7 Essential Training Topics for New and Returning Summer Swim Instructors

Keep your staff on task with these key training topics

1. Never Turn your back on a swimmer

During swim lessons or when you’re in the chair lifeguarding you should never turn your back to a participant. At all times you should have those swimmers in your care within your field of view. I understand that this is no easy task, which is why we’re reviewing it first. When you’re in the water teaching swimming lessons and you have 5 kids moving back and forth, sometimes you’ll turn your back to help one student and not see as a different one falls of the bench or lets go of the wall. If for any reason you can’t see everyone, you need to be able to quickly tun around and look at everyone constantly. Remember, safety is number 1 and should be considered in all things before we even consider techniques on how to lifeguard or teach. Foremost in all of our minds should be “how can we make this safe?”

2. Give commands

We all want to be loved and liked by our swimming participants. Is there anything better than a kid excited to start swimming with you because they have so much fun!? So don’t worry, you will not hurt their feelings when you give commands. Giving clear concise directions will create a better class and produce better results. If you turn your commands into questions then your class will be less inclined to follow your instructions and will subtly not respect you as much. Maintain that clear fun teacher / to be listened to teacher line by issuing commands, but also providing opportunities to have fun and be playful. When you turn on the “commanding” tone participants will be more likely to listen to you when it matters because they are used to the tone and they are used to following your directions. Here is a brief exerpt from our SLI Swim Instructor Training Workbook found in the SLI Complete Lesson Program:

Using Command Language:

Examples of Command Language:

“Ok, we’re going to do this three times: streamline then do 3 freestyle strokes. Streamline ½ way, and use the 3 strokes to get you the other half to the bench. Any questions? Ok, go.”

“Mary, we’re going to do three jumps. Are you ready? Ok, Go!”

 “Johnny, go underwater 3 times.”

“Billy, we’re doing a front glide. Ready, Go.”

Command language is essential for beginning swim instructors to use because it is a simple way to establish authority and control over swim classes without doing anything extraordinary or too difficult. Commands give clear goals, expectations, and directions to a large group of people effectively.

Example of a clear command with alternate choices:

“Billy, you’re going to do 5 streamlines from this bench to the other bench. Each time you go from one to the other it is 1. You have 2 goals: 1) Look down while doing your streamline 2) kick your feet the whole time. Ready? Go.”

In the example the swimmer understands instinctively from the language that he can choose not to kick, or if he forgets because he is focusing on something else, that is okay. His GOAL is to go above and beyond the basics of a streamline and do a strong kick constantly, and be extra sure to look down. The command and instructions are clear and allow for the swimmer to achieve the goal without extra specific steps on when to do each time, how exactly they should push off the wall, etc.

SLI Swim Instructor Workbook

3. Wear Sunscreen

Being outside during the summer comes with a huge responsibility. Not only are you directly in control and responsible for your swimmer’s safety you are responsible for your own. Wear sunscreen to protect your future self from possible pain and health issues. Take the time every day to “slip, slap, slop” a hat on your head, a shirt on your back and sunscreen over all exposed skin. You need to remember that protecting your skin from the damaging sun is more important than getting that good base tan so you don’t burn the rest of the summer (hint: total lie).

Check out here for more information about wearing sunscreen and protecting yourself:


4. Demonstrate by going underwater too!


Does this picture look like the swim instructors really care about the lessons their kids get? From the picture it looks like two high school teachers who don’t want to get their hair wet. They should be down at eye level with their swimmers shoulders below the water line with soaking wet hair. Jump in, go under and get the kids to go underwater with you. Avoid the dry hair blues and disengaged disconnect when the swim instructors don’t actually swim themselves. You can instantly see a class that is more effective, more engaged and more fun just by looking at the dryness of your swim staff’s hair. I am certain that those teachers that put their hair in the water immediately and then continue to do so throughout the lessons will better motivate their students and produce better swimmers as a result. Wet hair teachers are more likely to demonstrate to facilitate learning, more likely to be enthusiastic, and more entertaining and engaged with their students. Make going underwater immediately a priority!

5. Bring 2 suits and 2 towels to work

One thing I hate most about teaching swim lessons is putting on soggy drawers! Yuk! No thank you! The few times I’ve forgotten to dry out my swim suit or bring a second pair for lifeguarding after swim instruction were the worst. The only thing to follow the awful soggy drawer feeling in discomfort is attempting to dry off with a wet towel. You feel like you’re smearing damp mold all over your skin. Ugh. Solve these disturbing sensations and bring 2 towels and 2 swim suits every day so you have a back up to refresh quickly in a dry and comfortable clothing or uniform.

6. Play pretend with your classes

Become the pirate that is commanding his mates to find that sunken treasure. Change your voice with a lot of “arghs” and “me matey’s” to really sell the performance of searching for treasure! When you are teaching swimming it makes it more fun for you and for your participants when you turn on your imagination and interact as if the things you’re doing are real. When you play the game “Bake a Cake” (which is an awesome game) really use your words and actions to make believe that the cake you’re creating is real. That cake really does need to bake under the bench because that is the water over that will make it delicious. Keep up the charade and instill the excitement of pretend in your younger swimmers. Having fun is a great way to connect with your participants and a great way to enjoy yourself. When our swimmers connect with us they are more likely to willingly try something difficult or new because they have this shared excitement with you their teacher. Put on the eye patch, grow an imaginary black beard and find that treasure!

7. Creatively celebrate success

That is an alliterative assonance sentence. Wow. After you’ve donned your pirate cap and had little Billy complete his first front float with his face in the water you should pump that well of creativity and imagination and create a unique or interesting success celebration. If you’re familiar with Weird Al, “you found the raisin in the oatmeal!!! You get to drink from the fire hose!” I’m talking about having some fun and oddity with your praise. Give Billy a neat reward for doing something new and difficult for him. When you take a moment to create some sort of different celebration reward for his hard work and overcoming fear it will endear you to him. Here are a few odd ball examples of creatively celebrating success:

  • Dump a bucket of water on the instructor’s head
  • Throw a toy into the deep end
  • Stand on a kick board (with supervision)
  • Eat a pail of water (water in the face)
  • Choose a silly dance for the instructor to do (mimic the swimmer)
  • Choose which game to play next, but with a bucket as a hat
  • Name the toy animal you use in your lessons (refer to it as that name for the rest of lessons)
  • Come up with a good nick-name for yourself (the swimmer) and refer to them as that until they say stop
  • Splash the teacher with their toes only
  • Make loud noises with their hand in their armpit
  • Choose a song the instructor needs to sing with face in the water
  • Do a crazy do (use water to create a silly hairstyle for teacher or themself)


Summer is just about in full swing. Take these 7 tips to heart and make sure you review them with your staff. Get the most out of your swim lessons and weekly in service training sessions. If you need ideas on how to teach swimming lessons check out our Swim Lesson Program page where you can get swim lesson plans and visual swim skill sheets to both train your staff and teach swimmer how to do complex and high level skills easily. They are broken down into logical progressions and steps and include scripts, lyrics and games to help get creativity flowing!

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