The Swim Professor

Jim Reiser, M.S.

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)

Swim Lesson Questions

Last night one of my instructors got this question/comment from a parent:

“I don’t see why she has to learn to breathe to the side… I think it’s just fine to breathe to front.”

Wow!   That just shows why the majority of our swim lessons participants are “beginners” and not near enough parents know enough, understand enough, or value enough the importance of learning formal strokes like freestyle with SIDE BREATHING!

To me,  when I see a person swimming freestyle with side breathing, I think to myself: “this individual knows how to swim.”   On the other hand, when I see someone swimming like Tarzan (though he was the best of yesteryear), I think: “this person is not a good swimmer.”

Not to get off subject, but an interesting fact.  Johnny Weismuller (Tarzan) was the first human being to swim the 100 yard freestyle in under 1 minute.   A great accomplishment considering the lack of technique and training available back then.  But today, we have countless 12 year olds swimming the 100 freestyle under 1:00!  So we now have skinny little kids who could out race a super human with hands the size of a pizza.   Johnny Weismuller is from Windber, PA, 5 minutes from my hometown.  My grandfather actually shook his hand and told me that story of how large his hands were!

Back to the importance of swimming freestyle with side breathing.   When one breathes to the side instead of the front, a significant amount of energy is conserved and the stroke is much more efficient and minimizes frontal drag.   If you train freestyle, you could swim across most lakes.   Of course learning other strokes such as sidestroke and elementary backstroke are great strokes to conserve energy for long swims as well.

According to Safe Kids World Wide, over 50% of all drownings for children ages 6 -14 occur in open water situations.   Why?  One reason is parents don’t understand the importance of learning formal strokes, such as the parent who questioned my instructor.   So when it appears to many parents that their child “swim like fish” because of how they swim  in a pool, the parents have no idea how the child would respond in an open water situation where your skills need to be much stronger.   If children are given the opportunity to learn “formal swimming skills and strokes,” drowning rates would drastically decline.

And one last note, life jackets save lives too.   Depending on the child’s skills, parents should not just depend on swimming skills in open water situations.   My rule of thumb, if the child (or adult) can’t swim across the lake, he/she should wear a life jacket!

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July 6, 2011 at 2:22 pm Comments (0)