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The Halliwick Method of teaching swimming was created by James McMillan, an engineer with a particular interest in hydrodynamics, in 1949. McMillan began experimenting with teaching swimming to children with disabilities. He did his work at the Church of England Society Halliwick School, just outside London, which was run for 2 to 18 year-old girls with disabilities. The experience he gained there gave such interesting results that he put his findings together and devised a method known and accepted today as the “Halliwick Method” of teaching swimming. The Halliwick Method was incorporated into the “Logic Approach to Exercise in Water” in 1975 in Switzerland and the Netherlands and therapeutically applied in pediatrics, neurology, rheumatology and orthopedic fields.

The method, founded upon known scientific principles of hydrodynamics and body mechanics, is combined with modern teaching methods which include group work with other swimmers to build upon a swimmer's natural ability.

What Is Needed

·         Any pool that has easy physical and wheelchair access is fine.

·         Wheelchair ramps, special steps or lifting equipment in the pool are not required as even swimmers with a severe disability can be taught to enter and leave the side of the pool without special devices. In most cases, swimmers progress from requiring the assistance of others to being independent.

·         Good use can be made of a range of floating toys, hoops, and diving devices to teach breathing, floatation, balance restoration, etc..

·         Practitioners may assist with the Halliwick Method without credentials. In fact, McMillan enlisted volunteers including high school girls, therapists, parents and members of service organizations. Today, the Halliwick Method still makes use of volunteers to allow a 1:1 ratio between patient and "instructor."

The Development of Teaching Skills

·         Mental adjustment to water

·         Breath control

·         Balance control, including the ability to recover to a safe breathing position

·         A practical understanding of the effects of up-thrust and turbulence and how to respond to them

·         Sculling and the development of basic strokes

Aims of The Halliwick Method


The purpose of the model is to teach water buoyancy and confidence through various kinds of body rotations, floats, glides, and games. Once swimmers are comfortable with the buoyancy force of the water, they can learn swimming strokes by any traditional method.


Ensuring that the swimmer feels secure in the water is critical. This is achieved through mental adjustment activities.

Control of disability

It is important that the individual with a disability learns to maintain body control while overcoming the rotational force of the water.


The Halliwick Method can be applied to individuals of all ages, and with all types and degrees of disability. It is a method whereby all children can be taught to swim, whether or not they have a disability, and is therefore highly suited to an integrated setting.

No artificial aids, such as armbands or rubber rings, which interfere with this adjustment, are used in the method of teaching. Gradually the swimmer becomes independent and the instructor uses a 10-step process to safely disengage.

Halliwick Method: Ten Point Program

The Ten Point Program is divided into four phases. Phase 1 addresses mental adaptation to being in water. Phase 2 deals with the individual's ability to restore balance from all positions in the water. Phase 3 concentrates on teaching the swimmer to master inhibition of unwanted movement and to remain stable in the water, while Phase 4 teaches the patient to move (swim) from that stabilized position.

Phase 1 - Adjustment to water

1.    Mental adjustment - standing to sitting position with support.

Mental adjustment is an important factor through the program but is of paramount importance in the early stages. Familiarization with the new medium of water is best achieved through play. Such play should develop an understanding of properties and characteristics of water, as opposed to those of air, and an understanding of how head movements can alter the body position.

2.    Disengagement - gradual removal of helper's support.

Instruction begins with the teacher and swimmer touching: (a) holding hands during locomotor activities; (b) holding hands, waists, or shoulders in face-to-face and face-to-back movement explorations; and (c) holding hands while being pulled in a horizontal position. As confidence is achieved, the distance between teacher and swimmer is gradually increased. Finally, there is no contact when swimmers can perform activities independently.

Phase 2 - Rotation Control (Balance Restoration)

3.    Vertical rotation control - sit to prone, sit to supine (stand to prone, stand to supine).

The aim of this stage is to teach swimmers to control and create rotation around an imaginary axis running through the hips, so they can regain a standing position from a horizontal position and vice versa.

4.    Lateral rotation control - supine to prone, prone to supine, 360 degree horizontal turn (lateral movement).

The aim of this stage is to teach swimmers to rotate from back to front and vice versa while in a horizontal position. Logrolls are advanced horizontal rotations.

5.    Combined rotation control

The aim of this stage is to teach swimmers to continue the rotations in the two different directions, thus ensuring that they are able to recover to a safe breathing position.

Phase 3 - Controlled Movement in Water (Inhibition)

6.    Up-thrust or buoyancy - teach principles of buoyancy and experience upward thrust.

The aim of this stage is to teach swimmers to trust the buoyancy of the water and to have them experience it. Games like trying to sit on the pool bottom with floating up are used to develop trust of the water’s buoyancy force.

7.    Balance in Stillness - mastering flotation and stability in water in any posture.

The aim of this stage is to teach swimmers to maintain and control the position of their bodies in the water, against any disturbing forces. Movement exploration challenges are used to find different body shapes for floating.

8.    Turbulent Gliding - swimmer holds balanced supine float while passively move through turbulent water.

In this stage, swimmers learn turbulent gliding, a means of progressing through the water in a supine (on back) floating position. Swimmers learn to cope with increasing amounts of turbulence. Swimmers are towed by turbulence that is created by the instructor without touching the swimmer’s body (near the swimmer’s head).

Phase 4 - Movement in water (Facilitation)

9.    Simple progression - begin hand movements & elementary swim movements.

Simple progression is a development of turbulent gliding whereby swimmers create small controlled ‘fish tail’ type movements at the side of their bodies, close to the center of buoyancy. These movements create independent propulsion.

10.Basic stroke - teach actual swim strokes.

A basic stroke movement is developed from simple progression. Swimmers are able to swim in complete safety and are both mentally and physically adjusted to the water.



Swimmers and instructor form a circle and hold hands. Pretending they are rockets starting to ignite, they rock from side to side, without losing balance. As the rockets are launched, all duck under the water as far as they dare, push off from the bottom, jump high out of the water, then regain balance. Swimmers should eventually manage this without holding hands. (This activity helps to teach mental adjustment, disengagement, rotation, up-thrust and balance.)

Fish in the Net

One group of children and instructors form a circle, pretending to be a net. Another group pretends to be fish inside the net. The fish must try to get out of the net. No hole should form in the net. (This activity helps to teach combined rotation.)


  • The Starfish Club - The Halliwick Method
  • Australian Sports Commission (1990). Aussie sports activities manual for children with disabilities (1st ed.). Canberra, Australia: Australian Sports Commission

This content was created by Jang-Rong Cheen,
a Ph.D. student in Adapted Physical Education at
Texas Woman’s University
Summer, 2004.

page last updated 1/3/2017 1:00 PM