When teaching swim lessons to adults, especially those who are beginner swimmers or learning a new skill, there are two aspects that REALLY JUMP OUT that make them different from teaching children to swim.
First, adults tend to have, we’ll call it, “low swimming-self-esteem.” They are embarrassed and they are far from confident that they are going to be able to do this. So first and foremost, Swim Instructors have convince them that they are doing awesome. You have to convince them that they are exceeding your expectations. You have to convince them that they are doing much better than most adults you teach (whether true or not, lol). You have to make them BELIEVE in themselves! If they believe they can do it–they will! So lots of praise and lots of encouragement!
Second, adults tend to be VERY ANALYTICAL and VERY CONCERNED about the DETAILS, which can hinder mastering the basics. This is quite the opposite when teaching most children to swim. Children just want to swim, play, and have fun. They don’t worry about the little things, they just do it! They don’t want your long explanations, they just want to hear you say “go!”
Adults, on the other hand, they don’t want to just “go.” They’re afraid to “go.” They’re afraid they’re going to do it wrong and be embarrassed. They want to know precisely how the hand should be pitched, at what degree the arm should be bent, etc. HOWEVER–THIS IS NOT WHAT THEY NEED TO KNOW!
IF you want to do a great job with adult swim lessons, you must convince them that the details are NOT important right now! What’s important are the BIG things, getting the FUNDAMENTAL, GENERAL IDEA of the skill first–details later….
I like to educate them a little on the Fitts and Posner’s Stages of Learning. This helps a lot because when they understand there is actually a well-thought out plan, it alleviates much of their anxiety.
So I tell them: What we know from motor learning experts is that when any skill is new, the learner is in what is refered to as the Cognitive Stage of Learning. The learner is thinking too much, the errors are gross, the errors are many, and there will be an inconsistency in performance.
I further explain that from this learning model, the research also clarifies what is important to teach at this stage. Teach your adult swim lessons beginners not to think about the details, but rather put all their effort into the developing a the general swimming movements patterns or actions. Swim instructors should stick to the cues and buzzwords in your lesson plans, and resist from talking detail. When a beginner swimmer is in this stage of learning, the student can’t handle detailed information once they start to practice. Because as soon as they start, their mind goes right to “I’m sinking, I’m drowning, I can’t do this.”
So instead, teach them to just “kick fast.” So instead, just teach them to take “big strokes.” And most importantly–think progressions and “baby steps.” When you can make your adult learner feel successful with something small, i.e., two strokes with their face in the water, then they will have the confidence to try three, then four, etc., and their confidence will grow right before your eyes. Before you know it, they will be swimming across the pool and you will be moving on to teaching them the freestyle side breathing, backstroke, sidestroke, and more!