The Swim Professor

Jim Reiser, M.S.

Swim Instructors and Body Language

How important is your body language when it comes to teaching? I expect that you may find these research-based facts and findings in the next few paragraphs quite interesting. In fact, it’s my hope that you will not only find them interesting, but that you and your learn-to-swim staff embrace them—potentially improving the perception of your teaching staff teaching overnight.

Communication occurs in three dimensions. Body language represents close to 60 percent. The noise that comes out of our mouths accounts for about 30 percent, leaving barely 10 percent to the words we use!  If most swimming instructors were given those three dimensions on one side of a page, and those percentages on the other side of the page, it is my guess that very few would have matched them up correctly.

Body language is capable of sending out all kinds of messages that can enhance or damage our students’ parents’ perception on us as swimming teachers. It is so critical that we are aware of these signals. People tend to have much less conscious control over their non-verbal messages than of what they’re actually saying. This is partly because non-verbal communication is much more emotional in nature, and therefore much more instinctive. If there is a mismatch between the two, THEREFORE, non-verbal messages are trusted rather than the words actually used.

Here are several examples of non-verbal messages:

  • Body Movements, for example, hand gestures or nodding or shaking the head;
  • Posture, or how you stand or sit, whether your arms are crossed, and so on;
  • Eye Contact, where the amount of eye contact often determines the level of trust and trustworthiness;
  • Para-language, or aspects of the voice apart from speech, such as pitch, tone, and speed of speaking;
  • Closeness or Personal Space, which determines the level of intimacy;
  • Facial Expressions, including smiling, frowning and even blinking. lists a number of body language clusters with a breakdown of their individual signals. Emotions like joy, anger, sadness and surprise are fairly easy to recognize, while others may take a little thought to figure out. Disinterest, for example, is expressed by looking away, fidgeting, or repeatedly glancing at your watch or a clock!

Other negative non-verbal cues swimming instructors need to avoid are communicated through your BODY POSTURE, often unintentionally communicating that you don’t care.

Here are several more examples Body Posture issues in particular:

  • Teaching with your arms crossed.
  • Yawning.
  • Floating around on a noodle.
  • Resting an arm on a lane line or back against the wall.

What can Swimming Instructors do to Portray that we Care?

  • Use proximity and be “hands-on.”
  • Lower yourself in the water so that your student and their parents see your eyes focused on the child. The “eyes” possess the loudest voice!
  • Tilt your head toward your student.
  • Raise an eyebrow to acknowledge a student’s question or response.
  • Look straight at your student to show that he/she has your attention.
  • If you need to disapprove of your student’s behavior, you can look straight at him/her with a prolonged, stare.

Practice Presenting Dynamically when You Teach!

In addition to non-verbal behavior and body language, swimming instructors can and should still strive to use assets like voice inflection to enhance communication. Remember, 30 percent of communication came not from the words that we speak, but simply from the noise. So if you can combine strong verbal cues with the voice inflection, your message will come across stronger and more effective.

Here are Three Proven Strategies:

  1. Loudness contrasted with softness.
  2. High-Pitched contrasted with low-pitch.
  3. Quick delivery contrasted with slow delivery

While you don’t have to be a public speaker, swimming instructors should know how to use voice dynamics when needed to make communication clearer (Rink, 1993).


Non-verbal communication is a complex yet integral part of overall communication skills for swimming instructors. However, far too often–teachers are often totally unaware of their non-verbal behavior.  I hope that this basic awareness of these non-verbal communication strategies, over and above what you actually say when you teach, will help you and your swim staff be even more successful in the near future!


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 

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January 24, 2017 at 11:42 pm Comments (0)