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!”

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

Swim Lesson Drills

Recently I led a round table discussion at the U.S. Swim School Conference in Las Vegas on Strokes Drills and Progressions. While we primarily discussed the importance of progressions and the purpose of progressions during that conversation, there is another aspect to this conversation that we didn’t get to discuss: Swim Lesson Drills. When, why, and how much of your lessons should be comprised of stroke drills?

First, allow me to state the purpose of a stroke drill: To isolate a particular aspect of the stroke that you want to focus on improving, strengthen, or even to make a correction. Secondly, and most importantly, I want to emphasize in this swim lesson blog that drills should NEVER be a substitute for practicing the entire stroke! In other words, if your swim lesson plans are geared to teach a child the freestyle side breathing (one of many examples), you want to be sure to allocate time to Freestyle with Side Breathing in every lesson and have your learn-to-swim student(s) attempt to put it all together.

As an instructor, don’t put yourself in a position where you are going to run out of time. Don’t put your student in a position where your students don’t have an opportunity to try the whole stroke and practice it. I would rather skip a drill in the sequence than skip the skill that your student is ultimately trying to learn.

Remember this: Drills will help your swimmers improve certain aspects of the stroke by isolating certain parts, but if your student doesn’t get to practice the stroke in its entirety, it significantly reduces the purpose and effectiveness of the drill. It may even confuse the swimmer or cause the parent to think that you are not teaching them the stroke they signed up to learn.

At Swim Lessons University, we make it easy on our teachers by allocating a designated amount of time in each our swim lesson plans to practice specific drills as well as the whole stroke. And at the same time, we still remind our teachers that if they have to skip something, skip a drill, not the stroke!

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October 24, 2010 at 2:33 pm Comments (0)