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Teaching Swimming

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Lesson 1, Topic 3
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“Do you want to go underwater?”

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I know. Ask a question? Not give a command? What is this, heresy?

This is perhaps the best and most crucial question you can ask your 3 year old swimmers.

“Do you want to go underwater?”


Ask your beginning swimmer if they want to go underwater, and then listen.

Adhere to the swimmer’s choice. If they don’t want to go underwater, don’t let them.

Earn their trust by adapting your activity to the highest number on the underwater progression they are comfortable with.

Saying “no” is okay. We ask, we listen, and we move on. If you use the lesson plans provided by Swimming Ideas you’ll have every game, activity, and skill for level 1 centered around opportunities to “go underwater.”

Ask often. “Do you want to go underwater?” “Do you want to kiss the water?” Put your mouth in. Put your nose in. “Kiss the water!” Put your cheek in the water! “Do you want to go under? No? Okay. Ready go!”

Say it frequently. Ask, listen, and offer another opportunity.

The Underwater Progression:

  1. Chest
  2. Shoulders
  3. Chin
  4. Lips
  5. Nose
  6. Eyes
  7. Whole head

Adapt your front glides and encouragement to the swimmer’s comfort regarding going underwater.

Front Glide with chin above water.

Encourage a swimmer to go underwater! Tell them to put their chin in the water, and if they do, put their lips in.

Push. Ask. Ask often. Be a broken record that repeats “do you want to go underwater?,” “put your lips in the water,” “kiss the water,” “dip your nose in!”

Make the whole day at swim lessons all about going underwater!

Jumps from the side keeping the head above water.

Jumps are an excellent way to build trust with your swimmers.

Jumps can be scary, they can be fun, and they can be a wonderful tool in your skill bank to demonstrate to your swimmers that they can trust you.

Every time you do a jump from the side, even with reluctant swimmers, ask, “Do you want to go underwater?”

If they say no, help them jump in keeping their face above water. Over time they’ll start saying “yes!”

Be respectful, but have fun.

Your beginning swimmers are going to be reluctant about going underwater and its our job to make that scary prospect seem fun, appealing and exciting.

But remember! They’re going to be afraid. They’re going to be frightened. They might feel like they’re in the middle of an ocean with only the flimsiest of support!


Go slow. Be respectful of their hesitations.

Take your time. There is no need to dunk a kid underwater without first earning their trust and establishing a clear expectation. We do not need to rush this process.

Avoid feeling like there is any pressure to getting a 3 year old to go underwater. There is plenty of time. Take the long road. Look at the health of the swimmer and foster their good nature and excitement to be in the pool.

Yes. Going underwater is the first foundational step, but it is also our biggest hurdle. It is the scariest part of swimming, and once we overcome it our swimmers will benefit the rest of their lives.

When we ask if they want to go underwater we’re giving them the choice to overcome their fears, we’re giving them a choice to be brave.

Our job is to encourage that bravery. Our job is to make swim lessons so much fun they can’t wait to join in and put their face in the water!

Swim Game for Going Underwater

Bake a Cake

One of the best dynamic games filled with opportunities to go underwater.

Variants include, “make a pizza,” “make a taco,” “bake muffins (with rings)”

-Get a hoola hoop, or a circular object and make that your “cake”

-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.”

-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!

Want more options for the game, check out this link:

“Do you want to go underwater” in a game, recap

Play games designed to get your beginner swimmers to willingly put their faces in the water.

Ask over and over and over and over, “do you want to go under?” Ask variations of it, or make statements or commands. “Put your chin in.” “Put your lips in.” “Kiss the water.”

Fill your games with multiple and continued requests for the swimmer to do the highest body part of the Underwater Progression in the water.

Games distract swimmers from their fear and if we join in their imaginary worlds we can encourage high levels of participation from our swimmers.

Get into the make-believe world with your participants.

Fill the silence with narrative, “What do you want to put in the cake? Bananas? I love bananas. Help me chop them up and splash them in? Then ask them again:

“Do you want to go underwater?”
“Kiss the water.”
“Put your nose in.”