Four great games to go underwater


Swimming lessons start with being able to go underwater. If you don’t go underwater, then you cannot proceed with learning how to move well through the water.  Sometimes it can be difficult to train new staff what to do in their level 1 lessons. In level 1 we focus on going underwater independently. Usually swim managers see beginner instructors going through the motions with very little effort at encouraging their participants at every opportunity to go underwater.  Here are four excellent games and activities you can train your staff with to help get those level 1 participants going underwater on their own.

We will focus on constantly giving opportunities for the swimmer to choose to go underwater on their own. Each game and activity provides multiple points and adaptations for the swimmer to put their own face in the water.


#1 Bobs with Rings


Category: Group Activity or Challenge

Core Skill: Going Underwater, Recovering to surface

Name: Bobs with Rings



Primarily orientated to beginners in level 1. You can use this game with any group as an opening activity. For more experienced swimmers it will double as a fun game and a breathing control exercise



What swim skills will you work on?

Going underwater in small increments, or going underwater, breathing holding and then taking a quick breath to do it again.



For level 1:

Swimmers stand in chest deep water, or stand on a bench. Place different colored rings on the bottom at the swimmer’s feet.

Give instructions that require swimmers to only pick up their own colored ring. If you don’t have enough colors give each participant a ring of their own.

Demonstrate the following. Drop a ring in the water and allow it to sink to the bottom. Submerge your whole head and lower your whole body to the bottom and pick up the ring. Return to the surface with the ring. Say the following:

“Your goal is to go underwater and get the ring. If you cannot put your whole head in the water attempt to put your nose or lips in the water to reach the bottom. If that isn’t possible ask me and I’ll show you how to do it. Drop the ring and pick it up five times. Ready, go.”

For swimmers that can’t put their whole head under, or won’t put their lips or nose in, show them how to lift the ring with their foot, and then pick the ring up. Encourage them to get their shoulder and chin in the water when they do.


We’re using a few things here. We’re giving everyone a specific goal: Put your whole head under and get the ring. That is the specific target. It is important to visibly demonstrate that target to your swimmers (as the instructor). Secondly, we’re providing an alternative to success. If you can’t do the whole head, which ultimately is the goal, you can instead put your nose or your lips in the water. Notice how we’re moving down the underwater progression?  (Head, eyes, nose, lips, chin, shoulders). Lastly, if that is not possible, we encourage the chin and shoulder to go in when they use their feet to pull the ring up within reach.

We do this activity five times per person because it gives multiple chances for the swimmer to put that next step of the underwater progression in. Maybe after putting their lips in the water four times, on the fifth they might be willing to put their nose under too.

[Tweet “Beginner underwater game: Bob for Rings”]


#2 Superman through hula hoop


Category: Group Activity or Challenge

Core Skill: Going Underwater, Recovering to surface

Name: Superman through hula hoop



This game is specifically for beginners in level 1. We play this with participants that can walk in chest or shoulder deep water.




This game focuses on going underwater in small steps. Begin with the shoulders, or chin, and then each time through the hoop ask for the next step in the underwater progression.



The instructor holds a hula hoop upright so that one end of the circle touches the bottom, and the other end extends about 6 inches above the surface. If the hula hoop can’t reach the bottom, that is fine. We want a small portion of the hoop to be over the water.  Swimmers then take turns moving through the hula hoop as they walk in a circle. The first few times through should only require the swimmer to put their shoulder or chin in the water to go through. Subsequent times through should make the hoop lower in the water requiring more of the swimmer to be submerged to get under and through the hoop. Make adjustments for individual preferences of the participants.

Rounds 1-3: chin in the water as you pass under/through hoop

Rounds 4-5: lips in the water as you pass under/through hoop; possibly blowing bubbles

Round 6: nose in the water

Round 7-8: attempt to get eyes or whole head.

Each participant can “raise the hoop” if they need to after first initially attempting a round.

For real bold participants jump through the hula hoop like superman flying through the water; essentially doing a front glide. Ideally that is our goal, but we’re just going to start with the shoulders and chin in the water first.


Get your own hula hoops here!

[Tweet “Super swim game “Superman through Hula Hoop””]


#3 Underwater Picture Game


Category: Individual Challenge

Core Skill: Going Underwater, Recovering to surface

Name: Underwater picture game

This game idea comes from one of Swimming Ideas’ members. She uses this game in her swimming lessons and it is a wonderful way to encourage younger swimmers to put their face in the water and begin opening their eyes behind the goggles. The picture distracts them from the scary underwater experience and the questions she asks helps motivate swimmers to look at the pictures remembering detail.  Thank you Julia!



Play this game with your youngest swimmers. Provide goggles or masks to encourage eye opening underwater.  We play this with level 1.



Work on going underwater and opening your eyes underwater. Practice how to stand up from bending over to go underwater on your own. Getting your own feet underneath you to stand up unassisted.



This game requires a little bit of preparation.
  • Download, draw, or create an underwater scene.
  • On reverse side (not picture side) write down a series of questions about the scene.
  • Laminate the picture. We use this laminator for small jobs:

Here are the instructions that Julia uses when playing this game:
“Hold the picture against the wall (so they can’t just look from above the water without going under)
I ask them a question like, “can you count how many bubbles there are? Or… Can you point to the
Starfish?” This helps them go underwater with a purpose and distracts them from Being fearful
About going underwater.”
Ask specific questions about the picture that you have pressed against the wall, or held underwater on the bottom.
For beginners that don’t like going underwater at all, and refuse to participate, require them to put something (shoulder, chin, lips, nose, eyes) underwater and you can give them a hint.
Give hints like, “The snake is the same color as the sky,” and “The seaweed looks like grass.”
[Tweet “Draw an underwater scene to encourage fun in swim lessons”]

#4 Bake a Cake

Category: Group Game

Core Skill: Going Underwater, Recovering to surface

Name: Bake a Cake


This is literally my go to game for beginner level classes. It’s success is entirely determined by how enthusiastic and how imaginative the swim instructor is when describing the different steps. If you pretend like you’re making an actual cake and really interacting with everything the swimmers will join in your imaginary world too.



Play this multi-step game with beginners who do not put their face in the water, or those that occasionally put their face in. The fun and excitement this game creates can inspire younger swimmers to put their face in when they typically don’t.



This is a longer game (about 7-10 minutes when played well with a intermission activity while the cake “bakes” in the oven). Game focuses on giving multiple opportunities to go underwater with various parts of the face.



-Get a hula hoop, or a circular object and make that your “cake”    Buy a hula hoop.

-Have swimmers circle around the hoola hoop and hold the sides.

-Take turns asking each swimmer what they would like in their cake. Exp: “Susie, what would you like in your cake?” “CHOCOLATE!” “Ok, lets put some chocolate in the cake!”

Take turns splashing water into the hoola hoop and repeat “Put some chocolate into our cake!”

-After each swimmer has put their own ingredient into the cake, have each swimmer grab the edge of the hoola hoop and push it down to their feet to “put the cake in the oven.” Encourage each swimmer to put their nose, mouth or face in the water while doing so.

-Do another short activity while the cake “bakes.” For example do 3 front floats with the group.

-Have a swimmer, or swimmers check the cake by putting their face, lips, or nose in the water. Ask, “Is the cake done? Is it ready to eat?”

-Have swimmers reach down to the sunken hoola hoop to their shoulders, or noses if they can, and slowly, heavily, lift the “cake” to the surface.

-Have swimmers blow bubbles on the cake (inside the hoola hoop) to cool it off so you can eat it.

-Eat the cake by either smashing faces into the water inside the cake (voluntarily!), or getting a bucket and dumping onto their faces or heads. Make sure everyone participates! either dump water on their shoulders, on the back of their head, or on their face. If scooping water, make sure they do something to be a part of the fantasy.

-Be enthusiastic, and exclaim how delicious it is!

Have you played any of these games in your swimming lessons? How did it go?

Share in the comments below or connect on facebook or twitter #swimgame


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  1. I play “bake a cake”, it works especially well for children who are new to swimming lessons and a bit shy or unsure of getting in. I ask them if they have ever baked a cake in the water before which usually gets them curious enough to come in.
    I get everyone to hold on the the hoop and we add the ingredients together…
    We start with
    flour- splashing water up into the air from inside to hoop then,
    sugar- we pick the water up from inside the hoop and holding our hands up and sprinkling water as if it were sugar then,
    4 eggs- bang our fist on the hoop then splat our hands into the middle saying crack-splat, crack-splat x4 we then add
    butter- scoop water from outside hoop into the middle with sculling hand type motion then similarly we add
    milk- by putting hand in front of chest & pushing water into middle of hoop of course next in the all important
    chocolate- putting our hands under the hoop and into the middle we swoosh our hands around saying chooooocolateee….
    * now here is where I get the most success by way of seeing shy or timid children especially giving in to the fun*
    MIXING CAKE- we all run around holding the hoop making a mini whirlpool saying “mix,mix, mix” before I make tyre screeching noise and stop the running and say ok mix now the other way (the kids absolutely love the tyre noise and after a few lessons start making the noise along with me). After mixing we push the cake down into the oven but our cakes are water cakes so they need some magic which is when I get them to hummm above the water with mouths closed then we put our faces in and hummm which helps them discover how to make bubbles come out of their noses. After humming three times we put full faces including eyes to see if the cake is ready…..then I yell “ding”, we hold the hoop up in the air and all make gobbling noises before I put the hoop down over the children so they are all in the middle then one by one I encourage the kids to submerge under the side of hoop and jump back to the step.

    Not all that different but I love this as do my students not to mention it has proven to be a success for me in many different areas during the whole “baking a cake” process.
    I am so very grateful to you and everyone who contributed for all the helpful tips, suggestions and ideas.

  2. Tried “Superman through Hula-hoop” yesterday and got two VERY nervous girls to willingly put their faces in the water for the first time! (This was our 4th session)
    Thanks so much for this great game. I’ll be trying bake a cake next haha.