The Swim Professor

Jim Reiser, M.S.

How Swim Instructors Fail

While many parents may think there’s not much to teaching a child to swim, you know that is far from the truth.  There’s a lot that goes into being a great swim instructor, and like most anything in life–you can learn from your mistakes.  So keep the faith.  You are always getting better.

Here are some Do’s and Don’ts that should help:

1.  Don’t be too task oriented.  Do stay child focused.    Keep it fun and the kids will love you, want to come back, and they will  be inspired to learn.

2.  Don’t be overly critical.  Do focus on what you like vs. what you don’t like.  As Dale Carnegie stressed decades ago, focus on the positive not the negative.  Your students will be much more motivated to learn.

3. Don’t correct mistakes that you weren’t focusing on.  Do correct mistakes.  In other words, keep your feedback congruent with what you were focusing your students on.  And sandwich corrections with two positive comments.

4.  Don’t allow for too much “down time.”  Do maximize practice time.  Young children rarely misbehave for you intentionally.  They’re not bad kids.  You are just boring them by requiring them to sit still.   Keep them busy and your class management skills will improve overnight.

5.  Don’t focus on the details of the strokes.   Do be a technician when it comes to making sure your students are using equipment correctly.  If they use it correctly, it will help them.  Use it incorrectly, and learning is often hindered.

6.  Don’t focus on the details of the strokes.  Do focus on the fundamentals.  When you have a young learner, a beginner, they can’t handle details.  But they do need to understand the gross overall action.  Teach it.

7.  Don’t force skills on a child.  Do encourage them to the point that they “believe” they CAN do it.   This is most easily accomplished by using progressions.  Make each step in the learning process achievable.

8.  Don’t overstay your welcome.   Do keep classes short enough that they aren’t getting bored , but make them long enough so that they get plenty of repetition.  For children age 6 months to 9 years, classes held on the 30 minutes work nicely.  If you go longer, make sure it’s play time and that parents aren’t misled thinking they’re getting 40-45 minutes of instruction.

9.  Don’t be late.  Do be prompt.  5 minutes early is 10 minutes late.  Surveys show you will satisfy your clients simply by being on time.

10.  Don’t frown.  Do SMILE!  Your smile communicates that you love what you do, and most importantly, that you love teaching the parent’s child to swim.  How can a parent not be flattered by that?

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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September 10, 2011 at 3:59 am Comments (2)

Swim Lesson Techniques

When you are teaching any given swimming technique, your instructions typically should focus your swim lesson students on a set of cues or buzzwords.  For example, you may say something like:  “Here we go, I want to see you keep your kick small and fast while during your side breathing.  Ready, go!” 

Because your instructions or buzzwords emphasized “small and fast,” your feedback should then be congruent with your instructions.  In other words, when your student finishes the swim, you should comment on how your student performed the part of the skill that you had him/her focusing on.  

Too often, swim instructors will tell their student to concentrate on one thing and correct them on something else.  It’s important to try and avoid this mistake because it indirectly confuses your students and isn’t the best motivational tactic in the world either.  On the other hand, if your feedback specifically relates to what your instructions were before the swim, then you increase your effectiveness. 

Why?  Because your student’s focus is rewarded when he or she does well.   At the very least, your students will learn to focus on the task at hand, trying their best to impress you, especially if you reward them with praise when they are successful.

You can learn more about this swim lessons tip and many more in the Teach Like a Pro DVD.

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September 6, 2010 at 12:06 am Comments (0)

Swim Lesson Rules

Keep in mind that when teaching kids swim lessons, that children will actually feel safer when they know what the rules are, especially in new or exciting situations.   If a child is scared, they will have a hard time having fun.  So when you kindly, but firmly give children rules or boundaries and let them know it’s to keep them safe, you start building trust.

Discipline is the gift of responsible love.  Discipline and rules and punishment are related, but they are not the same.   Discipline is  the continual everyday process of helping a child learn self discipline.  No child is born with it.  It has to be taught.

Disciplining a child “includes” making rules or “setting limits.”  Good ones have these characteristics in common:

  • Serve a purposes
  • Within a child’s capacity
  • They are consistent
  • They are express a concern and/or ensure safety.

What do you do when the rules are broken?  First, I want to stress the importance of showing appreciation for what children are doing well, because this is often more effective than the punishment.   But when you do have to punish, here are some do’s and don’ts:


  • React irrationally
  • Retailiate with force
  • Verbally abuse the child himself


  • React with a calm, firm reminder that you don’t approve of the behavior.
  • Remind the child that there are consequences for unacceptable behaviors
  • Be understanding (in some cases) but certain behaviors still warrant consequences

Reasonable consequences  in a Swim Lesson :
1.  Warning (with reminder that the next consequence will result in time out of the pool)

2.  Time Out (with reminder that the next consequence will result in you and child having talk with parent)

3.  Talk with Parent (with suggestion of further revoked privileges at home).

At home, you usually hear that time outs should be about “1 minute per year old.”  For swim lessons, however, I usually go with about “30 seconds of time out per year old” because the parents are paying for the lesson AND 30 seconds out of the pool probably feels much longer than a minute to a child who likes the water!


Love is at the root of all healthy discipline.  The desire to be loved is a powerful motivation for children to behave in ways to please you.

There are many other swim lesson techniques that will also have a huge impact on the child’s behavior.  For example, the way you use feedback, the way you allocate practice time, the way you minimize downtime (when kids, especially boys,  get into trouble), your class management skills, etc.  Learn more about these in the Swim Lessons University Instructional DVD “You Can Teach Like a Pro !”

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August 23, 2010 at 7:00 pm Comments (0)