The Swim Professor

Jim Reiser, M.S.

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Swim Lessons Levels: Move up or stay down?

Dear Mr. Reiser,

I don’t know if other coaches have asked this question but…..After finishing a season of teaching & starting a new one a few months later–do you start your children in the level that they were at before or do you place them in the lower level to make sure the skills they learnt are still familiar?

If my swim lessons student swam without the flotation devise and performed the Surface Swim with Pop-up Style Breathing (just about) at the end of the season last year, do I place him in “Swim Strokes 201″ right away or go back to “Swim 101?” I’d appreciate your thoughts.

Thank you.

Helen H., Aquatics Director

Vero Beach, FL

Excellent questions.  Helen!  Your first question: 

Do you start your children in the swim level that they were at before or do you place them in the lower level to make sure the skills they learnt are still familiar?   Generally speaking, we would recommend that you place the child in whatever level he left off before taking a break.  Do students come back a little rusty sometimes?  Of course!   But our experience is that that won’t last very long.  Within a lesson or two, the skills and stamina will be back.   While I don’t like to compare swimming to riding a bike because it is much more complex skill, there is still truth in the statement.  Once you learn a skill, you don’t forget it.   You may lose conditioning, flexibility, reaction time, etc., but you remember the skill.

Your second question:

If my student swam without the flotation devise, Surface Swimming with Pop-up Style Breathing (just about) at the end of the season last year, do you place him in “Swim Strokes 201” right away or go back to “Swim 101?”  Now this part is a slight bit trickier.  Quite frankly, I would base some of this decision around the child’s age as well as the quality and consistency of his performance.

For example:   If you have a 3-year old or even young 4-year old who just barely passed the “Surface Swim with Pop-up Style Breathing,” then I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend that he continue to strengthen this skill.  If your best judgment is that you believe the young child will struggle to learn the new skill of Freestyle (Front Crawl), then I would recommend to his parents that the “Swim 101” skills are going to be a little more age-appropriate and stick with those for another session or so until they are “mastered.”  Don’t get me wrong, 4-year olds and some 3-year olds can pick up a crawl stroke, but there is plenty of time for that if the Basic Surface Swim with Pop-up Style Breathing can still improve a good deal.

When you look at the child development literature, research shows that most children develop in a natural, predictable sequence from one developmental milestone to the next.  AND THIS MILESTONE stands out to me in this case:  On average, three to five year olds do NOT have real control over their major muscles. They lack coordination, which is critical to combining the arms and legs in putting together the front crawl.  So this is why we teach 3-5 year olds the Surface Swim with Pop-up Style Breathing.  But again, as we pointed out earlier, once a 3-5 year old has mastered the “Swim 101” skills and is stroke ready, you can graduate him to “Swim Strokes 201” and add the Front Crawl (Freestyle).

I hope this helps, Helen!

Warm Regards,

Jim Reiser

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.

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January 29, 2014 at 11:15 pm
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