Swimming Game – Personal Challenge

Category: Personal Challenge

Core Skill: Varied

Name: (Category of Game)


You want to play games in your swim lessons and at swim practice. It makes your students more engaged because they have more fun, and it resets their attention allowing you to intersperse your repetitive practice with fun and interesting activities.

Games are fun, and they lead to better learning overall when they’re done well.

My favorite swim lesson game is the “personal challenge,” because you can tailor it to the group you’re working with and it is a broad exciting category for all sorts of interesting activities. I’ve found that the most interaction on a personal level comes from giving an achievable personal challenge that everyone could do, and then scaling it up over time in difficulty to become *just out of your participant’s reach so they need to push themselves.


This category of games works on some basic concepts:

  • We like to be challenged
  • When we succeed at something that is challenging, we feel good about ourselves, and it boosts our confidence
  • Healthy competition: one person succeeds and another does not, and that’s okay.


When we play the personal challenge category games, we want to do them generally in a series of 1-5 challenges that get progressively more difficult. I’ll go into some detail below on the strategy we use to build up to more difficult challenges. You can find the formulas we use to create these fun and effective challenges and games in the book on amazon:

How to Create Fun and Effective Swim Games:


This category of game works in large groups (swim teams) and in small groups and private lessons (swim lessons).

You can play with anyone over the age of 3. Sometimes when you play with 2 year olds or younger they don’t quite grasp the idea of a challenge, or a goal. They instead follow directions to a degree. The younger people will react to your manipulation (moving their limbs for them) and follow basic instructions, but will not understand the concept of doing something difficult and feeling the reward of accomplishment.

  • Ages 3+



The “personal challenge” category can focus on any number of swimming skills. It is virtually unlimited. You can create almost any activity into a personal challenge. You can do challenges for chin in the water, but lips not in the water, or you can do underwater streamline to the flags three times doing all three things for streamline.

The category scales based on the people you’re working with that day, and it’s dynamic nature is one of the more appealing reasons to use it.



A crucial part of using this category of games is to follow this basic flow:

  • Who are you working with?
  • What skill do you want them to attempt, but that is just outside of their ability to accomplish?
  • How will you lead up to it over the course of your lesson/practice?


Here is an example that I used recently during a 4-6 year old class where swimmers were just beginning to be comfortable moving through the water on their own. They can go underwater, they can glide, but cannot turn to the side to breathe or swim in water over their head safely. Here was the basic flow, and I’ll highlight the personal challenges:

  • Bobs
  • Glides
  • Personal Challenge #1: Sit on the bench cross legged
    • Was just deep enough that if they sat on the bench, their whole body would be underwater, but if they stood, their shoulders and head were above.
    • Encourages learning how to sink, which can help learn how to float and build confidence.
  • Glides again, focusing on looking down, starting low, and kicking
  • Kicking with barbell
  • Jumps
  • Personal Challenge #2: Lay on the bench with your butt, back, and shoulders touching
    • Same depth as previous challenge.
    • Beginning for backstroke streamline, have to lay down backwards.
    • Good activity to be comfortable sinking underwater, and pushing self down
    • Gives opportunity to lay upside down and encourage bubble blowing to keep from going up nose
  • Standing breathing to the side practice
  • Glides with arm strokes
  • Jumps
  • Personal Challenge #3: Do a front flip
    • Intro to flip turns
    • Extremely difficult for beginners, but important to allow attempt
    • Avoid allowing skips. Demand an “attempt” use that word specifically
      • They will likely fail, and that is okay.
  • Glides
  • Streamline + three strokes free + 1 breath to the side
  • Personal Challenge #4: Get a ring from the bottom using the bench to help you down and then up again.
    • Breath holding
    • Confidence building
    • Safety: how to use environment to pull you up.
  • Back glides
  • Back crawl
  • Personal Challenge #5: Streamline and Kick swim if you need to, 5 body lengths.
    • Farthest we’d ever done
    • Stood near each attempt to help if needed
    • Glides and streamlines all day were aimed at this one challenge
  • Jumps
  • Streamline through hula hoop game
  • Personal Challenge #6: Front float for 2 seconds, roll over and back float for 2 seconds, then roll over and front float again for 2 seconds
    • Body control
    • Floating control
    • Learning to adjust body to stay at surface
      • lift hips, tilt head to adjust
      • Implicit concept of buoyancy.
  • Streamline, swim and take at least 1 breath to the side.


The above was a 45 minute swim lesson for five swimmers ages 4-6. They are beginners that all fall into what we classify as “Level 2,” or able to go underwater, but not swim on their own yet. You might have noticed that there was a lot of repeitition, and there is supposed to be. We want our swimmers to be doing at least 30 to 50 opportunities to streamline or glide across the water. We want to give them as many opportunities to do that as possible, because after going underwater, it is the first step to horizontal forward motion.

But what we’re looking at today is the Personal challenges. Let’s pull them out individually, and look at each one.

  • Personal Challenge #1: Sit on the bench cross legged
  • Personal Challenge #2: Lay on the bench with your butt, back, and shoulders touching
  • Personal Challenge #3: Do a front flip
  • Personal Challenge #4: Get a ring from the bottom using the bench to help you down and then up again.
  • Personal Challenge #5: Streamline and Kick swim if you need to, 5 body lengths.
  • Personal Challenge #6: Front float for 2 seconds, roll over and back float for 2 seconds, then roll over and front float again for 2 seconds

We go from simple challenges like sitting down and going underwater, to doing a flip, then to a more difficult underwater activity, and finally transitioning to long distance swimming. Finally, at the end, we do something a little more fun, and focusing simply on floating and rotating.

Look at challenges #1 and #2. They are basically the same thing: go underwater, and sit, or lay down. These are relatively simple actions that you can do, that extend the basic skill of, “go underwater.”  Instead of just plainly putting your face in the water, we’re asking participants to both go under (which they need to do in order to be in level 2) and then also accomplish a specific task.

These first two skills are linked to a basic testable skill, or a skill that we have selected to be a benchmark, and we added a single element on top of it to make it slightly more challenging. 

Take an essential swim skill + add + one interesting challenge to make it slightly more difficult

Go underwater + sit on ground

Go undetwater + lay on back

Go underwater + do a flip

These things are fun, because they are not easily done. They are fun because we are slightly altering the tried and true activity that they already know how to do, but making it just a little bit more challenging.

Take a look at #5, Streamline and kick and swim if you need to for 5 body lengths. I wrote down 5 body lengths, but it was really, just a long distance between the two benches that we were using. It was longer than anything else we had done that day. If we look at the formula, “essential skill” + “slightly more challenging action” we see that this is simply, a “Front glide” with “more distance.”

Front glide + Longer distance

Finally, with the finish, at the end, we combined two essential skills, and added a layer of difficulty with the rolling over.

Front float + Back float + rolling over

We are combining the front and back floats into buoyancy, or floating, and adding the added difficulty of changing position while doing it. Most swimmers will crunch up and lift their head after rolling onto their backs, and that makes them sink.

The Formula:

[essential swim skill] + [something simple to make that skill more challenging] = personal challenge

Here are some examples of personal challenges following this formula:


Going underwater + bubbles for 3 seconds = Blow bubbles with just your mouth for 3 seconds

Going underwater + bubbles for 3 seconds = Blow bubbles with your nose for 3 seconds

Going underwater + moving through hula hoop = Walk through hula hoop, and put your chin, lips, or nose under to pay the Hula toll.

Supported Front Glide + Splashing something on deck = Do a supported front glide, and when we move near wall, make huge splashes to fill the bucket there.

Supported Back Glide + 2 seconds from two fingers only = While doing supported back glide, relax enough to let instructor only hold you up by two fingers for 2 seconds.

Supported Back Glide + huge kicks = When returning to the bench, kick enough to splash the other students from 3 feet away.



Streamline + Look at toys underwater = Aim head down pointing whole face to the floor and count toys there, 2 chances to get them all (put like 12-15 toys at bottom).

Streamline + through hula hoop = Completely go underwater for three streamlines through the hula hoop, challenge is to be completely under when going through the hoop.

Back glide + jump in = Jump in feet first, and then recover to the surface, then do a back glide / float and kick to the wall.

Front crawl arms + turn over = push off in a front glide, then do three front crawl arms, then roll over on back and kick until get to other bench / wall / instructor.

Back glide + roll over = Push off on back, then roll over on stomach and do 3 front crawl strokes to bench / wall / instructor.

Go underwater + Flip = Do a flip. Most find it difficult and will not actually do it, they will not like water up their nose. Encourage to blow bubbles and make an attempt, even if they fail.

Glides + toy retrieval = Front glide a short distance, go down to bottom and pick up a toy, return to surface, back glide back to start location.



Front crawl + flip = streamline plus three free strokes then a flip.

Front crawl + jump = Jump in and recover to surface, then swim freestyle for 5 strokes.

Flips + time limit = do 3 front flips in 5 seconds.

Freestyle + breathing limit = Freestyle for one length, but only take 3 – 5 breaths total.

Breaststroke Kick + Toys = Place toys on the bottom and have participants do breaststroke kick near them without touching to move the toys past the “T” mark.

Fly Kick with fins + hula hoop = Fly kick on back underwater through a hula hoop held underwater at flags.

Free swim + opposite limbs = Swim to 1/2 way Freestyle only using Right arm and Left leg. Then second 1/2 using Left arm and Right leg.

Freestyle + breathing changes = Swim 1 length breathing with this pattern: Every 3, turn to right side to breathe, turn to left, lift head up.

Breaststroke + 1 per lane = With lane lines in swim across pool, do 1 breaststroke breath/stroke cycle per lane, and glide under each lane line with a single stroke.


Closing thoughts:

When you look at the more advanced personal challenges you see that it gets closer and closer to actual drills that we do in swim practices. Things like, kicking on your side, takes the essential skill of flutter kicking and adding the challenge of staying only on your side.

There are endless combinations. Take some time to come up with your own. Some things to consider when you’re coming up with your own: think about the wrong way to do something, consider making the essential skill more challenging (how to make more difficult). Think about making the skill fun by making it different than what you normally do, or impossible. Make subtle changes to the essential skill you’re working on in order to focus attention on a particular component.  If you want to work on breathing, ask participants with the challenge to do something outside their normal habits, it can focus their attention on doing it wrong, and highlight mistakes. When they do it again with instruction to do correctly, they can draw on that wrong experience and make their breath better in the future.

Personal challenges are my favorite type of activity. What are your go to challenges? Let me know in the comments below, or on facebook or twitter.


Use our lesson plans to play games like this in your lessons with beginner teachers. Lesson plans make novice teachers instruct like they’ve been doing it for years!


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