In the Pool

CHERYLL BOISSEVAIN SAYS she has “paddled her way through life.” Boissevain teaches kids and adults how to swim, which she has done for four decades, both at her Novato home and at the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center in San Rafael, where for the last 10 years she has been the aquatics program manager. When did you start teaching? Really in 1974 when we bought our house in Novato. It had a huge down-sloping backyard. I told my husband I wanted to build a pool. He said I was crazy, but we built the pool and I made our money back the first year. I ended up teaching every kid in Novato every summer. Do you still teach while managing the JCC program? Tons. I’m in the water about 10 or 12 hours a week. Babies, children, adults and people with special needs. What do you enjoy the most? I really enjoy working with beginners — and that means adults, too. I like that challenge. Why should someone learn to swim? It’s a lifelong and a lifesaving skill. Everybody needs to learn how to do it. The reward is that you’re healthier and can enjoy all sorts of water recreation. You can swim, you can kayak, you can sail. Who’s the hardest to teach? The perfectionist — both kids and adults. Kids start crying because they can’t do something someone else can. Adults want to do 10 laps immediately. They need to practice. Repetition is key. Can people who are afraid of the water learn to swim? Yes, they can, but it takes them a while. What do you begin with? I try to find a student’s goals on day one. For a child, it might be wanting to go to pool parties. For an adult it might be doing laps. I set up goals for success. If they’re not feeling successful, they’re not going to conquer their fears. What do you look for as you teach? I watch for a lot of body language, which tells it all. You can tell when the muscles are really tight, and you can’t relax when you’re afraid. What’s your best advice for someone learning to swim? Relax and stop thinking about it. Thinking is overrated. It’s all in the feel of the water. Stop thinking and feel what you’re doing.