The Swim Professor

Jim Reiser, M.S.

Swim Lessons Ideas for Kicking

In the “Swim 101” Lesson Plan, you will notice that we like to rotate three different flutter kick activities for variety and to keep the FUN in the Fundamentals. While the emphasis doesn’t change (we are still working on developing a sound freestyle kick), we add a new kick activity every two lessons. THIS ACTIVITY, “Let’s Build a Castle” is a great one that your young students are sure to love. Take a look and give it a try in your next swim lessons. The colorful building blocks can be found on the Swim Lessons University website under “Swim Instructor Accessories.”

For the entire “Swim 101” Course curriculum, check out the Swim Lessons University.  Swim 101 video highlights and samples of the entire course video can be found on the Swim Lessons University website.

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October 18, 2012 at 1:15 pm Comments (0)

Fear of the Water or Stranger Anxiety?

Swimming Instructors and parents alike often mistake Stranger Anxiety with Fear of the Water.  According to child psychologists, the child is likely thinking something like, “I don’t know who you are or what you want from me, so I’m sticking close to Mom.”

According to Dr. Avelet, a contributing writer for Parent Magazine, “Fear of strangers is a healthy, protective fear — children should not go to people they don’t know.”  Of course this is a downside for a child’s first few swimming lessons.  According to Dr. Talmi, children should be given plenty of time to get to know someone before expecting her to interact and be friendly to them.   This certainly includes a new swim instructor.

I think it’s important that we, as Learn-to-Swim Professionals, help parents understand this.  I can’t tell you how many times in my career I have heard parents say, “I don’t understand, he loves the water.  Or she loves to swim.   Or the parent says to the child:  what’s wrong with you?  You love to swim in our pool!”

As LTS Professionals, we have to intervene as quickly as possible and let the parent know this most likely a case of stranger anxiety, not swimming pool anxiety, and it will go away.   We just need to give her some time.  I want you to stay by your child’s side as we interact today and maybe even next time.   The key is that we give her as much time as she needs.

As you, the parents, and possibly your other students model friendly behaviors, the fearful child will naturally warm up to you and the new situation.   For more on helping children overcome their fears, check out the Swim Lessons University audio program From Tears to Cheers.

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August 10, 2012 at 2:15 pm Comment (1)

How to Teach Freestyle to Beginners

First of all, if your student is under the age of six, I strongly suggest that you first teach a child to swim with the hands at the sides, using a “pop-up breath.”  Why?  It’s pretty simple.  At these younger ages, while children CAN and SHOULD learn the front crawl/freestyle, it takes LONGER to learn because of the where a child is at from a motor skill development standpoint.   Secondly, we know that over 50% of all drownings for children under the of six occur in residential pools (SafeKids World Wide).   If a child can master swimming with the hands at the sides with a strong flutter kick and a pop-up breath quicker than he can learn freestyle, then I think we need to teach them the basic swimming skill (kicking with a pop-up breath) as early as possible.  If the child is six years of age or older, we approach the skills progression differently.  Why?  Because by age six, the motor skills are much more developed.  Our experience is that if a six year old can hold his breath for 4-5 seconds, then he will pick up the freestyle (front crawl) quite quickly because his motor skills are better.   Children at this age have fairly good coordination, so teaching freestyle to the beginner is much more age appropriate.   Secondly, we know that between the ages of six and 14 years of age, more than 50% of all drowning are in open water situations.   Since freestyle is going to be much more effective skill in a more challenging situation such as in open water, it makes more sense to start teaching freestyle to beginners age six and over).

The secret when teaching beginners to swim freestyle (front crawl) is to utilize the progression principal combined with clear, precise instructions or cues that tend to the “whole idea” of the swimming skill.   In this video, you will see my young Swim Strokes 201 student make some nice improvements in just a matter of a few repeats.  This same progression can be used with a Swim 102 (6-9 year old beginner) or Swim 103 (10-12 years).  Rather than asking her to swim all the way across the pool, you can see the progression principle being utilized, making each improvement achievable.  You will also see the use of specific corrective and evaluative feedback.  Take a look:

For more video on “How to Teach the Freestyle and Backstroke,” check us out at Swim Lessons University.   All of these teaching concepts are discussed and shown in detail in Swim 102,  Swim Strokes 201/202/203, and” Teach Like a Pro!”

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July 31, 2012 at 1:06 pm Comments (0)

How to Use Flotation Devices in Swim Lessons

For the last three plus decades, we have been experimenting with  learn-to-swim flotation devices,  experimenting with different ways to use them, and most importantly–striving to determine how to most effectively use them in order to help children learn to swim more efficiently.    At Swim Lessons University, we train swimming instructors to use buoyancy devices in a manner that is not only progressive and effective, but it also makes the process of learning to swim safer and more enjoyable.

In today’s blog, I am going to share with you video footage that will demonstrate the WRONG WAY and the RIGHT WAY to use flotation vests, as well as BEFORE AND AFTER FOOTAGE so you can see the evidence.

As you watch this first video clip, notice how the little girl on the left has just enough flotation that she can successfully practice the pop-up breath.  Whereas the young student on the right, Nolan, has too little flotation CAUSING him to go into what I call “survival swimming.”  You could even say he is swimming scared.   If your students are in survival swimming mode, as the instructor, you are basically eliminating their ability to practice the “Pop-up Breath.”   You are also often creating unnecessary anxiety in your student, which not only reduces his chances to improve, but it may also impede the progress all together.   Take a look:

The neat thing about the next video clip is you are going to see Nolan, on the same day, perform the same skill, with two more flotation pads. Notice how the proper amount of buoyancy affords our student with the ability to practice the “pop-up breath” with confidence.  The neat thing about these “progressive flotation vests,” is that you can give your students JUST ENOUGH flotation to be successful.  HOWEVER, SUCCESS is the key.  If your student is struggling, if your student can’t get his breath and immediately return to the face down swimming position then you need to ADD FLOTATION.  Watch the difference:

As your student’s skills improve to the point that the breath is automatic and effortless, then you can remove a buoyancy pad.  As long as the child doesn’t resort to the “survival swimming” mode, you can continue to remove flotation until he/she is swimming independently without it.  The flotation not only increases confidence and a child’s willingness to try, it increases “quality practice time” and promotes “good body positioning and technique.”  Last but not least, it make learning to swim enjoyable, creating a life long love affair of the water vs. fearing it.

Within just a few weeks of the first two clips where you saw Nolan NEEDED the flotation, you will now get to see Nolan performing the Surface Swim with the “Pop-up Breath” without it:

In the earlier videos, the flotation allowed him to practice a skill he could not do otherwise.   Our years of testing clearly demonstrate students don’t get dependent on flotation.  They do get dependent, however, on an instructor, or a parent holding them.  Regarding a false sense of security, no parent or child should EVER have a false sense of security.  Parents and children need to understand that LIFE JACKETS SAVE LIVES!  They are like SEAT BELTS.  No one should be ashamed to wear a life jacket when in or around the water.   Life Jackets just aren’t for boating either.  In our “Water Smart 101” program for children, the rule of thumb we teach is that if you can’t swim the length of the body of water you are in or playing around, and you aren’t within an “arms reach” of an adult, you should wear a life jacket.  Type III or Type V Life Jackets should be worn even in swimming pools when an adult isn’t providing “arms reach” supervision.   “Close and constant supervision” should be maintained during swimming instruction as well while wearing these progressive flotation devices.   Flotation devices equal safer swimming, but multiple layers of swim safety practices should be enforced at all times.

The progressive flotation devices we like are made by SwimWays.  We especially like the SwimWays Power Swimr.   The Sea Squirts Swim Assist, as seen in today’s YouTube video, is also nice but doesn’t have quite as much flotation so shouldn’t be used with a true beginner.  Swim Ways also carries a Sea Squirts Type III Coast Guard approved Life Jacket which is an excellent swimming life vest as it doesn’t ride up on the swimmer like most ski jackets do because of it’s design.  Konfidence-USA also makes a nice progressive flotation device.

For more information, check out Swim Lessons University!

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June 25, 2012 at 2:45 pm Comments (0)

How to Teach the Breaststroke Kick – Part One

When teaching the breaststroke kick to a young student, using various forms of kinesthetic techniques can work wonders. While no technique will create a “miracle swimmer,”  if you provide the critical components of teaching swimming in your classes your students will pick the skill up before you know it.  Make no mistake about it, all  complex skills take time, lots of practice, and reinforcing.

In this first of three segments of “How to Teach the Breaststroke Kick,”  I will demonstrate my “Reversed High Ten Method” which we use to teach the breaststroke kick at Swim Lessons University.  Take a look:

For more on teaching breaststroke, check out our Breaststroke 301 DVD at Swim Lessons University.

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June 5, 2012 at 4:28 pm Comments (0)

Learn-to-Swim Objective for 3-4 Year Olds

For three to four year olds, while we don’t expect a three year old to swim front crawl or freestyle with side breathing across the pool yet, a three year old can learn to swim distances any where from 15 feet up to 25 yards if parents continue to enroll their child in lessons with a quality swimming instructor and swim lessons curriculum.

During this time, the child will also be developing the prerequisite skills in his swimming lessons so he can swim the front crawl (freestyle) with side breathing and backstroke for distances between 30 feet to 50 yards by the time he is four or five years of age. On the other hand, if the young three or four year old isn’t developing these skills in swim lessons now, learning the strokes will be certainly delayed. The Front Crawl with side breathing and Backstroke will come MUCH EASIER to a four or five year old that has already mastered the Surface Swim with a Pop-up or Rollover Breath when they were three years of age. Mastering these skills will be much more difficult for the four or five year old who’s parent waited or discontinued lessons for other activities.

Here is Nolan, who just turned three years old. He was 37 months of age at the time of this video.

To illustrate what six to seven months of swimming lessons per year (not year-round) can do for your child, I will continue to post at least one more video of Nolan for another LTS Objective so you can see what can be achieved with a commitment to swimming instruction.

PLEASE NOTE: No objective or benchmark should ever be achieved because we (swim instructor or parent) want the child to achieve it, rather, when the child is developmentally ready to achieve it. Enjoy the journey. Stay child focused. AS a result, your student/child will develop a lifelong love affair with the water, as well as become a safer swimmer. That is what Swim Lessons University is all about.

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May 31, 2012 at 3:18 pm Comments (0)

Social Media for Swim Lesson Parents

Your ability or willingness to take the time to communicate with your customers, your swim lesson parents, can make or break your swim school.  Keep in touch with them via email, and use social media like facebook, twitter, and LinkedIn.  Here’s an example of a recent message I posted on our Swim Lessons Company Facebook page:

“Does  your child suddenly seem to not like swim lessons? Does he refuse to try a certain skill? I CAN’T EMPHASIZE THIS ENOUGH: Evaluate your feedback.  Experts agree that young children are motivated to learn through what they perceive as to be fun or play. Our Parent & Me and Swim 101 course reflect this philosophy. It is critical that teachers and parents are sensitive to this developmental perspective.  Try not to ever force an adult work ethic upon young children. Preschool swim lessons should be fun, playful experiences.”

Short social media messages like that are invaluable.  You can communicate your philosophy, observations, and share tips in an informal manner.  You eliminate personal confrontation and give the parents a chance to digest what you’re saying.  Last but not least, you keep their attention because you aren’t writing an essay.  Let’s face it.  Attention spans are not very long these days, even with adults!

One more tip: Try to pretty regularly open with a question to engage your reader.  This can make or break whether they even take a look!

Hope this helps! you.  Anytime you have a question for me feel free to email me at

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January 16, 2012 at 3:34 pm Comments (0)

Learning the Freestyle Kick

Dear Swim Professor:

How would I get a beginning swimmer to kick properly with the kick board? I used the kinesthetic feedback and manipulated their legs for them. I even had swim lessons student show me the difference between good and bad kicks, but they reverted right back to kicking with their legs up under their body.   I appreciate any help you can give me.

Coach Arielle

Dear Coach Arielle,

Quite frankly, it sounds like you are doing a lot of great things.  You obviously studied the “Teach Like a Pro” DVD. In fact, you are incorporating some of the best techniques available.  In today’s blog, I will go over some fundamentals that may help you.  But before I do that, allow me to say this:

Making technique changes or breaking bad habits, whether it be learning to kick properly or correcting someone’s golf swing, is typically a process, not an event.

So when you practice all these excellent teaching techniques, i.e., the “right vs. wrong way,” kinesthetic feedback, demonstrations, etc., all it does is improves their ability to get it right sooner, but those corrections are rarely instantaneous.   This is why two of the most important characteristics teacher’s have are “patience and persistence.” Don’t give up on your students and keep coming back to it, while being positive, reassuring, and encouraging all the while.   You also have to sell to them that “they will get it.”  You have to help your students BELIEVE.   You know the saying: “if you can believe it, you can achieve it.”   That’s the first step.

From a technical aspect, here are a few other questions that I would have  that will make learning the flutter kick easier:

1.  Are the arms extended straight? (you want the arms straight)

2.  Is the chin near the water?  (it’s important that it is near the water)

3.  Are the arms on top of the board? (they should be)

4.  Are the thumbs on top, fingers on the bottom? (they should be)

5.  Is the student pressing down on the board and sinking it?  (you don’t want that)

6.  Is the student on top of the board? (you don’t want that)

Once your beginning swimming student is holding the board correctly, then you want to make sure you are doing the following ( I know you were doing many of these):

1.  Demonstrate it correctly and have your students watch something specific, i.e., watch how my legs are extended almost straight behind me, not under me).

2.  Use good cues:   I want to see “Small, fast kicks!”  “Fast feet!”

3.  Demonstrate the “right vs. the wrong way:”  Watch how my kicks are small and fast, and watch how my legs are extended behind me.”  Now watch me kick incorrectly.  See how I don’t go anywhere when me knees draw underneath me?”

4.  Kinesthetic Feedback:  Like you were saying, let them feel it done right, wrong, then right again.  Also, try placing your forearm underneath the legs just above the knees to prevent the knees from drawing forward.

5.  Practice, Practice, Practice.   Even though we don’t like to see skills practiced incorrectly, in many instances, that is the only way the learner will learn to get it right.   When your student starts to feel the difference between doing the skill correctly vs. incorrectly, this will encourage them make that change for good.

Hope that helps, coach!

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July 20, 2011 at 9:15 pm Comments (0)

Pop-up Breath Swimming

Teaching the Pop-up Breath:  A Child Centered Swimming Lessons Approach

I have been teaching swimming since 1983.   This is hard to admit, but I have been teaching longer than most of my instructors have been alive!  And of course over the past 28 years, my methods and approaches have changed.  One technique I continue to change and evolve is developing the best techniques for teaching a young child how to do the pop-up breath.

As many of you know, I am a huge fan of  progressive flotation devices.  I love the fact that you can remove buoyancy as the swimmer becomes more competent in the water.  But most recently, I have witnessed a few of my instructors become overeager to remove the buoyancy pads, which has prompted me to write today’s blog.

I have one philosophy I believe in like the bible and I will teach it to my grave.  Learning to swim should be enjoyable.  Learning to swim should NOT be scary or stressful to a child BECAUSE of an overeager instructor or parent.   I want to RE-EMPHASIZE that our methods can be progressive, but they MUST be child-friendly and child-focused.   We CAN NOT put our goals or the child’s parent’s goals in front of the child’s skill readiness.  Take your time, and enjoy the process.

Let me ask you this:

  1. If your student is swimming and yelling, “I’m scared!” Is this a child-centered approach?
  2. If your student has the fear of God written all over his/her face, is this taking a child-centered approach?
  3. If your approach is making your student is exceptionally nervous and scared, is this a child-centered approach?

NO, NO, and NO!!!  AND NO EXCUSES!  As a professional swimming instructor, you need to eliminate the fears your students are experiencing.  And more than likely, it will be very easy to do, because it is your approach that is creating the fearful environment. Your approach should be causing young children to develop a life long love of the water.

So a few NEW GUIDELINES for teaching a young child the Pop-up Breath:

  1. Do not remove ANY FLOTATION from the vest UNTIL the child is competently swimming and doing a pop-up breath without a struggle.  If there is a struggle, teachers should NOT increase the difficulty, rather find a way to reduce it, i.e., assist the learner with a little support during the breath (just enough so he/she is successful).

*Understand this fact:  The less flotation a child has, the more he/she will tilt the head back and chin up because he is trying to keep the mouth out of the water so he can breathe, creating a diagonal for vertical position in the water. The more flotation the student has, the more confidence he/she will also have to attempt swimming with the face in the water and getting quick breaths as needed.   Once the skill becomes instinctive, then you can start removing flotation.

  1. NEVER force the face into the water.   If you allow the learner to have the maximum amount of buoyancy, he/she will put his face in the water upon your command WHEN he/she is ready.  If you force the face in the water, the child will likely panic and breathe, causing him/her to choke on the water.  This will only prolong learning the skill that you are trying to help the child master.  ENCOURAGE, ENCOURAGE, ENCOURAGE!  Don’t threaten or pressure.

* Side note:  Last summer my son Nolan, who was not even 2 years old at the time, started doing the pop-breath while playing in the neighborhood pool and while wearing a Type 3 lifejacket.  Why?  He had nothing to fear.  He knew he could easily get his next breath without a struggle for his life.

  1. Use the cues “Breathe and Swim,” Breathe and Face-in,” or “Breathe and Kick.”   Did you know that one technique that hinders many young swimmers’ ability to get horizontal in the water is the paddling they are doing with the hands?   Teach young learners to put the arms more to their sides, and to use some minimal sculling movements during the breath, but the hands should not be out in front like a dog paddle.  This typically causes the swimmer to struggle to stay in a horizontal position.
  2. ALWAYS be in a position where you can see your student’s mouth, eyes, and facial expressions.   Fear hinders learning.  Security and confidence produce it.
  3. Give just enough support so that your student is successful, and gradually give less and less support when your student has proven to themselves that he/she is capable, and your student BELIEVES he/she can do it!

The best teachers foster this belief through the use of positive, reinforcing, and encouraging feedback.  You can’t fool them, but you can help them develop both the physical and psychological tools to be successful, and you can help them develop a lifelong love of the water.  Be patient.  If you teach yourself to put the “child happiness” first, and task mastery second, the pieces will fall into place.

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June 17, 2011 at 5:48 pm Comments (0)

Fearful Swimmers

One of the most difficult things for a swim instructor is developing the confidence that YOU CAN turn most any fearful swim lesson student into a happy swimmer.  No matter how scared the child may appear, you can do it!

Here are a few strategies that work:

1. Take control. Don’t allow the parent to take over how you are going to “tackle” the situation.  You are the expert.  If you take control and do it right, these Fearful Swimmer Techniques WILL WORK!

2. Acknowledge their Fears. Ask the child, “are you scared?”  When they respond “yes,” tell them “it’s okay to be scared.”  Tell the fearful swimmer that even grown-ups get scared sometimes.

3.  Don’t force the child in the water right away. Tell the child, “I want you to just sit here with mom/dad and watch.  That’s all I want you to do.  Tell the parent to avoid talking to them about getting in the water right now.  Just let the child calm down.  Whether the child “normally” loves the water and/or what the child does in their residential or neighborhood pool is irrelevant here.  This is a NEW situation and their fears are REAL.

4.  NEVER ask the child “do you want to get in the pool?” The answer will almost always will be “No!”

5.  INSTEAD–Redirect the child. If you are teaching the “Let’s Go Grocery Shopping” activity from the Swim 101 DVD, you might say:  “Do you like bananas or ice cream cones (assuming you have those props floating in the pool).  When they reply “ice cream cones,” you confidently and without hesitation use a secure hold bring them right into the water.  CONTINUE to redirect their attention, encourage them, and reassure the young swimmer.

These five simple techniques are EXTREMELY EFFECTIVE!  Yes, you may get  some resistance as you are bringing a scared swimmer into the water, but that should be expected.  Give it enough time (15-30 seconds) to go get the toy and bring it back before you give up.  And never, never,  give up!  But what I mean is, if the child is still very upset, go back to step #1 and REPEAT these five steps.

I would estimate this fearful child progression will turn tears into cheers 95% of the time.  If you don’t have success after the first class, invite mom or dad to join the class with you the next time just until the child gets comfortable with you.  Much of their fears can be attributed to stranger anxiety, a new place, etc.   Give them the security they need and keep it child focused–don’t take the security away.

For more tips, check out my From Tears to Cheers Audio CD. Swim school owners and program directors  like to share this with their staff in swim instructor training sessions.  Even share it with parents!

YOU CAN turn tears into cheers!  No skill is more important than learning to swim.   Whatever you do–don’t give up!  And the more you do it, the easier it will be…. Look at every fearful child as an experience that will help you grow into an even better swimming instructor.  Good luck!

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June 2, 2011 at 1:17 am Comments (7)

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