What is the Rock and Water program?

Rock and Water is both a practice and evidence based program: it originates from practice while the effectiveness of the program has been confirmed by many studies, including major scientific studies in the Netherlands (See heading Research).

Objective basic program

Main Goal: To enhance positive development of social and emotional competencies and reduce problems in the intrapersonal domain (how students see themselves) and the interpersonal domain (how students interact with each other).

The intrapersonal domain includes such things as: psychological well-being, sexual autonomy, internalizing behavior, depressive feelings. The interpersonal domain includes: reducing or preventing aggression, sexually transgressive behavior, bullying and being bullied.

This is done by teaching social skills together with peers, in a school setting that involves all students. The motivation and involvement of students is high due to the physical exercises, games and real situations (scenario training) and safe atmosphere in which they are practiced. In each lesson, exercises and games are regularly interspersed with moments of psychoeducation, self-reflection and discussions. Each lesson is concluded with a processing assignment to optimize transfer from exercise to practice. Learning to use the Rock and Water concept gives students a better understanding of social situations and the impact of and on their own behavior. Rock stands for being able to indicate one’s own boundaries, to make decisions independently, to go one’s own way. Water represents communication, being able to listen, look for solutions together, and respect the boundaries of others. As this process progresses, they learn to make informed decisions in social situations, and develop more and more versatile behavioral alternatives.

Target group basic program

The Rock and Water basic program is a universal intervention and targets all students aged 9 to 18, in primary education, both regular and special primary education. Secondary (special) education and intermediate vocational education. This may include special attention to students with specific support needs in their social-emotional development. In addition, several specialization courses have been developed that focus on other target groups (for example, younger childred, grades 1 through 6). See what options are available at the bottom of this text.

Selection of target groups

The Rock and Water basic program is a universal intervention and targets school-aged students from 9 to 18 years old. Despite being a universal intervention, in the case of established psychiatric problems and/or behavioral problems such as high levels of impulsivity, depression, extreme anxiety, aggression problems and autism, it is necessary to decide in joint consultation with the treating expert, (school) psychologist, Rock and Water trainer and parents whether the student can or cannnot participate in classes and/or in an adapted manner. This is to ensure that the Rock and Water lessons do not interfere with ongoing treatment and/or that the student is overloaded or could possibly even experience harmful effects. In practice, however, students are almost always able to participate in classes (in modified form). Examples include: going over the lessons beforehand, working with regular partners, doing observation assignments instead of actively participating yourself, doing individual Rock and Water exercises before class sessions. For a detailed explanation, see (Ykema, 2021, p. 26).

The Rock and Water Institute (RWI) recommends that, if possible, the student not to be completely excluded from classes. Certain solutions do allow the student in question to participate in Rock and Water classes and can prevent a feeling of being excluded. This is consistent with daily practice where students receive extra support for various subjects. The teacher can also refer to: some students get a little extra help in language and math, and so others need a little more help in Rock and Water.

If there is intense bullying in the classroom, to the extent that the safety of implementation of the program and the students cannot be guaranteed, a decision should be made to implement the program in a modified manner. For example, by bringing in an experienced Advanced R&W trainer, and/or splitting the group. For detailed information, see (Ykema, 2021, pp. 26-27).

Signaling function as a by-product

Precisely because many psychophysical exercises are used in the Rock and Water program, the program also has a strong signaling function. Noticeable behavior, such as anxious behavior, not wanting to participate, extremely withdrawn behavior, or fierce reactions during contact exercises, for example, may indicate problems or unknown, undiagnosed issues. In this case, the Rock and Water trainer seeks contact with the (school) psychologist and/or other expert and the parents so that possible problems can come to light earlier and the student can receive appropriate guidance. It should then be assessed (again) whether and in what way the student can still participate in the Rock and Water lessons.

Pedagogical competence

Classes are taught primarily by the own group teacher or PE teacher. Other possibilities are the mentor, internal supervisor, care coordinator or another (qualified) teacher or external trainer who has attended the three-day Rock and Water Basic Training. The Rock and Water trainings are conducted at the working and thinking level of higher professional education. Rock and Water trainers may only teach Rock and Water classes within the pedagogical setting in which they have been previously educated and in their field of work. Thus, the performer already has an appropriate education such as, for example, (PE) teacher etc. This means that they already have the didactic and pedagogical competencies to teach the relevant target group. To clarify, a teaching assistant may indeed participate in the three-day Rock and Water Basic Training, but he or she only acts as an assistant to the teacher and not as the main trainer. In case the Rock and Water lessons at school are provided by an external trainer, the school is advised to always inquire whether the trainer has a Certificate of Conduct and what his/her prior education is. In addition, the presence of one’s own teacher at classes is strongly advised.

Required competencies:

  • Have knowledge of the developmental psychology from school child to adolescent;
  • Have knowledge of structure and content of lesson series for students;
  • Understanding the basic principles of the Rock and Water program, such as the three building blocks, four red threads and the principle of psychophysical work;
  • Be able to perform and demonstrate the practice forms offered to students;
  • Be able to evaluate and interpret implemented forms of work with the group of students;
  • Be able to adapt forms to the age and, if necessary, specific learning or developmental needs of students;
  • Be able to respond appropriately to different student responses to particular exercises.
  • Have insight into one’s own performance to create a positive teaching relationship.

These competencies are worked on intensively in the training.

Through the three-day Rock & Water Basic Training, the Rock & Water Basic Trainer certificate is acquired. The three-day Basic Training includes three consecutive training days with a contact time of 24 hours, of which 20% is theory sessions and 80% is practical practice of (role) playing, exercises, and reflection. During the three-day training, all exercises from the Rock and Water manual are practiced and/or shown and/or discussed. In addition, the aspirant trainer goes through the manual with lesson plans and theory, video scenes and instructional films, for which there is an estimated course load of 40 hours (minimum 12 hours).The training is subject to an 100% attendance and active participation requirement. The manual and accompanying video materials are only available when attending the corresponding training and are therefore not sold separately. Training should be given according to the content and guidelines of the Rock and Water Manual.

For a school-wide approach, there is a One Day Introduction Training (EDIT) for other school personnel to learn the language and principles of Rock and Water and to help support its implementation in school. This also allows the Rock and Water language and principles to be applied outside of Rock and Water classes when communicating with students. In secondary education this support role is not requested given the different, specific composition of teaching and educational support staff: larger group of changing teachers mostly operating in section contexts with few section-wide consultation moments.

Maintaining accreditation

The duration of the accreditation of the certified trainer (obtained by attending the 3-day Rock and Water basic training) is limited. Every four years after obtaining the Rock and Water trainer certificate, one must participate in a Refresher Day or one of the Rock & Water specialization courses. If this requirement is not met, the Rock & Water trainer in question will be listed as inactive in the R&W database and clients can be notified upon request (school board, parents, etc.).

Content basic program

Schools generally choose to implement the R&W program to promote positive development of students’ social and emotional competencies. The initiative for starting the Rots and Water program at a school may be for one or more individual teacher(s) to attend the three-day R&W Basic Training and (in consultation with the school administration) offer the program in their classes. Another starting point may be that the school administration decides to implement the program school-wide. Then enough teachers should be trained (through in-company training) to teach the classes. Other school employees can take the One-Day Introduction Training (EDIT) to be sufficiently introduced to the language and basic principles of Rock and Water. The Rock and Water program is then incorporated as a regular part of the curriculum. Parents/guardians will be informed prior to the start of R&W classes through a letter and/or parents’ evening.

The content of the Rock and Water program is compiled based on the following principles and core content. It is expected that the (sub)goals will be achieved if these are met. Specifically, the sub-goals are expected to have been met if the 15 thematic lessons have been taught in class, or in the case of students 13 years and older if the 24 thematic lessons have been taught in class. Several impact studies on the R&W program show this to be a realistic expectation.

The psychophysical approach;

Psychophysical work means teaching psychosocial skills through physical exercise and (role) play interspersed with moments of self-reflection, discussions and psycho-education. In each lesson, moments of action, reflection and discussions (including psycho-education) are constantly interspersed and complemented by doing assignments to reinforce the transfer (transition) from the training situation to daily practice. Good social-emotional development is important for developing one’s own identity and self-knowledge, being able to make one’s own choices and building social contacts. In Rock and Water, the following two sub-areas have an important place: physical-emotional development and verbal-emotional development. Physical-emotional development occurs through the path of physical action, such as exercises, frolics, (role) play and self-defense exercises. Verbal-emotional development occurs through the path of self-reflection, psycho-education, discussions and processing assignments. Both developmental paths are merged in the psychophysical methodology.

Three building blocks;

  1. Self-reflection: reflecting on one’s own behavior, thoughts and emotions, becoming aware of the physical and emotional effects of one’s behavior on oneself and others, understanding one’s own patterns of reaction and choices that can be made in a given situation. Through the aforementioned moments of self-reflection, more self-insight and self-knowledge are developed.
  2. Self-control and emotion regulation: being able to remain calm in various situations, being able to adjust one’s own behavior, making choices in behavioral alternatives (coping skills), such that one’s own and others’ interests are not harmed; focus on self-regulation/emotion regulation. In the literature, self-control is usually considered part of emotion regulation or, because of the overlap, the terms are used synonymously. Because of the importance given to these skills in the Rock and Water program, they are both explicitly mentioned. Where the focus in self-control is on impulse control, the focus in emotion regulation is on learning how to adequately deal with, and express, one’s emotions.
  3. Self-confidence: knowing and relying on one’s own strengths and abilities, daring to face challenges and difficult situations, being able to take action in stressful situations, being able to show resilience in the face of setbacks and finding yourself worthwhile.

The four common threads of the psychophysical Rock and Water methodology;

The core of the Rock and Water consists of four basic contents recurring in a variety of ways.

  1. Learning to “ground” (stand/sit firmly and relaxed), center (breath in the belly) and focus/concentrate (directing attention).
  2. Development of body awareness, which provides greater insight into one’s own emotions and regulation of them (emotional awareness), offering opportunities for the development of greater self-awareness and the ability to self-regulate (In Rock and Water this is called the Golden Triangle).
  3. Development of physical forms of communication, which initiate and can support the development of more verbal forms of communication.
  4. The Rock and Water concept; experiencing and internalizing two basic forms of self-strength; the hard, immovable “rock stance” versus the agile, connecting “water stance,”: physically, verbally, mentally and socially. Rock and Water symbolizes the following during classes:
Rock (me) Water (us)
I am strong I am strong
I can stand up for myself I can make and keep friends
I can make my own choices We take good care of each other

And in general:

Rock (me) Water (us)
knowing who you are friendship
know what you want affiliation
know what you are doing communication

The Rock and Water language makes these principles easy for students to understand, see the appendix for the Rock and Water quadrant, this clearly shows the positives of both Rock and Water, and the negatives of too Rocky and too Watery.


The full program is practiced in 24 lessons in the manual and structured by themes. The first two classes (Standing Strong and Standing Strong in Confrontation) focus on the basic skills of grounding, centering, focus and breathing that develop a strong and calm standing foundation that remains central throughout the program. Building on this, Part 1 (lessons 1 through 15) covers successively: bullying, communication, the schoolyard, breathing, body language, boundaries, intuition (listening to your feelings), dealing with a threatening group.

And in part 2 (lessons 16 through 24): A welcoming class (the social safety net), breathing, working together, peer pressure, social media, mental strength and concentration, going your own way, sexuality and sexually transgressive behavior, making your own choices (mental strength and inner strength).

Exercise forms:

To do justice to the principle of psychophysical learning, the three building blocks and the four common threads, each lesson consists of different components or forms of practice. Each lesson includes: exercises and (role) play, reflection questions, psycho-education and discussion, and an assignment.

The game formats and exercises are adapted to the developmental demands and abilities of students at different age stages. Teachers should also, of course, tailor the delivery of instruction to the developmental level of the students with whom they are working. With young children, the main emphasis is on playful work forms, games and reflection questions (Part 1). With older students, simple self-defense exercises are also covered and specific topics are addressed (Part 2). Students keep a workbook, which summarizes the lesson content and includes questions and assignments (i.e. promoting transfer to everyday life), mainly focused on self-reflection and self-insight. This includes video scenes for several lessons to support the lesson theme.

Creating a safe teaching situation:

In classes, the focus is on learning in a safe learning environment. For example, the Rock and Water Salute is used at the beginning and conclusion of each lesson, game and exercise. With this, a moment of rest is constantly built in. During the greeting, students first calm down, stand strong and greet each other, promising not to hurt each other in any way on purpose. The greeting contributes to a calm, safe classroom atmosphere that is also constantly monitored and supervised by the Rock and Water teacher. The level of perceived safety is also part of the self-reflection and discussions during class and when completing student assignments.

Efforts are made to practice in almost real, but always safe, situations to allow optimal transfer to daily practice. In doing so, each student has the freedom to indicate whether he or she wishes to watch an exercise at first, before the student participates. It is precisely this freedom of choice and being allowed and taught to set limits that increases feelings of safety and motivation. When this happens, the student receives a simple observation assignment that keeps the student involved in the group but is also respected for making her own choice. If necessary, an additional intermediate step can be created that gives the student the confidence to participate.

The exercises are first properly demonstrated by the teacher with a student. Then the students get to do the exercises together where the teacher, and later the students, give each other positive feedback. The exercises are built up incrementally, from easier to more difficult (shaping). Teacher encourages the application of Rock and Water skills in class e.g. centering and grounding to become calm when taking a test.

School-wide implementation; the Rock and Water school

If the program is implemented school-wide, students will be exposed to the principles of Rock and Water in all school situations, further enhancing the learning effect. Schools that implement the Rock and Water program school-wide and make it a permanent part of the curriculum can receive the Rock and Water school designation. In secondary education, this certificate can also be applied for by building. They must then meet a number of requirements and can be found here.

Refresher days

Refresher days are organized annually by the Rock & Water Institute, during which new insights, exercises and games are introduced and existing ones refreshed. There is also room for questions, concerns and teachers’ own input. The course materials are regularly updated based in part on participants’ experiences and input. Teachers who work with students with special support needs have been closely involved in adapting the curriculum for those groups.

Refreshing old skills and knowledge (insights and research) help to provide good and safe training environments.

Material and information provision

A manual is available with written out lesson plans for Rock and Water trainers and a USB flash drive with video scenes to be discussed with the students. In addition, student booklets, posters, sample certificates, bracelets and key chains are available. Furthermore, instructional materials and a closed forum and facebook group are available for the Rock and Water trainer to exchange experiences. There is also a Rock and Water Forum, a LinkedIn page and the Facebook page for Rock and Water Trainers (over 3,000 members), where experiences and materials are exchanged.

All information in these closed groups is checked for accuracy by the Rock and Water Institute. In addition, certified trainers receive a periodic newsletter.


All training courses are organized, presented and evaluated by the Rock & Water Institute, or by partners under the auspices of the RWI. Training courses are presented by Rock and Water Master Trainers who have at least 6 years of intensive experience with the program, have completed all RW Specializations, receive ongoing coaching and participate in peer review meetings.

The three-day Rock and Water basic training (grade 7 and older)

To offer the Rots and Water program at school, proper training and continuing education is necessary. In addition to being licensed to work in that setting, providing training to students from grade 7 and older (Primay and secondary education) requires completion of the three-day Rock and Water Basic Training. Only through the Three Day Basic Training is the Rock and Water basic trainer certificate acquired.

This certificate is a requirement for most Rock and Water specialty training programs in order to participate in them.

The training includes three consecutive training days with a contact time of 24 hours and in addition an estimated course load of at least 12 hours (ideally 40 hours). This basic training is offered annually at various locations throughout the Netherlands, particularly at the Oudenrijn Sports Center near Vleuten/De Meern (Utrecht), but also in Friesland and Groningen (via FYSYK Wurk), Twente (via Sterk en in Balans), Noord-Brabant, Belgium (via Sjans) and abroad including e.g. Australia, New Zealand, UK, Taiwan, Turkey, Kenya, Peru. After the three-day Rock and Water Basic Training, trainers can develop further by attending one of the many Rock and Water Specialization trainings.

The two-day Rock and Water Primary School training (grades 1 through 6, age 4-9)

Providing Rock and Water training to elementary school grades 1 through 6 (age 4-9) requires the two-day Rock and Water Primary School Training. This includes two consecutive training days with a contact time of 16 hours and also an estimated additional course load of at least 8 hours. During this two-day training, all exercises and games from the program are practiced, or shown and discussed. In addition, participants will receive information on the various developmental stages and tasks for these age groups. To attend this training, it is strongly recommended that you first attend the three-day Rock and Water Basic Training prior to this. However, this is not an obligation.

Various Rock and Water specializations

In order to offer the most appropriate and effective guidance to students with specific problems and support needs, a number of specialization trainings have been developed. Each specialization uses the psychophysical Rock & Water methodology introduced in the three-day R&W Basic Training and supported by a manual associated with that specialization. Most specializations are open only to trainers who have completed the three-day basic training.

There are six specializations.

  1. Rock & Water and autism spectrum disorders with additional and related issues (two-day)*
  2. Rock & Water Focus on Girls and Women (two-day)
  3. Rock & Water and adolescents with intellectual disabilities (one-day)*
  4. Rock & Water and children and adolescents with psychosocial trauma (two-day)*
  5. Rock & Water working with families (two-day)*
  6. Rock & Water and children and adolescents with physical disabilities (one-day)*

*Only open to trainers who have completed the three-day Rots & Water Basic Training.

One Day Introduction Training (EDIT).

The EDIT is designed to introduce entire (school) teams to methods and objectives of the Rock & Water program and is limited to the core of the Rock & Water program. It is the best and fastest way to introduce the Rock & Water program school-wide, and support the already fully certified Rock & Water trainers within the school or organization. It does not train the teacher to provide Rock & Water lessons on their own.

Advanced Training

Through the Advanced Training, teachers are trained to present the One Day Introduction Training (EDIT) to their own school or organizational team. There are the following requirements for participation in Advanced Training:

  • Certified RW basic trainer;
  • At least one year of intensive experience working with the RW program;
  • Participation in at least one two-day RW specialization.

The EDIT is limited to the basics of the Rock & Water Program. The content of this training is prescribed and recorded in the Rock & Water Startermanual. Duration of Advanced Training: two consecutive days and one evening.

Incompany training

All Rock & Water trainings can also be purchased as an in-company training. In-company training provides financial benefits to the school or organization. It is also possible to respond to specific questions or needs from the school or organization. History teaches us that Rock and Water Incompany training has a strong and positive effect on group dynamics in the team (team building). In addition, in-company training creates an equal pedagogical-didactic foundation for all team members that supports and guides thinking and action in educational (and other) situations.


The Rock and Water program can be implemented in all primary, secondary and (secondary) special education schools. The program can be taught in a playroom or gymnasium, but some lesson components can also be taught in a regular classroom. Social-emotional learning is a basic need for all students in the school, in which Rock and Water can be the tool.


Schools in need of additional advice or coaching in implementing and further developing the Rock and Water program within the school can request consultation training from the RWI. This usually involves customized, one-day training that includes room to receive coaching on the job.

For a brief introduction to the Rock and Water program, see the Rock and Water documentary (made by Human Doc, aired NPO July 2014):