Lesson Formula: Activity, Activity, Challenge

Better lessons and easier instruction starts when you can lean into a proven pattern. Your teachers will be more effective, be able to teach complex skills with predictable effectiveness and still provide a fun and exciting lesson for younger swimmers.

Why use a formula?

When you work with a large staff and have multiple lessons going on at the same time you won’t always have the same swim instructor. Using a standardized language, formula, and sequence to your lessons will provide consistency when your staff subs in to help another class.

Formulas for swim lessons also provide predictability for younger swimmers. Source: https://zerotothrive.org/routines-for-kids/ While we’re not leveraging routines and rituals in a family setting, we’re using the water and the specific circumstance of swim lessons to provide as much consistency and expectation as possible.

Beginning swimmers are most frightened by the unexpected. They’re afraid of the teacher they see dunking their students and might be worried that they’ll do that to them when they’re not ready. Using a formula that follows a predictable pattern (along with following standard training) will make sure that when you have a sub your swimmers aren’t freaking out.

The formula we use us proven. We use it constantly in swim lessons, on swim team, and in privates to teach fun and effective swim lessons. There is a time and a place for deliberate practice in the activities, and then stimulating excitement and skill growth in the challenges. The activities drain brain effort and attention, and the challenges reinvigorate student’s and get them excited!

Breaking it down

Activity, Activity, Challenge, repeat.

Activity #1:

Do some skill. Make it a basic familiar version of that skill.

Something that your students are familiar with, but something that is fundamental to their swimming. Generally this is “Streamline.” Regardless of level, ability, and whether they’re on a swim team, streamlines is one of the best things you can practice. It serves as the base for almost every single swimming thing.

Example: 3 x Streamline.

You can adjust it for different ability levels like this:

  • Level 2: on the surface
  • Level 3: underwater then at the surface add 3 free strokes
  • Level 4/Swim team: Underwater to the flags with excellent technique.

The first activity is the base.

Activity #2:

The second activity is something related to the first, but more challenging. usually this is the focus of your skill work for that section.

If i want to work on freestyle side breathing I’m going to think about a couple of factors: age of swimmers, level, comfort in deep water, swimmer fear, breathing, and body control.

We might have done streamline with three free arms in Activity 1. For activity 2 we’ll do 4 x Streamline + 5 free + 1 breath. The breath must happen on stroke 2, 3, or 4. No breathing on the first or last strokes.

Activity 1: streamline + 3 free. Activity 2: streamline + 5 free + 1 breath.

Do you see the progression? The increase in difficulty?

Activity 2 is the high intensity focus we want. your instruction and your feedback should be targeted. Presumably activity one will iron out the basic kinks and refresh the swimmers, and activity 2 is where they’ll be challenged with a new skill.

Activity 2 is the new skill acquisition.


This is the reset, the game, the challenge, the break period between skills learning that resets the student’s enthusiasm and gives them a reward for the grueling skill work and focus they put into Activity #2.

Challenges are the carrots for inspiring good work and behavior; “we need to do activity 2 first then we can do a challenge.”

Challenges are the mountains that swimmers can summit.

Have you wondered why people climb mountains? Its dangerous. it serves no purpose. it is simply an act of hubris to say “I climbed that rock to the top.”

But the most common answers are things like, “Its fun.” It’s there.” “It’s healthy.”

I think that challenges are fun, rewarding, and enjoyable because they are difficult and if you succeed, or if you fail enough to learn how to succeed it feels good!

Challenges should be just difficult enough that your participants may not be able to do it without knowing the “secret” to achieving it, or are physically difficult if you aren’t comfortable doing the related swimming skill.

Here is an example:
Challenge: Handstand for 2 seconds that turns into a front flip.

This challenge requires that the swimmer is comfortable going underwater.
They need to also be comfortable being upside down.
They need to also know how to blow bubbles with their nose to avoid water going up their nose.
They also need to know what a handstand is.
They also need to be comfortable doing a front flip.
They also need to have comfort with breath control; handstand, front flip, bubbles, and recovery.
They also need to know how to right themselves and stand up or swim to the surface.

Can you guess what level this would be appropriate for?

To a beginner, this challenge might seem insurmountable. But what about if they’ve learned going underwater and standing up on the bottom? Or what if they’ve just learned how to blow bubbles with their noses?

Challenges are miniature mountains for your swimmers to climb. Give them a true challenge tailored to their ability and they’ll fail at it with glee. They’re throw themselves into repeated attempts to overcome the mountain and reach the summit.

Then, once the glory of a completed challenge is over, you can start again on some significant skill work bolstered by the joy and accomplishment of a challenge well defeated.

Better swimming.
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