I used to dread the first few weeks of swimming lessons; especially the first week. Do you know why? All the parent questions. Yup, I used to be afraid of talking to the parents and was uncertain what I should do when they asked me things like, “Why is Johnny in a group with the little kids?” Back then I had troubles saying things like, “well, he doesn’t go underwater. He needs to be in that group so he can establish that skill first.” I was always worried about the parent fighting me and telling me I was wrong for the choices I had made. What I didn’t learn for a long time was that I could totally remove that fear of confrontation and totally address all my imaginary parent complaints just by talking to them first.
I didn’t really, truly learn this until my interview with Meighan Julbert, MS from The Mind Side. You see, I always went outside and asked if there were questions, or gave all the parents a brief run down of their child’s ability. But I wasn’t preemptively going to the parent observation area and telling them what their kids were doing and why. I didn’t give them any materials (I abhor paper on the pool deck), no flyers, no laminated sheets, nothing. I didn’t even email them most of the time. After my conversation with Meighan Julbert, I learned how important it was to preemptively meet with the parents and give them clear expectations.
Now going into the fall I have prepared PDF to hand out before class begins next week. You can download it now if you want to use it. It is specific to our indoor facility.
Give clear expectations
I’m considering writing down a breakdown of our levels on the back page of this. I haven’t decided yet. They are included in the front with a brief rundown of things we’ll focus on. I’m also going to personalize the reverse side with my contact information and list of swim lessons this and next session. The flyer covers some basics, when to arrive, how the swimmers should wait for attendance then go into the pool area without the parents. It has some language about not talking through the glass, and how it can distract the swimmers from listening to their teacher or paying attention to what is happening in the water.
I’ve boxed out two important things. For beginners we move from bench to bench. I included this because I want the parents to know that we’re not just watching them do things mindlessly, but we have a progressive purpose for the beginner lessons. Sometimes I get questions about why the kids are just walking in circles. This gives them a reason why (movement is good), and provides some illustration on what their kids will be focusing on while we use the benches.
Likewise, the second box covers how we set up the lane and use it for more advanced swimmers. By advanced, I mean anything from level 3, level 4, or swim team. We use this exact same set up for our developmental swim team about 50% of the time. You can get access to all the lesson plans and activities we do in our swim team on trello.com (which is a great alternative for Level 3 and level 4) when you subscribe to the complete swimming program. At the heart here is repetition. We do short distances to learn new skills, then longer distances to demonstrate competency. In a given practice or lesson we might only go all the way across the pool once or twice; usually this is kicking and not full swim. I prefer to swim shorter distances well than longer distances poorly and allow an opportunity to learn bad habits.
So this flyer is designed to provide some general information that should cover many of the initial questions I typically get from parents. It is also intended to provide some insight into the flow and formula for our lessons. Meighan Julbert suggests that you hold a meeting, or provide a guide or plan for your season before it starts to parents so they feel included, so that they feel like they know what is happening. By getting them ‘on board’ you have an ally in your corner instead of a distrustful adversary.
In the absence of communication parents will fill the void with their best guess, which can often be wrong or counter to your efforts.
Whether you’re going to hand out a flyer, send an email, or simply have a short meeting while their kids are in the water, do something. Spend five to ten minutes and prepare a few quick notes about what parents can expect from your swim lessons. As I refine this document and standardize it through trial and error (I’ll be updating it each class based on feedback and questions I get from parents), I’ll make those changes available. Here are some things I think you should include in your own beginning swim lesson expectation form:
- When should people arrive? 15 minute early?
- What will the child do 1st? What will the first or second interaction with someone from your program be? In our program it is taking attendance, then going to your class location.
- How long are your lessons. They should know this already, but worth putting down. Include if you set aside class time for games or free swim (30 minutes instruction, 10 free swim, 5 organized game).
- Explain briefly what a beginner class will look like.
- Explain briefly what an advanced class will look like.
- List some core skills you’ll spend 80% of your time on.
- Your contact information (or a mangers) for questions.
Let me know your thoughts! Are you going to hand something out to your new participants? Do you already have an expectations document, meeting, or email? Share in the comments below, or on social media.