change the procession, the public perception of responsibility for prevention and that, I think, is really the biggest challenge. But, during my time with the NDPA board, we was with the Virginia Graeme Baker, pull Safety Act was passed and I know you had Scott Wilson on few weeks ago. And…Yeah, tremendous session with him, by the way. The NDPA was awarded a… I think 1.2 million dollar grant… to create some educational programs. And, I took the lead on developing a preschool curriculum that would really teach children about the risk of drowning and do it in such a way that it would not just be a one symbol single bullet Silver Bullet message. Rather, a ten-hour course that would be taken in school and it was developed for pre-k through second grade, and we launched it, It was piloted great response. But, we found that it really was maybe a little bit above that grade level, so we Stop Drowning Now, the board put together a team; actually it was the sister of our president, Jim Spears, and one of her teaching friends and in San Antonio and Austin… rather San Antonio… that put together the current version which is some 223 pages, I believe, over 20 hours and very exponential… experiential. The kids are not just being told they are doing while they learn, and a lot of take-home materials. It’s still for pre-k through second grade and we’ve actually condensed it down to where there’s also a one-week version, a five-hour that could be used in schools or in the organization, Park and Rec robe summer programs, homeschooling. But, it could be a safety Week and also for those that just are looking for an assembly taking the same concepts of the Safer three in down to a safety day. So, the challenges we encountered across the country where some school districts are very high-tech like where I live here in Southern California, our school district, they have to have a program that the kindergarteners can put into their iPads and right over teachers with the workload that so many of them have. But, then there’s other schools that are happy to have the hard copy… the binder with all the materials and print up the activities that they have. So, we’ve invested, you know, nearly eighty thousand dollars into an upgrade which will not only put the curriculum into a platform that can be used electronically, any version that they really need. The company that’s doing this will incorporate, redo our whole website. So, it’s just going to be an amazing tool for educators for families for anyone that’s working in water safety, and again, for this particular age group. And, this is something that Blake Collingsworth from Joshua Collingsworth Foundation has been crusading for years, is that we have to have the generational approach to educating, not just the parents. But we start with the kids, and not just one assembly but it’s over and over again, you know. From pre-k, again in kindergarten, hearing the same message with a little bit more information each year, that we’re going to have a generation then people that have grown up, understanding that there’s always risk whenever you’re in on around the water and that safe can become unsafe in a heartbeat, which I think is something that most people tend to, not ignore, but not dwell on. They don’t want to think about possibility of losing a loved one. So, realizing that there is risk, looking at the ways that they can reduce that risk, using a formula like the Safer Three where you look for the risk with the water in your lives, people in your lives, and then the response capability that you possess, then you can create a personal family recipe for prevention that makes more sense for someone in South Florida than for someone in Lincoln Nebraska, or someone in Portland Oregon or Danang South Vietnam. The risks are the same, there’s always risk. I shouldn’t say they’re the same, they come in different forms but it’s the same basic overall elements that are gonna be there. I get along…Eric sorry…
Eric: No, you’re perfect, that’s great, and I agree hundred percent and I love the generational approach. You know, anybody who has kids has been reminded to put their seat belt on by their five-year-old, right. You know, I remember coming home after learning about energy conservation and the environment and, you know, making sure my mom turned the lights off in rooms we weren’t in, right. And so, you know kids are instrumental in getting parents to adopt these safety things in the parents and grandparents exactly right. I had someone on the show the other day talking about they had done talking about drinking and driving in his kids class, and you know, he was on his way to a barbecue and picked up a 6-pack from the, you know, whatever… it didn’t… wasn’t gonna drink if he had it, you know, in the backseat or whatever. And, his daughter was like, “oh no, you can’t” he was like “no, no we’re not drinking it. I’m just driving it to the barbecue, its fine.” You know, but yeah, its kids get it and you know,
Eric: I think that generational approach is, you know, the only way. So, that way when they grow up, they become… it’s ingrained, right. It’s
Johnny: Absolutely, ‘Educate to Eliminate’, that’s the slogan of the Stop Drowning Now foundation and part of that education, like we said as the generational approach, that kids will learn it, they will share it with their parents, hopefully, and many of the activities require parental involvement. For example, a scavenger hunt in the home looking for things that have potential risk. Yeah, it’s just a wonderful, wonderful program and we’re extremely excited about trying to get schools across the country involved. There’s several pilot programs that are taking on now, and we’re just extremely excited.
Eric: I mean, in your lifetime, you can remember I’m sure, cars without seatbelts you know, and right for a long time and, you know, but a lot of people growing up today couldn’t imagine a car without a seatbelt. They would think it was something wrong with it; they would be really thrown off and, you know, I have the hope that, you know, a pool without some kind of fence around it or a barrier or alarms has the same kind of visceral reaction to kids, future adults eventually, as a car without a seatbelt as now, you know. It becomes still terrible that, you know, if a pool doesn’t have a fence, there’s something really wrong, you know, why doesn’t your pool has a fence around it…
Johnny: You have to have a pool, you better know how to swim.
Eric: Exactly, 100 %, right.
Johnny: So, each one of these elements Eric, you know, we’re on the same page. Every tool should have a fence; every child, every person should know how to swim. Yeah, you’d have the personal skill most to preserve their life in the water and enjoy the wonderful benefits of …that the water brings to our lives. But, understand that with that ability comes the responsibility to reduce the risk.
Eric: And then the safer response too, right, the CPR. What else do you include in safer response besides CPR?
Johnny: Well, it’s something as simple as mm-hmm the 911 protocol. And, funny story here; one of our friends Andy Brito in South Florida was doing a little session with some four-year-olds, and this is when cell phones were just coming on in their popularity, and they had a simulated pool with a blue tarp and that yep Susie fell in the pool, what would we do? And, someone said, call for help. And then she said, how about the phone? And the little girl said, dial 9-1-1, press send. So yes, the times have changed a little bit, but safer response would be the preparedness, and the ability to react in case of an emergency knowing who to call as far as emergency, our professional emergency responders, knowing rescue techniques, there’s always the debate on the ‘reach throw, don’t go’ concept with older children, older siblings, for example, that’s seven or eight year old, should they jump in the three-foot part of the pool to rescue the 18 month old sibling? You know, you can say no, they shouldn’t; they should call for the parents. But, if you know you’ve got a seven or eight year old that can stand up there, then certainly they should go in after them. But, it’s always a matter of finding the safest way to respond to the emergency. So, the reach, throw, don’t go concept is part of it
Eric: You mind telling a dad who’s watching his kid drown the ocean not to go swim for him. I mean that’s
That’s right, that’s something we ask parents not to do but the parental instincts, we see it every year it’s such a tragedy. It goes back to you know, having the personal skills to preserve your life and those of your loved ones in the water. We’re not all gonna be professional lifeguards but you know, you got to know your limits. Be understanding of rules you know, that’s part of you know pool ownership and if you’re going to go to the water, understand the risks understand the safety precautions that should be there and respond accordingly. So, it’s not just responding to the emergency, it’s responding to the situation you’re faced with, and understanding where the risks are and what you’re going to do to have a safer experience.
Eric: No, it makes a lot of sense and you know, it is hard to tell someone not to go after their kid, right. I mean and you wonder how effective that messaging is, right, in a real-life scenario you know. Maybe he intellectually knows that he shouldn’t do this but, you know, is he gonna sit there and watch his nephew drowned in a pool or in an ocean, it’s a tough call.
Johnny: Yeah, that it was so interesting one of our NDPA conferences years ago, the keynote speaker was talking about the diversity in the audience and the energy…that synergy of diversity brings to the effort of water safety. And, she actually contacted a numerologist to try to calculate the possible number of factors that could go into a drowning anywhere in the world at any point in time, and the number she came up with was 12 million; that if you think about it, I mean this is everything from time-of-day did, when was their last meal, you know, swimming ability, everything. But, how do you craft a drowning prevention message to an audience what are you going to tell them for that many factors and that’s part of the beauty of the National drowning prevention Alliance, is that you’ve got that diversity, however, it’s also one of the greatest challenges of that organization to bring everybody together. And, you know, I’ve used the analogy of everyone’s shining a flashlight in the dark trying to find the safety messages and that they’re all going different directions. You’ve got wear life jackets, learn CPR, put up fences, learn to swim; all these different things are separate messages. Well, I thought wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could get them all focused like a lighthouse, lighthouse beacon our stop drowning out… president Jim Speer came up with the analogy that we’re all in the same competitive swimming pool, but each in a different Lane, but we’re all going in the same direction. So, that’s part of, you know, what the NDPA is all about, bringing safety messages together. And again, that’s where we feel that the Safer Three message offers a formula that deals with the overall broad picture of recognizing risk and coming up with ways to recognize the resources that are available to reduce that risk. Whether you’re dealing with open bodies of water, closed bodies like a backyard pool or spa, bathtubs, in the home, buckets, everything it’s about the risk, taking this global problem and bringing it down to the local level where prevention has to be addressed. And, we’re making headway
Eric: That makes so much sense. I mean, you really… I can’t think of a better way to address it holistically than that, you know, it makes a lot of sense. So, I mean, you started swimming at Blue Boy at 11 you said, right? Did you know as a kid that that’s what you wanted to do? You wanted to…
Johnny: Well, it was from that. My dad was in the Marine Corps, so my first swimming experience was at the Marine Corps Air Station, El Toro, was longer in existence, but that was in 1953, right. About 20 other five-year-olds shooting, hanging on the side of that frigid pool, no pool heater with the Marines on the deck with bamboo poles. And they would just guide us around and shake us off and kick, kick, kick back to the side. But, I had very limited swimming experience because we moved from California right after that to Massachusetts, and I think I was in a swimming pool two different times in four years. But, my swimming was at Lake Pocono paga in Connecticut, but when we came back to California, I took a Red Cross program city of Santa Ana and then my mom got me into Blue Boy where I started on the little swim team. So, I had no aspirations of being a champion swimmer or devoting a life to aquatics, I wanted to play golf… I was in the Junior Golf Association… but mom kept making me swim. So, thank you mom, I appreciate it. You’ve given me a lifelong passion and then incredible chance to help people around the world so, hats off to you. We lost mom four years ago, but she loved swimming and just… loved she loved golf too, but I’ve been like said teaching for 51 years now and we’ve experienced a lot of benefits through that association of swim schools and water safety groups. We’ve traveled the world, have seen a lot of different methodologies and philosophies but all people with the same passion. And, that’s part of what we’re gonna be doing in Australia in a couple weeks, just bringing together all these leaders in the industry, if you will, and sharing and trying to come up with ways that can help reduce the drownings.
Eric: So, talk about your competitive career for a while, because I know you did competitive swimming and I know that you did pretty well. But, I don’t know too much about it and I always wanted to.
Johnny: Well, I was fortunate to swim with Mel and Doris Maxwell at Blue Boy for a year and then my dad had been overseas at that time. He came home, we moved to San Diego and I was introduced to the Coppola YMCA where my coach there was a young marine from the Marine Corps Recruit Depot and it was his first USA swimming, AAU club. And, he’s gone on to be a Hall of Fame swim coach, Jack Simon, okay listening to this, how you doing Buddy? Jack is a wonderful man and living in Mexico now, but he is traveled the world, you know, in helping establish competitive programs. I was not one of his champion swimmers; in fact, I used the line that Jack would say, “There goes Johnny, he may be small but he sure is slow.” I never broke in it in 100 free and, but I have the distinction of one of my students holding the fastest time in history for the hundred meter freestyle, Jason leave Zack in the Beijing. Incredible four by 100 freestyle relay swim that he chased down, Alain Bernard from France to bring gold back to the United States. So, it’s been a wonderful time, I enjoyed my six years, swam in high school in Hawaii at Radford high school for three years and also ran track but enjoyed swimming. But, it was not a passion and it was when I started teaching that I truly found something that was fun, I was pretty good at and 52 years in hell, I’m into my 52nd year. I think it said and it’s just so wonderful that something that brings you such joy and validation for what you’re doing can become a decade-long profession.
Eric: When did you know that this is what you’re doing?
Johnny: I’m not sure, we just rolled with it. Cindy and I were married when we’re both pretty young and it was just something I did in the summers and I taught scuba for a couple years. After a while, Mel realized that, you know, I needed to expand my hour, so three months- four months turned into six, I was coaching a swim team at Blue Boy at the time and not doing a lot of lessons but it eventually evolved into more year round work and, we bought into the business the hours expanded to where, you know, it’s been full-time for many, many years now, and I still love going to work. I was in the water yesterday and it’s just an amazing thing. You’ve seen a lot of my Facebook posts with the children I’ve been blessed to be able to work with and the adults. So, it’s really fun. I’ve had the opportunity to coach high school swimming, both my boys coach for almost 15 years at Villa Park high school, both swimming in water polo. I’ve coached age group program socal aquatics in the seventies and a couple smaller clubs have been truly blessed with being able work at all the different levels, from teaching not only children, but teaching teachers. We’ve worked with special abilities children, we’ve worked with underprivileged, we have a program that we’re doing right now with Orange County rescue mission children from their village of Hope where we donated some full time, our staff and we partner with the local assistance League and their team program, the assist teams, where these middle school and high school boys and girls are giving their community service hours and we’re teaching them how to teach these kids that may have never had the opportunity for swim lesson. So… and that was the program that we were able to start five years ago, when Princess Charlene of Monaco looked us up and she was going to California for an event. And, she had an experience with a city in Africa, North Africa, where there had been some drownings and she wanted… she has a drowning prevention foundation as well. Well, the other hand as a Olympic swimmer from South Africa, she competed in the Sydney Olympics in 2000. But, she’s created an incredible array of ambassadors, including Dara Torres, who was familiar with Blue Boy. And at any rate, they reached out to us and wow! Is this real? And, sure enough it was, and we wound up bringing in the children from the village of hope and Princess Charlene did a lesson with them, she and Darrin and our staff. And then, we incorporated that into our safer three water safety challenge which is one of the events that our foundation has created, and we’ve had tremendous success with other organizations hosting these. This is an opportunity for aquatic facilities to host an event where the community can come in. And basically, it’s a chance to assess the family’s abilities with water safety and following most of the Safer Three elements; can the children demonstrate the ability if they fell in the pool to recover their balance and get back to the side of the pool unassisted. Either fully clothed or in swim school suits. I can… they float on their back for at least 30 seconds, can they swim short distances from 20 feet across the small – like ours at the sub school to distances of up to a mile, can they tread water, can they demonstrate how to swim in a lifejacket that has been shown how to be properly fitted, can they demonstrate reach throw don’t go and can they demonstrate CPR which are all stations during our safety challenge, and, this is an event that we just hosted last month or in April, Blue Boy and it’s a wonderful opportunity for schools. And, if anybody’s interested they can go on our website, stopdrowningnow.org and look up events and water safety challenge with the whole packet of information on how to plan one. And, it’s like our curriculum where you can do the full spectrum that we try to do at Blue Boy, or you can condense it down and just use elements of it, but these are all skills that are typically taught in any learn-to-swim program. The ability to get back to the side, to float and to swim. And, drowning is the inability to breathe in water or some liquid and learning to swim with the ability to recover the breath is something that we’re all teaching. So, it’s a great way to package it and involve the community, local fire departments, any other water safety groups. We brought in fencing companies demonstrating that barriers are a big part of water safety as well. So anyway, where were we?
Eric: How do you think someone who just are as large listen?
Johnny: Well, this is a question that’s been bandied around for many decades.
Eric: I know as a trap, I’m sorry.
Johnny: No, that’s okay. ur personal view is that if you can get a child into the water before they learn to walk, you can begin establishing a foundation that will allow them to develop the skills to preserve their life in the water. We place a high premium on being able to enjoy their life in the water, so we’re talking about the emotional side of, you know, the amount of stress or anxiety that a child may encounter in the lessons. And then, to be able to give them the skills to reach their full potential as an athlete and you’ve read through our little bio, we’ve had eight students that have become Olympians throughout the decades, or in water polo foreign swimming, and another that held the world record for the English Channel swim for 11 years so that not being our goal teaching children you know to live in the water. You often hear about survival lessons that, you know, certainly the ability to preserve life in the water is paramount, but there’s a whole broad interpretation of the word survival and we have taken a very, what we consider, ‘developmental approach’ at Blue Boy to developing this foundation, and we compare it to the way a young child is developing on land in the first three years of their life, where 90% of their brain development is taking place and the amount of stress that these children are subjected to in any facet of their life definitely affects the memory processing and how their personality can be altered because of that amount of stress; the amount of nurturing that they receive as an infant. There was a very interesting study done when there was a large influx of orphans coming from Eastern European and from the Asian countries, that these babies had never had physical contact. They were always left in their little incubator cribs, whatever, very minimal physical contact and the families that adopted these children found their words really a strong challenge for them to get these kids to trust and to interact with other children and basically, developing what we would consider, you know, a normal well-rounded personality. So, stress no matter whether it’s chronic minor stress or traumatic event type stress, impacts the brain development. So again, back to the developing the ability to live in the water. We want them to have again, the personal skills, the water safety skills. But, we feel that their inherent in how the skills are developed or how children learn to swim. Like I said, the ability to breathe is huge. We teach the children to have a foundation of breath control which allows them to get underwater, balance control which is really the biggest element to consider. And then, finally, how they move; game much like a baby learning to crawl on land. There’s, you know, six months getting ready to crawl which in, basically, the child is opposing gravity and in that process, they learn to move in certain ways where they can maintain equilibrium leading to the ability to stand. And now, they have a whole new system of equilibrium control based on a center of gravity having their head above their feet and their hips above their feet, and when they can control that line of balance, then the whole spectrum of movement that becomes our life on land evolves; running, climbing, jumping, all the things we can do, all the activities, all stem from that foundation of balance control in the vertical plane when we bring a child into the water. Now, it’s a little bit different because our bodies are 70% water; whatever is below the surface only weighs about 10% of what it does on land. But, that part of the body that is above the surface is exposed to 100% gravity influence, so it has the full weight. So, the brain is being subjected to a whole new set of stimuli that they have no background, no response for. So, it’s a process where they’ve got to be exposed to it gradually and if a child is just carried around the pool and never allowed to go under, they’re never going to experience that complete weightless effect of getting below the surface where that 10% of body weight basically is erased because of the air and the lungs. So, we’re really looking at three areas of balance.
And I don’t want to run off here, but yeah, you have land balance, you have balance and then you have the combination of both which we encounter at the surface where it’s a bobbing balance, part of the body is above. Under the influence of gravity, whatever’s below is under the influence of buoyancy. So, if we can get a child comfortable, going underwater holding their breath and breath control is quite a bit different in the water than it is on land right now. You’re breathing in and out through your nose, I’m breathing in and out through my mouth because I’m talking, but in the water, you have to have a blended control. There’s times when you will actually hold your breath which is early on, and then you learn to exchange the air. But, not in and out through the nose like we do, right now, but out through the nose, whenever you pass through the surface in through the mouth. This is one of the biggest challenges for my nervous frightened adults that come in. They’ve never learned to blow bubbles out of their nose, and it’s as simple as humming; that sound is air and in the water it turns into bubbles and those bubbles prevent water from going into your nose and causing the discomfort that so many adults have experienced. But, the breath control allows us to get the child underwater where the brain begins to assimilate all these experiences, and that’s what I think many programs, either because they don’t have the opportunity to teach year-round or they just don’t understand the principle of sensory integration, which is the assimilation of the experience and learning to swim is sensory integration. As a developing infant, they’re like little sponges. Everything they experience is being imprinted and the more positive, the more enjoyable the experience, the greater the neural pathway being created is, and that becomes a learned experience. This is where the question of how much stress they should be subjected to comes into play, because if they get, you know, too much stress, the body releases the emergency and in the amygdala part of the brain, that Oregon, it’s part of our survival, our freeze-fight-or-flight syndromes. We see the production of cortisol and adrenaline that puts us into a high alert for we’re dealing with the emergency that’s coming up and that compromises that development of the neural pathways. It can actually break down some of them. On a whitehead from Tempe Arizona, and swim kids there is written a couple books on movement and child development in the effects of stress in all their development.
But, it’s just a subject that I hope will see more attention, not so much the age of when children start, but you know, how they’re being subjected to the instruction. And, it shouldn’t be like outward bound for adults, you know, learning to survive. It should be learning to live and the water safety is still the single most important part of it but it can be accomplished with enjoyable positive reinforcement and teaching a child to trust not only the teacher but themselves in the water, and learning that there is risk, they learn how to deal with that risk but in a manner that you might use in the home too. How do you teach a child to negotiate stairs at nine months when they first started crawling? And you just help them the way they scoop down the stairs. It’s all about reducing the risk through, a manner that will not endanger the child either mentally, physically or emotionally. But, the age you know, we love to see kids begin, you know, anywhere from three months to six months. We like to have the next strength to support the head in the water. But, we’ve had some family members and some of our teachers that I’ve actually had the child in the water. The youngest is my good friend, Jim Turner, from the Newport Beach lifeguards, use a battalion chief for years he’s now working at Lake Mission Viejo. But, I thought Jim’s wife to swim back in the 60s and all four of their children. Their youngest daughter, Maddie, got in the water with me when she was three days old so… but you know that’s not formal lessons but it’s a return to the womb and if it’s done in warm water in a fairly quiet calm situation, you know, these kids can be introduced to the water. And, the beautiful thing about starting before they learn to walk is that you afford them the opportunity to have a parallel development taking place; their life on land, where they’re learning to move independently, opposing gravity, and their life in the water where they’re learning the differences between controlling themselves at the interface the surface where gravity and buoyancy meet, and below the surface when they’re weightless. And, that is truly a return to the womb; the developmentally, the benefits are huge, they have physical benefits of working against more resistance… the hydrostatic pressure of the water gives them this tactile stimulation that they can’t receive on land moving against resistance increases muscle tone the pressure of the water increases circulation and being in the buoyant state is giving their brain this dual perception of balance and it’s just amazing the study in Griffith University in Australia shows that there’s higher intelligence in children that have begun swim lessons early.
Eric: That’s really cool, I’ve never heard this concept of, you know, the buoyant and non-buoyant, the dual balance that’s… it’s really fascinating stuff.
Johnny: Well, I had the benefit of, again, being mentored by Mel Maxwell who was always thinking outside the box, if you will, but I like to think that he was insightful when he was exploring every facet of that box, right. His philosophy was that we’re going to meet the individual needs of every child, and that ** was one of the first programs that took the large group type setting that you typically found and learn to swim with school-aged kids and started bringing it down to lower ages. But, we had a pretty sure Mel said we were one of the first warm water pools you know over 90 degrees. And, you know that’s just a norm now, you know, 88 to 90 to 93 degrees, depending on ambient temperature, is what’s necessary for working with infants and toddlers in a truly optimal setting weight, we lose body heat in 80 degree water at the same rate we do in 40 degree air temperature. So, unless you’re very active, an 80 degree heated pool is very cold. So, it’s uh… there’s a lot to it but you know, I’ve been blessed by working with a lot of very influential and knowledgeable people and I never stopped learning. They try to learn something new every day.
Eric: What should a parent look for if they’re going to choose this one school?
Johnny: Cleanliness, the atmosphere and is it family-oriented, is it cold and businesslike, you know, or children crying, why are they crying? Are they laughing, why are they laughing? You know, it’s like any parental decision making; it needs to get into the limbic system of the brain which is also part of the grounding prevention messaging. But, it needs to feel right, and you can make decisions based on location, on price, on convenience of scheduling. But, you’ve got to have a good gut feeling that this is some place where you feel your child is going to be safe and have a safer learning experience. But, everyone will make their own decision, you know, there are what I consider very aggressive programs that I cannot, you know… we choose a different path but the parents will make the final decision, and again, we have encountered families that have lost loved ones and they will do anything to see that from happening to, you know, other siblings that they may have other children. Yet, we’ve had families in our program that have lost children and they’ve chosen to take the path where they want their child to not only have the skills that will preserve their life in the water, but they want them to live in the water, enjoy that water and learn the responsibility. So again, it’s a personal decision made by every family and I never try to, you know, point one way or the other, other than saying look at what’s out there and don’t just rush to judgment, you know. There are a lot of ways to teach children to swim and not every child is the same like Mel said, you meet the individual needs of each child because everyone is hardwired differently. And, they’ll have cautious children that really need a very soft approach longer-lasting where they can build their confidence and you’ve got other hard chargers, you know, are gonna be your ex game athletes and they can handle anything. So, it’s a very personal decision but I think parents need to understand that there is a wide spectrum of opportunities to learn to swim, not in every community so that’s another consideration.
Eric: Are there any red flags to look out for of things that if you see, you know X, Y, Z you know, watch out?
Johnny: Well, you know personally, I just …you can get quick results with children that are, you know, maybe over the age of four, and they can handle a little more stress. But, I still don’t think they should be subjected to it, but they can learn in a quicker format. So, the programs that say we’re going to teach your child to swim and, you know, three easy swim lessons or one week or whatever, if that’s a toddler that, I just don’t think it’s going to happen, not to what we consider the optimum goal of teaching a child to truly love the water, to trust themselves in the water, but to respect the water. And, if it’s just a knee-jerk reflex that they’re being conditioned to and there’s too much stress involved, that’s detrimental to the child’s neurological development, their emotional development, and they may learn to struggle across the pool or flip over on their back, you know. That doesn’t matter, it’s the ability to control their balance and their breathing and movement in the water in an emotional state that’s calm and entrusting. Yeah, it’s all a struggle, it’s… I don’t know, it’s like putting an adult on rollerskates for the first time on a boat. And, if it ** and foundation building, particularly with children under the age of three, just such an incredible opportunity to enhance their lives and, you know, we never lose track of the importance of safety and drowning prevention, believe me. And yet, I know, the joy that skill and the water can bring to families, the confidence and the physical benefits are huge. So, I just hate to see a child lose that opportunity and the red flags will come from the limbic system in each parent’s brain if they are not comfortable with what they see, and there’s an opportunity to visit somewhere else, they said should certainly take that and then weigh the differences and where they feel most comfortable, absolutely on it.
Eric: Yeah, we’ve been… the time flies are having fun and I know you need to get to San Diego. Is there anything you wanna …one last thing you want to let people know before we wrap this up?
Johnny: Well as far as water safety, you know, I mentioned that the generational approach is huge but changing the status quo understanding of their responsibility for grants. Invention, that’s the other challenge. I **with Stop Drowning Now, we’re trying to basically conduct a two-pronged attack you know, the generational approach where we’re involving families but also changing the way people believe their role and responsibilities are for water safety. And, I would just like to recommend a gentleman called Simon Sinek, and this is back to the limbic system you know. He believes that decisions are made whether it’s to buy a product, to enroll a child in a particular activity should be based on, ‘does it feel right’, Is it something that, you know they can believe in? If they’re just looking at the what the price the options on the computer or the… you know, they may not make the decision based on those but it’s got to feel right and it’s got to really make a difference but read the book and there is a TED talk with Simon Sinek on start with the ‘Y’ this was the Epiphany that I had with trying to get people to realize number one, there is risk. Yes, it can happen to them; we come up with the phrase safe can become unsafe in a heartbeat. That’s what most people don’t realize, so many of the drowning events that happened, the first thing the parents say, we never thought it would ever happen to us until we became any of the other people; that we’d always thought it happened to. So, if you understand that there is risk, then you are more receptive to the messaging that’s out there? Whether, it’s the pool safely campaign, where you’re gonna deal with backyard tools or the broader approach or the Safer Three message where you’re looking for the risk and instead of having someone tell you here’s your safety tips, that you’ll say yeah, I understand those but not do anything. Have them grasp the reality that wow, this could be us, and then asking what can we do to keep this from happening to us. Then look for the resources, they’re already out there it’s not rocket science. It’s just bringing it together in a simple message and realizing that this is important; important enough to make changes in our life and our behavior and put up that fence, learn to swim, take those CPR lessons where that lifejacket. Anyway Eric, thank you so much for this opportunity. I just have so much respect for what you’re doing, and it’s appreciated.
Eric: Yeah, and it’s a great book recommendation by the way I love, that book I’ve read it. I saw the TED talk… yeah, it’s a good one for sure.
Johnny: We got to meet him sometime and get him to do a common mission.
Eric: Oh, that’d be great, yeah, he’s awesome, you know. I’m a big fan of his so that’d be really cool. All right. Well, thanks Johnny. Enjoy your trip to San Diego, drive safely as I hope you have a safe
Johnny: Thank you so much Eric.
Eric: Alright, thanks Johnny, have a good one