The Swim Professor

Jim Reiser, M.S.

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How to Teach Freestyle to True Beginners

The first obstacle for many children learning to swim is that they don’t want to put their face in the water yet.  In the past, we used to tell our instructors to have the beginner practice Dog Paddle.  At the time, we felt like this was the best alternative to the front crawl so it became the first step of the freestyle swimming progression.  Seems logical, right?  We now believe otherwise. In fact, we are very confident that Dog Paddle is NOT a logical skill to teach young learners, and here’s why:

There are essentially FOUR REASONS we have removed it from the Swim Lessons University Swim 102/103 curriculum:

#1 It’s a very unnatural way to swim. Have you tried to dog paddle lately?  I personally find that it’s not a very easy skill to do for any distance, let alone for a period of time. Maybe I’m just getting old, but it puts a lot of stress on my neck and dog paddle is certainly an uncomfortable way to swim.

#2 You’re teaching children to swim nervously. From both a physical and psychological standpoint, you are indirectly teaching the child to frantically paddle the arms because if he or she doesn’t—the swimmer takes in water.  Therefore, you have a child swimming nervously because he is desperate to keep the mouth and nose out of the water.

#3 You’re teaching bad habits. Dog paddle reinforces the opposite of what we are trying to achieve in the freestyle arm pull.  We want nice, long underwater pulls–yet when we let kids to dog paddle, we are allowing them to pull the water in a quick and choppy fashion instead.

#4 You’re sacrificing valuable practice time. As Publilius Syrus once said: “Practice is the best of all instructors.”  However, from a learning standpoint, we sacrifice practicing the one skill that the child needs to learn in order to make real progress with the freestyle.  So at Swim Lessons University, we now use this allocated time to practice that skill: First-time facial immersion and beginning breath holding.

So those are the big four.  Now the question becomes, “how does the beginner practice first-time submersion and beginning breath holding?”  When it’s time to practice the Freestyle/Front Crawl, we have those beginners who aren’t putting the face in the water work on the in-line kick drill.  This way, the beginner can simultaneously practice the kick and practice putting the face in the water. We already isolated the basic breath holding skill earlier in the class, so combining the kick with the beginning facial immersion is a great combo drill that affords both flutter kick reps and beginning breath holding.

Once your student is successful because of the extra facial immersion practice, then you can help him or her do the freestyle by encouraging him to put the face in the water for “one stroke” as you manipulate the arm. Got it?  Then you ask the child to do “one stroke” by his or herself. Before you know it, one becomes two, two becomes three, and so on.  Just keep encouraging, be patient, and convey that you believe in your student. If you can do this, you’ll soon have a beginning student swimming freestyle across the pool!

Let’s head to the pool so I can share with you a real example of one of my students taking her first few strokes:

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 certification program and curriculum, make sure to visit us at  We have training and certification programs designed for both private instructors as well as organizations like YMCAs, Recreation Departments, Athletic Clubs, and more.

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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January 14, 2017 at 11:35 pm
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