This guide will help you teach swimming lessons to teenage and adult beginners. It is intended to help new swim instructors teach well to a different type of student: adults. Teenagers are included as they are generally mature enough in this type of learning to be similar to how adults learn.
Veteran instructors will benefit from this guide as well.
Need to know 1st
Before you start teaching swimming lessons to anyone there are some basic skills you need to know. Here is a general breakdown and explanation of essential swim skills.
This is the most essential swim skill, and one we base almost all swimming off of.
Notice how the body is straight, the core tucked in close to the spine, and the arms locked above the head. We are looking for three key components to streamline:
- Top thumb locked around the bottom hand.
- Ears squeezed by the elbows or bicepts.
- Face looking at the bottom of the pool (or ceiling on backstroke).
Begin all activities with streamline. Our goal is to create a habit where swimmers always push off the wall in streamline.
Why is streamline so important?
A swimmer will never be faster than when they either dive in or push off the wall in streamline. It is the most efficient and powerful way to move through the water with the least amount of effort. Most swimming strokes get close to or make use of streamline position during the stroke cycle, and use the long narrow body position to maximum effect.
All strokes are based on a straight body with a long narrow reach: essentially using streamline as a base for the more complicated limb motions.
Before any other activity, a streamline should be done first. At any time a participant pushes off the wall our goal is to have that push be a streamline, then a swim.
We commonly use the following way instruction to indicate the importance of streamline:
Everyone will go 3 times. Streamline first, then do three strokes of freestyle. Your goal is to do all three things for streamline, and then once you’re at the surface attempt to do three strokes keeping your face looking down.
The shorthand version of this is:
3 x streamline + 3 strokes free. Goals: 3 things for SL and keep head looking down.
Swimmers should go underwater fist, then push off the wall horizontally. Generally, we want swimmers to travel at least 3-5 meters away from the wall underwater in streamline before they both a) get to the surface and b) begin swimming with arms.
You can use visual images like, “take the elevator down to the basement before you push off in streamline.” This gives a little clearer version of sinking down first before pushing off the wall.
When you are practicing streamlines, or in general pushing off the wall, I encourage you to always begin on the right hand side of the lane. This way you’ll instill a habit of pushing off in the correct place to circle swim. If you have enough swimmers, you can use the rotation method to work on short distance skills (3x streamline + [something else]).
You can call streamline a glide. A glide is where you move through the water not moving your body. Your initial push off the wall provides the movement and you keep your body still, gliding through the water.
Glides are important to teach because it lets the swimmer understand how the water will slow you down. Gliding poorly also clearly shows a swimmer quickly how bad body location can lead to shorter distances. For example: if you push off in airplane position (arms straight out to the sides) then you will not go very far. If you instead push off in streamline, you will travel much farther without any added effort (other than holding the streamline).
We do glides first to create good body position habits. Generally, glides are used to introduce someone to going underwater and learning how it feels to travel forward. Through glides we give participants an easy way to feel the sensation of moving forward and backwards on your back. Swimmers that are uncomfortable going underwater should be supported and you can learn how to provide that support through various hand holds.
Key components of Glides:
- Body as straight and long as possible
- When moving face down, head should point perpendicular to bottom, when moving on back, face should be perpendicular to ceiling or surface (think right angles (90)).
- Legs should be straight
- Kick can happen
- Main force of movement should be from initial push, jump, or extension off of a wall or bench.
- The legs at the beginning when you start the glide should provide the most power to move forward.
- Can be done on surface or underwater.
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What they are, and how they’re different from glides
Glides, streamline, floats, they are all generally the same thing: holding your body in a still position either moving or not. All streamlines are glides, but not all glides are streamline. Streamline is a specific type of glide.
Floats are when you do not move forward or backward, but simply float on the surface, or up to the surface.
We are generally looking for comfort in the water with floats. Most swim programs start with floats and then move on to glides. Swimming Ideas generally uses the term “float” to either mean instructor assisted help at the surface, or remaining near the surface while holding your body in a specific position.
When we teach floats we are looking for the swimmer to comfortably relax in a still body position. The swimmer should be aware of their breath, hold it, and understand how exhaling or holding breath makes their body rise and sink in the water.
For adults and teens you can do back floats, then encourage swimmers to exhale forcefully and let their body relax. See what happens.
They will sink as their air is removed from their lungs.
This is a simple, fun concept you can work on that has a direct result. Don’t tell swimmers what will happen, just instruct them to relax on their stomach or their back, and then exhale and see what happens. They should quickly understand. Encourage swimmers to play around with it and see if they can lay on the bottom without using their hands (if you’re in relatively shallow water).
Key components to floats:
- Body straight
- legs still
- arms at sides in “soldier position” or outstretched
- chest and belly full (chest of air, belly relaxed)
- Head should be relaxed, still
In general we recommend you spend most of your time doing glides and focusing on motion over static non-moving floats. Beyond understanding breath control and air making the body float, time is better spent working either on streamline or glides.
Before teaching you should know the names of the 4 competitive strokes. Here they are:
- Alternate name: Back crawl
- Alternate name: Front Crawl
- “freestyle” literally means: do anything. Front crawl and freestyle have begun to mean the same thing because the front crawl is the fastest stroke, and most often done during the “freestyle” event.
Here are four really solid videos that you should at least be somewhat familiar with. While you by no means need to know all the specific and fine details to angle and arm placement, you should know what they look like, and generally understand the basic movements.
For beginners the MOST important element to each of the strokes is what the core, spine, and head is doing. Exactly how the legs and arms move is not as specifically important as the body and head.
Spend most of your effort on the torso and head position as long as the arms and legs are “generally” doing the correct motions.
Start at the body line, the head position, then move outwards when working on precision.
Approach swimming lessons with these few basic theories about the best way to teach:
- Body line and head position is more important than perfect pretty arm strokes
- Multiple attempts with feedback is better than 1 perfect stroke
- Let your participants try new, different, or wrong things with feedback from the instructor to learn the correct way.
- Avoid expecting perfection without an opportunity to attempt and fail.
The basic framework for your lessons, and all swim lessons provided by Swimming Ideas, is founded on these two theories. We want our participants to make multiple attempts at a skill. Hopefully they make changes each attempt to fine tune or tweak their body to get a different result. If possible provide feedback on every attempt. Give a positive and a corrective.
You can follow the short distance cheat sheet found in the , or the which gives you a format to run your lessons. Have multiple lanes always moving at the same time with short distance skill work. Participants get an opportunity to do a skill multiple times, they rotate among themselves, and require very little training to do many attempts in a short amount of time.
When it comes to actual skill teaching, focus primarily on what the bulk of the body is doing. What are the torso, the hips, the shoulders, and the head doing? Are they still, stable and in line? Or are they all wonky and moving about without specific direction or control?
Begin with the spine, the stomach and chest muscles and then move outwards.
The arms and kicks can be pretty easy to teach if the participant is comfortable keeping their body and head in the correct position.
In general every stroke returns to position 11, and soldier position. If we can master those two body poses, we can pretty easily add on arm and leg movement.
When you are giving instructions do your best go speak in commands. Here are a few examples of commands:
“You are going to do 3 streamlines. Make sure you push off the wall on the right hand side of the lane, and underwater. Remember the 3 things for streamline: 1) Look down, 2) lock your thumb, 3) squeeze your ears. Ready go.”
Commands do not mean mean, or aggressive. Instead be direct and specific. Say exactly what you want the participant to do and achieve. Make this as simple as possible. Do your best to speak using language that is directly tied to an action and removes any extra words.
Read this and see if it is worse or better than the previous command:
“I want you to do 3 streamlines, okay? You will want to go underwater and push off the side on the right hand side of the lane. Uhm, and do the three things for streamline whenever you do your streamline. They are: look down, lock your thumbs, and squeeze your ears. Are you ready? Okay, go.”
I recorded a swim teacher saying this exact list of phrases. While there is command language here, it is not quite as tight and explicit as the first one. Immediately we can see the question at first with the “okay” at the end of the sentence. Remove “ok’s” from the end of your sentences. They turn your commands into questions. Secondly, we see an unsure or uncertain instructor with the “uhm” and the somewhat confusing instruction to push off underwater and on the right hand side of the lane. This is not wrong, but there is a better way.
Give clear commands. Speak in short sentences with specific actions. Be direct and specific. What do the participants need to accomplish in as few words and steps as you can?
Which of these do you think sounds better:
There are a lot of general ways you can set up your lessons for teens and adults. Your goal should be twofold:
- Engage as many people at the same time as possible
- Give multi-step tasks with clear directions and goals.
We treat younger swimmers a little bit differently. Adults and teens can move in the water more than children because of their height. Because adults and teens are taller they have more access to most pools. Without the depth restriction that most children have (can’t touch) we can do a lot more activities in a larger space.
Use these group oriented tactics to organize your classes for the maximum effect.
With the rotation method you can set your participants up in lanes. Put about 3-6 people in each lane at each end of the pool. Ensure that participants can all stand or swim comfortably for their location: can’t swim and need to stand in shallow end, and comfortable swimmers in deeper water.
Each person in the lane pushes off on the right side of the lane, does their activity, then moves over to the other side of the lane, and returns to the line. Swimmers rotate constantly one at a time to keep moving. Swimmers should do multiple attempts of each activity. For example:
- 3x streamline + 3 strokes of freestyle + flip
- 3 x streamline on back + 3 strokes backstroke
- 5 x streamline + 5 strokes FR + 1 breath + flip (only breathe on stroke # 2, 3, or 4)
Rotation setup for a lane (above)
Setup for rotation method for children (with instructor in water (above))
Organize everyone along a line and let them all go from point A to point B at the same time. We would not do this with swimmers that cannot safely stay at the surface. If you have beginner adults and teens do this in the shallow end where participants can both begin while touching the bottom, and finish their activity where they can touch.
For large groups, have 1/3 of the class go first, then the second 1/3 go second, and the last 1/3 go last.
Take a look at this graphic:
With waves, as shown in the red, more people are doing an activity at the same time. This is good for giving swimmers an opportunity to do something and test it out. If you’ve explained something or taught a skill first, use waves to let everyone test it out quickly on their own. It works best when you are progressively building up to a complex skill.
A skill progression using waves:
Each number is a “wave” where everyone does it once.
- Do a streamline with no kick
- Do a streamline, then when you get to the surface do 1 x “11, Y, Eat, and Reach”
- Do a streamline, then do 1 x “11, Y, Eat and Reach” then do 1 BR kick while in position 11.
- Do a streamline, then do 1 x “11, Y, Eat with a breath, then reach,” then do 1 BR kick while in position 11.
Give swimmers an opportunity to do activities in small groups. Let adults and teens work together to accomplish very specific goals. When you do groups like this give detailed and exact activities for them to work on. The more specific, clear, concise, and repetitive as possible you can be the better.
Here are some things you can give a group to do:
- Help a partner do 5 front flips. Let them take a breath each time. Help spin them quickly to simulate a fast flip.
- Last person in each group should stand at the the flags with their hand above the water about 2 feet. The first person should swim past the flags and hit the person’s hand with their elbow as they do front crawl past them (keeping elbows high). Everyone go 3 times.
- Last person hold a hula hoop on the bottom at the “T” mark. The person going does a streamline through the hula hoop. Everyone goes 3 times.
- Mirror swim: one person in each group is the “real person” everyone else is a mirror facing the “real person.” Whatever swimming move the “real person” makes, the mirrors have to mirror (do motion at the same time same side as possible).
Setup pool for small groups
We recommend organizing your pool space for small groups. You can have multiple different locations doing different things and geared towards different activities.
Generally, you will want your shallow end to be focused on activities that require your participants to stand. Put your beginners and learning activities in the shallow end of the pool. You can do challenge activities, body pose activities, and lots of different things that require you to stop and stand regularly.