How Olympic swimmer Nisha Millet is changing swimming coaching in Bengaluru

With her own swimming academy, Nisha and a team of instructors hold sessions for toddlers, kids, adults and senior citizens in nine pools throughout Bengaluru.
How Olympic swimmer Nisha Millet is changing swimming coaching in Bengaluru
How Olympic swimmer Nisha Millet is changing swimming coaching in Bengaluru

When Olympic swimmer Nisha Millet was five years old, she was almost turned away from swimming for life. At a family friend’s home, she was accidentally pushed into a small fish pond. Though she was pulled out almost immediately, the traumatising incident stayed with her.

“I would literally stay away from pools,” Nisha tells TNM.

It wasn’t until a few years later that Nisha finally started to love the water. Under the tutelage of her father, she slowly started to appreciate swimming. He wouldn’t force her to swim or push her into the pool when she wasn’t ready. Instead, he made a game out of it -- dropping coins into the water for her to retrieve, teaching her to use a kickboard.

Her father’s patient guidance, coupled with elements of fun, is what still informs Nisha’s teaching style today.

Before Nisha started learning swimming from her father, she tried taking swimming classes in Bengaluru. But her instructor neither attempted to make her comfortable in the water nor introduced fun activities or games into the sessions. As with so many swimming classes, Nisha was just pushed straight into the deep end.

“By the end of 10 to 15 days, I had learned nothing. That could have really put me off,” she recalls.

Own swimming academy

But ultimately, Nisha didn’t just fall in love with swimming, she excelled at it. In 2000, she became the first Indian swimmer to qualify for the Olympics in the 200-metre freestyle, and represented India at the Sydney Olympics. She has also represented the country in the World Swimming Championships, the Asian Games, the South Asian Games and the Australian Nationals. In 1997 and 1999, she was named ‘best sportswoman’ by the Prime Minister of India.

In 2001, Nisha started training in her free time at the Catholic Club. At the time, her parents had worked hard to finance her swimming career and Nisha wanted a way to help them in return. In 2004, after she narrowly missed taking part in the Olympics, Nisha turned her attention completely to teaching. Since then, through the Nisha Millet Swimming Academy, she has been passing on her skills and knowledge to generations of swimmers in Bengaluru. With her own swimming academy, she and a team of instructors hold sessions for toddlers, kids, adults and senior citizens in nine pools throughout the city, including Kensington Pool in Ulsoor and Catholic Club on Museum Road.

They have also been certified by Austswim, Australia’s national centre for the teaching of swimming and water safety. Some instructors have also completed various levels of Austswim training.

And along the way, she noticed that students were responding marvellously to her style of teaching. “We teach with a lot of passion, with a lot of heart,” she says.

The prices for the sessions vary depending on the program. For example, 15 classes over the summer is priced at Rs 5,900, while competitive classes for a minimum of six months go up to Rs 15,576.

‘We never push people in’

In her years of teaching kids, Nisha frequently encounters parents who assume their child will learn how to swim in just a few weeks. ‘By 15 days, my four-year-old should be swimming across the length of the pool’ is a sentiment she’s heard often.

But it’s important to remember that every child has his or her own learning curve and some will take more time than others. That’s why she tries to encourage parents and kids to continue classes beyond just the summer vacation months.

Maintaining a student-teacher ratio of one to eight, Nisha says her academy tries to give as much individualised attention as possible to each person, whether adult or child. And she isn’t interested in pushing people into the deep end. “Unless you’re teaching proper techniques from Day 1, it’s very, very scary for people to be suddenly thrown in,” she says.

Those techniques include the importance of water safety, various breathing exercises and staying underwater, to name a few. “Those kind of experiences are more important than learning the stroke,” she explains.

Nisha also instructs her coaches to be patient with younger students, especially if they’re scared. And to never, ever force them into the water. “We never push people in,” she says.

Guiding swimmers of all ages

In recent years, Bengaluru residents have turned health conscious and people are starting to understand the importance of exercise, Nisha says. And with the addition of several heated pools to their roster, they’re now able to hold classes throughout the year and maintain attendance beyond just the summer months.

Two years ago, the academy introduced a competitive program for children ages seven to 17 at the Kensington Pool in Ulsoor. Currently, there are 60 kids on the team – known as the Marlins – and they are ranked sixth in the state. Many of the swimmers have also gone on to win national and state-level medals.

Aside from that, Nisha is also introducing new elements at her academy for adults. This week, the centre will launch its first-ever triathlon training program in anticipation of the Ironman 70.3 Goa event to be held this year. The workshop on April 26 and 27 will include instruction from a group of trained experts, including 23-time Ironman competitor Kaustubh Radkar. The sessions will include instruction on open-water swimming, strength conditioning, injury prevention and endurance training for running and cycling.

She’s also planning to start special sessions for pregnant women as swimming is a safe way for them to exercise and stay cool.

From student to teacher

24-year-old Kruthika CR started swimming classes with Nisha years ago and has never looked back. Nisha’s coaching style not only made Kruthika fall in love with swimming, she says, but also inspired her to become a coach.

Kruthika started as an assistant coach and now works as a part-time coach for younger children. Like Nisha, she always introduces a fun element or game into the classes to keep the kids engaged.

“It never felt like a routine workout,” says Kruthika, referring to her classes with Nisha, adding, “She was a very, very patient coach.”

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