Adjusting a game – Bake a Cake

About 40 minutes ago I got out of the water and gave ‘hi-fives’ to the kids from my class, and said, “Well done today, come back next week.” It was not the easiest class. They were all the same “level” in what we call level 2, but they were very new to swimming, and reluctant to truely go under every time on their own. They could do it, but they didn’t like it. Well, two didn’t. The other loved it but had no control over his body. Let’s start again. I taught a level 2 class this Saturday morning with three kids in it. A 12 year old boy, a 5 year old girl, and a 5 year old boy. That is a diverse group. We’ll call the 12 year old Jon, the 5 year old girl Sally, and the 5 year old boy Billy.


  • 12 years old.
  • Does not like going underwater; specifically putting his nose in.
  • Quiet, and understands he is with the little kids.
  • Good natured, he didn’t complain, and wasn’t too resistant to making attempts at things he didn’t know.


  • Says “no” every time we go underwater as part of an activity. When pressed to, she’ll do it well, but reluctantly.
  • Very small for 5.
  • Been in lessons for about a year.
  • Very playful at times.


  • Will go underwater all the time, and enjoys it.
  • Has little control of his body.
  • Splashes and flails when underwater.
  • Will jump and glide on belly, but with face aimed forward.
  • Very goofy.
  • Limited English language skills.

If you look at the make up the class they are three very different people with diverse and unique needs. However, based on the level structure they are all in the same class and level. And they should be. Thursday, I ran a class of 9 with two assistant instructors and it was similar ability (a bit better) and some level 3’s. That was a more challenging class than the one I just taught because there were very diverse ability levels. Here, in this class with Jon, Billy, and Sally, it was very each to teach and all do the same skills. They were all the same level! It was so easy! Even with the modifications I gave to Jon, who is a shorter 12 year old.

With that understanding you can get an idea what the class was like. We did a lot of glides and repetition. Moving around the square of two benchs pushed close together. Our primary focus was repeated opportunities to go underwater and begin gaining control of the body horizontally in the water on front and back (glides).

Here are some adaptions I made for Jon:

  • Instructions were less curt. I have him more information: why we’re doing something, what it works on, and how it will help him.
  • We talked about why he didn’t like going underwater. I included him in more of a conversation, and less a dictator.
  • After each attempt, I would give him additional stuff to do while he waited for me to work with the other two kids. I didn’t need to give the 5 year olds stuff to do, because they would just play with each other when I was working with Jon, or splash Jon and try to get him to play with them when I was with the other.

I found it interesting during the class that I had to have the five year olds demonstrate something first for Jon, even though he was the oldest. My guess is that he has built up a fear of the water or a discomfort for it, and now is having troubles to get over that dislike and distrust. Much like me and flying. I hate it, despise it, and for no rational reason am terrified of flying in airplanes.


The Baked Cake Conundrum

We bake cakes or pizzas with the hula hoops. Everyone stands around the outside of the hoop and then we mix the ingredients inside of it. Today, in this wild lesson, the two 5 year olds, Billy and Sally, jumped into the hoop and were laughing and jumping up and down saying that, “They were the pizza!” I tried gently to remove them, and get them to do it the normal way. I tried multiple times to get them out. And right before I was going to physically remove them, and be sharp and commanding I stopped. I stopped and evaluated if them being in the middle of the pizza or cake was even a problem.

It wasn’t. Really, it was not a problem at all. There was no real need for them to be outside of the cake. They had played the game so many times already before they just wanted to do something fun and different. So I let them stay inside the cake, and the 12 year old, Jon, and I splashed them! With each ingredient we added to the pizza, we splashed it on the pizza people saying, “If you’re the pizza we have to add the ingredients to you!” They thought it was hillarious! Sally wasn’t a huge fan as she doesn’t like going under and getting her face wet, but she refused to leave the pizza. She refused to leave the cake because she was laughing too much about being the cake!

I want to make this point here, because it is important. I chose to engage in their fantasy about being the cake, being the pizza. It was a choice to roll with what they were doing and not totally fight it. Certainly, I could have pulled the teacher card and demanded that they do the game exactly like I wanted them to, exactly like they’d played 20 times before. Instead, I incorporated what they were doing with laughter and enhanced it, adding conditions like, “If you’re the pizzas, we are going to add the ingredients to you!,” and instead of stirring with the arms (to get used to pushing water) we had Sally and Billy spin in a circle because they were getting mixed up.

When we got to the point where we put the cake in the over, I brought them both to the bottom of the pool (4 ft) and lifted them back up and said, “Okay, now you’re in the oven baking.” Sally was not a fan, but I told her, “you wanted to be the pizza, we have to bake you or you’ll taste terrible!” She was reluctant, but ultimately went through with it after Billy went into the oven, and because she was determined to be the pizza.  This reminds me a little of Hansen and Grettdel, but it was just a dunk under.

Finally, when we pulled the oven out, and Jon checked on the pizza’s readiness, Billy and Sally were all about getting eaten because they were the cake. I had them go underwater and eat the pizza like they were trying to eat themselves.

By allowing that one difference, they were the cake, and then adapting the game to accommodate we had a lot of fun. They smiled and laughed the whole time and felt like they were breaking the rules and changing the game. They were! And it was awesome.

What you can take away

Games and scripts are guideposts. They are really good script directions, but sometimes you’ll need to adapt it for your students. Sometimes, you’ll need to adjust the game to fit your pool, or the specific situation you’re in. If a new swim teacher was doing what I was with my kids, I’d probably stop them and make them do the game correctly. That might be a mistake. Maybe I should take a page from Jenn Butler from episode 054 of the swimming ideas podcast and just watch and learn something from my new staff member. Sometimes it is important to realize that other people have good ideas too and let them accommodate the blueprint to the specific situation they’re in.

I challenge you to make an adjustment, or to roll with a change in your swim lessons and see what happens. See if you can take a different input from your swimmers and let them drive the game a little differently. It can be an exercise in adaptation and adjustment. How can you tweak the games we offer to make them different, but still fun and effective?


Let me know in the comments below, or connect on twitter and facebook.

Better swimming.
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