The Swim Professor

Jim Reiser, M.S.

Swim Instructor Training

What is the most important component of a successful swim school or swim lessons program?   The swim instructors of course!  Without competent swim teachers, the swim lessons are a flop!  In many cases, the swim lessons are even a waste of time.  In some others, they are actually dangerous.

There are multiple factors that affect the bottom line, but none are more important than the quality of the swimming instruction.  Your swim instructors are the lifeblood of your business.  Your swim instructors are the reason a child enjoys learning to swim, or does not.  You swim instructors determine if you have repeat business, or not.  Most importantly, your swim instructors determine if the children learn to swim–or not!

What can you do to ensure that your lessons, your program, or your swim school is top notch?   Swim Instructor Training is the most important ingredient to your success.  If you’re a business owner, exposing yourself to as much as you can is extremely valuable.

One piece of practical advice I will offer you first off is: Don’t go broke doing it!  Children have been learning to swim for centuries.  There is no one magical method.  Most reputable methods work–providing the instructor “understands” the concepts and applications, has the right personality for the job, and is committed to being a great instructor.  One’s commitment and desire to excel conquers all, but a great training program will help you and all of your instructors be more successful.

We are all built differently.  Some styles and approaches appeal to some of us more than others.  You have to decide what program(s) appeal to you most.   There are many factors, including but not limited to:

  • Affordability– How much money can you afford to allocate to training your staff each year.  How much of your own paycheck are you willing to give up to train staff?
  • Practicality – How much paperwork will you need to submit (Again, plan for growth.  It may seem minimal if you have 50 students, but what if you grow to 500 students?)
  • Convenience – How convenient is it to train your instructors (once again, plan for growth.  It’s one thing to train 5 or 6 swim instructors; it’s another to train 25-30 instructors or even 50-60 instructors).  I would like to mention as of February 15, 2011, Swim Lesson s University will offer its’ training video courses, testing, and certification programs online in addition to the DVD’s and Online Testing programs currently offered.  So no matter where your teachers are, they will be able to complete this training as either a complement to what you are already doing or as a complete training program.
  • Effectiveness – How effective is the training?  Upon completion, will your new teachers be skillful swimming instructors?  Will they actually know what to do and how to do it?  Will the children love their classes?  Remember, the job your swim instructors do represents YOU!

As a swim school owner, I have exposed myself to nearly every program out there.  What has worked for me personally has evolved and changed over the years, inspiring the development of Swim Lessons University.   To this day, I can tell you every bit of training I have ever done, every clinic I have attended, every teacher and coach who I have worked with has helped me in some way, shape, or form.

Personally, I have a master’s degree in Physical Education with an emphasis in Motor Skill Acquisition.  Until going full-time with my swim school and Swim Lessons University, I was the Professor of Aquatics at the University of South Carolina for 12 years. As a former USA Swimming Club Coach, I developed numerous nationally ranked age group swimmers and led Team Carolina to back-to-back state championships in 2004 and 2005 (a team I literally started from scratch in 1994).

Having used multiple learn-to-swim methods, having taught beginners of all ages (infants through adults), as well as coached numerous elite competitive swimmers, I was inspired to develop Swim Lessons University.   I wanted to put together a training program that would be as practical as possible, one that would be easy to administer, one that would be affordable, and most importantly–one that would develop great swim teachers for children!  That’s what Swim Lessons University is all about.

There is so much great information out there, but most swim school owners tell me that they have so many responsibilities that they don’t want to reinvent the wheel.   So with Swim Lessons University, I have tried to combine my physical education background (which included training physical education teachers), as well as my learn-to-swim experiences (in and out of the water)–and create something special and unique.

Nevertheless, I would recommend that every swim school owner utilize many of the fantastic resources out there.  Here are some of my favorites:

World Aquatic Babies and Children is an amazing network for you to join.  Led by the National Swim School Association founder, Steve Graves, WABC has even endorsed Swim Lessons University training and WABC is our official partner.  WABC offers conferences in the U.S. every other year, and produces a phenomenal newsletter every other month.   In addition, the WABC website is full of resources for swimming teachers, including pod casts, articles, and much more!

American Swimming Coaches Association is the premier coaches association in the world.  Led by executive director John Leonard, I am their biggest fan.  I would not be the coach/teacher I am today without them.  I think so much of ASCA that I am a Lifetime Member.  I continue to attend the annual Swim Coaches World Clinics, as well as speak for their SwimAmerica and American Learn to Swim Teachers conferences.

United States Swimming, in which I served as one of their club coaches for 12 years here in South Carolina, has an unlimited number of resources.  Most recently, USA Swimming launched the “Make a Splash” initiative helping my local Swim Lessons Company reach a new demographic that we hadn’t been reaching before.  This awesome initiative creates opportunity for all economic and ethnic backgrounds.  I should also note that Swim Lessons University is an approved curriculum/program of Make a Splash, which is one component that can help afford you with the ability to be a local “Make a Splash” partner program.

United States Swim School Association is another fabulous swim school association, led by Sue Mackie, in which to belong.  You can take business courses through USSSA, infant-toddler training, and maybe most importantly, become part of a wonderful network of swim school owners and instructors just like you.  I often have the opportunity to serve as speaker for USSSA conferences, as I will this spring in Newport Beach, CA at their Spring Workshop. Hope to see you there!

As a business owner, I think you should try to take advantage of all these resources as I do.  I believe that swim school owners and directors who are new to the swim school industry should also network and find a really good mentor or three!  This has been invaluable to my own growth, so much that I try to give back in this area as much as I possibly can.  After mentoring dozens of swim school owners, and because my schedule has become so busy with Swim Lessons University, The Swim Lessons Company, and being a proud father of three young boys–I now help and share mostly through a very reasonable  “One-on-one” phone consultation service.  It is currently so reasonable (and I want it to be) that is probably less expensive than most of your private swim lessons!  I should also mention I can do these consultations “face-to-face” one the day before or the day after any Swim Lessons University Conference. My next Swim Lessons University Conference will be in Orlando, Florida on February 19, 2011.  Hope to see you there!  This will be the last “One-day SLU conference” of until next fall.

The way you train your swim instructors is up to you, of course.  I just hope that some of the suggestions and swim teacher training ideas that I have offered you today will help you.  After all, we’re all in this together, and we are providing a service that can not only make a difference a child’s life, the result of our service could save a child’s life!  What is more rewarding than that?

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December 28, 2010 at 3:18 pm Comment (1)

Learn to Swim Plateau

Did your student plateau?  While incorporating sound swimming progressions can help push progress along, many times teachers and parents unnecessarily get frustrated when learning “appears” to slow down, and this is often referred to a swimming plateau.

What swim lesson instructors and parents must understand is that the child is STILL LEARNING even when it “appears” they are not.  Learning simply doesn’t  always occur in nice, easy-to-see steps.  Instead, a cummulation of learning experiences is often required before you see a noticeable improvement.

This improvement or progress usually appears to come from “nowhere!”  And when it happens, teachers and parents try to “pinpoint” what just happened?  What did the swim instructor just do to get that result?  What did the swim teacher say?  But in fact, while the student was able to make an improvement in what appeared to be in a flash, it wasn’t in a flash at all.  The progress that was just made was only possible because of the all the previous experiences when it seemed as if the student wasn’t learning anymore.

Lastly, I want to ask all parents and swim teachers, that when in doubt, turn to the late and legendary John Wooden for advice.   Here’s a link to a short video clip of John Wooden talking about what it means for a child to achieve success.

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December 20, 2010 at 3:44 pm Comment (1)

Flotation Devices for Swimming Lessons

Thank you, Coach P.D., from Australia, for your great questions regarding flotation devices for swimming lessons.  You asked about the one we are currently using at Swim Lessons University, the SwimWays Power Swimr, in particular.  Here are your questions, my thoughts, observations, and comments:

Dear Swim Professor:

The reason I write is (1) about the ‘POWER SWIMR’s’ that I’ve seen you use (I’ve watched some your DVD’s).  The training I underwent in Australia doesn’t recommend flotation devices at all because they think kids get dependent on it.  However, I’ve checked out how you use this Power Swimr and it appears to be an excellent tool.

Will you tell me a bit more about it and your experience with it?

Allow me first to say that children have been learning to swim for centuries, so there is more than one way to teach a child to swim. As long as the environment is safe and child-centered, to me, that is what is most important.  Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion.  I just want learning to swim to be a happy enjoyable experience.

With that said, however, personally I seek perfection.  I am always looking for a better way, and there are better and more efficient ways to teach children to swim, in my opinion.  Utilizing a “progressive flotation device,” in particular, is one of those techniques that provide you with an edge.

I have been using this particular device since 1998, and we have had enormous success.   The dependency issue is a bad argument.  My first hand experience, having taught children to swim both with and without floatation devices, is that by using believe a progressive buoyancy device, such as the “Power Swimr” does just the opposite–it encourages “independence.”

On the other hand, when a swimming instructor, or parent, is holding/ physically supporting a child to allow him to move through the water, that promotes dependency more than anything.   In addition, while it is not an approved “life jacket,” it also allows for a “safer environment.”  It only takes seconds for a non-swimmer to find himself submerged underwater.  How would that look in a swimming lesson?

Lastly, because the multiple flotation pads are removable, as the child gets stronger in the water, you can gradually give him less “support/flotation” until he/she is swimming on independently.  It’s a very natural progression, and the device allows for “real practice time” time before the child can swim.  As a swimming instructor, you have now afforded the beginner with invaluable repetition that is just like the “real thing” without him/her being dependent on you.

Practice time is the “mother of learning skills.”   A non-swimmer without flotation, on the other hand, gets very limited practice time, not to mention the practice time without a flotation device would be far from natural because the instructor is supporting them.

What are things I have to keep in mind while using it?

Here are some bullet points of pointers that I train my staff to keep in mind:

  • Give the learner enough buoyancy that he can successfully swim the allocated distance with confidence in a near horizontal position in the water.
  • Once the child’s skills have progressed to the point that swimming that allocated distance is comfortable and fairly easy (say 15-20 feet for 3-5 year old), then remove one (1) buoyancy pad to make it a little more challenging without compromising safety or even technique.

***SIDE NOTE: Another tremendous advantage of the flotation device is the child can learn to swim in a horizontal position from the start, reinforcing good flutter kick fundamentals.   What happens when a child doesn’t have any flotation or not enough?  The learner starts getting diagonal or even vertical encouraging a bicycle kick, thus developing bad flutter/freestyle kick habits.

  • Continue to think “progression.”  When the child masters that swim in a near horizontal position, remove another buoyancy pad.  You may take out 2 or 3 pads in one class and zero for the next three classes, and then 1 pad the following class.  The bottom line is you want the progression to be natural and comfortable for the child, going at the child’s pace with just a little “push” from reducing the buoyancy which also incorporates a form of the progressive overload principle used in strength / weight training.
  • Eventually, at the child’s pace, you will have developed a swimmer, who is now skill ready to learn formal strokes, which leads me to your final question:


Does it keep the kids in a ‘streamline’ swimming position?

If you’re referring simply to a “horizontal position” or “in-line position” as I call it in the Swim Lessons University DVD’s and Lesson Plans, then yes–it certainly encourages and helps children achieve that position much sooner.  I think this is another great advantage of using the device.   Because without it, beginners almost always resort to poor kicking technique, which eliminates that body position, you’re striving for in your swimmers.

Lastly, please review my Youtube videos on floatation devices.  I have taken clips from the various Swim Lessons University DVD’s where we discuss this topic.

Thanks, Coach P.D., for your questions and hope I have helped you and many others in their pursuit of excellence in swimming instruction.

The International Swimming Hall of Fame has named Jim Reiser the recipient of the 2015 Virginia Hunt Newman Award for his curriculum and approach in teaching infants, toddlers, and children to swim.  Jim is the first American to win the award in 10 years.

If you would like to learn more about the Swim Lessons University Online Swim Instructor Certification  and curriculum, make sure to visit us at

Swim Lessons University is currently being utilized by recreation departments, YMCAs, America Camp Association swim lessons programs, as well as by private swimming instructors in 45 states and over 30 countries!

You can also call us toll free at 1-866-498-SWIM (7946).

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December 5, 2010 at 8:32 pm Comments (0)