The Swim Professor

Jim Reiser, M.S.

Research-based Practice Methods for Swimming Instructors

Practice time is perhaps the single most critical element in the learning of swimming skills.  An inspirational quote by Publius Syrus about the value of practice, he said: “Practice is the best of all instructors.”  In today’s blog, let’s take an in-depth look at nine research-based practice considerations.  The best, most effective instructors consciously or unconsciously utilize these nine methods when they are teaching:

    1. Maximize Practice Time: Maximizing practice time should be a primary concern of every swimming instructor when it comes to the design of a learning experience.  Practice is the “mother of learning.” Practice is king!
    2. Design Appropriate Learning Experiences: To teach swimming skills or concepts to swim lesson students, instructors must design learning experiences that lead the learners from where they are to the desired objective or goal of performing the skill correctly.  Without appropriate learning experiences, swimmers of all ages and abilities will struggle.
    3. Quality of Practice: Not just practice, but quality practice has the greater potential to contribute to learning (Ashy, Lee, and Landin, 1988; Buck Harrison and Bryce, 1991; Goldberger and Gerney, 1990; Silverman, 1985).  Regardless of the success level of a student at a task, if they are practicing a skill incorrectly, it is highly unlikely that they will learn the proper way to perform that skill.
    4. Degree of Engagement: Cognitive engagement during practice is more likely to be effective (Magill, 1989).  Using Checks for Understanding, and a variety of activities and games can enhance the degree of engagement.
    5. Class Organization and Class Management: Several studies reported that a very small amount of practice time is spent in appropriate practice. (Godbout, Brunelle, and Tousignant, 1983; Metzler, 1989).  When investigators looked how teachers were spending time, they discovered that much time was actually being wasted because of poor organization and management, as well as by simply talking too much to students about what to do and how to do it (long, wordy instructions).  Students were waiting their turn or spending much of their time just listening.
    6. The Learning Experience Must be Appropriate: The most effective teachers understand that students profit from a learning experience that is appropriate to their level of ability.  If there is a range of abilities, skilled and experienced teachers use skill progressions that make the skill achievable for each student. Swimming instructors must design learning experiences that challenge students, yet are within reach of all students in the class.Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. In fact, play is the real work of childhood.”  – Fred “Mister” Rogers
    7. Integrate “Play” within the Practice: Practice is more meaningful when “play” or “games” are incorporated into the lesson.  Play makes learning more fun and more meaningful.
    8. Plan for Repetition while using Distributed Practice: Effective teachers understand that skills are learned through practice.  However, they don’t spend an entire lesson on one skill (Massed Practice).  They used Distributed Practice by spacing practice throughout a session or over several months as its’ proven to be more beneficial than spending an entire lesson practicing one skill.
    9. Plan for Safety: While increasing practice time is the goal, one exception to maximum activity would be if it could cause a class to be unsafe.


I would invite you to look at a few of my blogs like this one on the use of progressive flotation vest. The use of a progressive flotation vest can give you the best of both worlds.   A safer environment and maximum activity.   This blog also several videos embedded in the blog to demonstrate the points.

In fact, the benefits don’t end there. You can customize the level of buoyancy so it can lead to the student desired objective or goal of performing the skill correctly.   The flotation vest also improves the quality of practice allowing children to perform skills correctly because they have better body position in the water vs. decreasing the quality because they aren’t strong enough or proficient enough to perform the skill yet.

By using the Progressive Flotation device, you can gradually reduce the buoyancy as they become stronger at the skill, therefore you are implementing the progression principle. It also makes the learning experience more appropriate as you can challenge students but yet the skill is achievable.  You give the students just enough support to be safe and successful.

If you can implement these proven pedagogy practices in your learn-to-swim classes, you will take your teaching to a whole new level and your students will flourish under your guidance! I hope you found this blog on Research-based Practice Methods helpful. Thank you for visiting!


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!

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February 9, 2017 at 2:49 am Comments (0)