Teaching the Level One Swimmer: Assumptions and Goals



We’ll start with a few assumptions: Level One swimmers do not willingly go underwater on their own. They know nothing about freestyle, backstroke, or swimming. They see you move through the water like it is magic, and may not believe that they can do the same thing too. Let’s assume that level one swimmers are beginners, and often young, around 3-6 years old.

[Tweet “Level One swimmers: GO UNDERWATER! Anything else?”]

Primary Goals of Level One

  • Go underwater: with or without help
  • Be comfortable floating on stomach with face in the water (with or without support)
  • Be comfortable floating on back with ears in water (with or without support)

[Tweet “Stopped crying? went underwater, calm as a panda? You passed level one!”]

Secondary Goals of Level One

  • Teach how to enter and exit the water by themselves
  • How to walk safely in chest deep water
  • How to jump in or slide in from the side into instructor’s arms.
  • How to reach down and grab underwater objects
  • Put lips in the water and exhale (blow bubbles)
  • Have a straight body position while floating
  • Kick feet in some sort of coordinated fashion; kick to propel body forward.

[Tweet “#buckethead is the best swin game of all time.”]

Level criteria established, what steps to take next?

With these goals and assumptions about level one, we have a solid foundation to create our lesson plans and how to get our instructors to teach their classes. I often tell teachers not to worry specifically about level, but think about the swimmers in what they are comfortable doing.  I like seeing teachers start right with going underwater on the first day the first thing they do. Say, “Everyone go underwater as far as they can 3 times!” The instructor then needs to themselves go underwater completely 3 times all the while watching the children. If they do nothing, stop, and tell them they need to go underwater. Most of the time they’ll freeze, as they don’t want to go under completely. Modify your own dunk and say, then go under up to your eyes, or your nose, or your lips, or your chin. They MUST do something, and when they do, immediately give praise. Make them do whatever they are comfortable with 3 times. Then move on.  We want to establish repetition and consistent expectations.

Expectations and Repetition

The general format for every activity should be this:

  • Instructor gives overview of what the swimmers are doing next.  “We are going to do 3 jumps from the side”
  • Instructor asks who wants to go first. If no one volunteers then instructor chooses someone.
  • Put child in position to begin activity
  • Ask for level of participation. “Do you want to go underwater on your jump?”
  • Follow through accomplishing task, but adhering to swimmer’s decision. In the jump case, the swimmer WILL jump in with help, but the instructor will prevent the swimmer from going underwater if the answer was a “no.”

The primary consistency here is asking about what level they will participate with (under, lips in, eyes in water,  with support, without, etc) and following through tailoring tasks to accommodate.  Doing this will establish trust between the swimmer and the instructor. We can then incrementally ask them to do more, or tell them to do more on a negotiation basis to improve their swimming. We are there to establish trust, then push them to do more just outside their comfort zone.

[Tweet “Good Will Hunting: “The first step is to make him trust me” – Same in swim lessons”]

Better swimming.
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