The Art of Teaching Swimming

“Pupils arriving for swimming lessons have a right to expect understanding and enthusiasm from their teacher,” says ASA swimming instructor and aquatic therapist Stephanie Dutton.

I recently visited my local pool to observe two new clients who regularly took part in group swimming lessons. To say I was shocked at the lack of interest from the swimming instructor would be an understatement. I am not willing to accept that she was just having an off-day.

Many adults and children are anxious or fearful of water, but want desperately to learn to enjoy their swimming journey. Most of them will book lessons at their local authority pool expecting understanding and enthusiasm from the teacher.

More than 25-years ago, I qualified in England with the ASA as a swimming teacher and since then I have been gaining knowledge to help in my quest to teach adults with skill, knowledge, empathy and humour. My understanding is that a swimming teacher needs to have a proficient knowledge of scientific principles, physiology and psychology coupled with the vital ability to apply them to the individual. A thorough understanding of these elements allows the teacher to work within the physical and mental capabilities of the non-swimmer or swimmer, to adapt the strokes and to achieve a comfort level in every session.

As adults, we can feel emotionally inadequate and this is fully exposed in a swimsuit. So it’s important that adults feel safe before they can relax and learn. People who have had traumatic experiences first have to accept their fear. Then they need to learn how trust themselves in an unfamiliar territory. This takes time, patience and understanding from the teacher.

When teaching adults, the pace must be slow and dictated by the individual or group. The most important skill you need as a teacher is to read the individual’s face and body language and have the empathy to know when to by sympathetic, and when a little pushing is required.

Before learning to swim, the pupil needs to know the fundamentals of breathing patterns above and under the water, how to float prone and supine and regain a standing position in a calm and balanced way. Only when these skills have been taught and the pupil is comfortable can swimming strokes be introduced.

Learning a new skill one needs to be in a relaxed, safe environment, exploring feelings, fears, having fun and learning how to be at one with the water in a happy, calm and balanced way.

As teachers it’s our job to encourage and support the individual or group. We are in this job because we want to make a difference to those people’s lives. If we are to inspire others, we must apply our knowledge and expertise and remain open so we are able to learn from other others and our pupils, and gain experience to pass on to others. Teaching is an art and poetry in motion.

First published in The Swimming Times, August 2007

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