How to Teach Swimming to Beginners — and Make It Safe and Fun

Teaching swimming lessons for beginners can help save lives.
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Teaching someone to swim is incredibly rewarding — realizing you provided them with a skill that could save their life. But leading beginner-level child or adult swim lessons depends greatly on the age of the individual and their comfort level in the water.


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Teaching a fearful individual often requires more patience and understanding than guiding someone who's raring to go. Look into getting certified through an organization like the American Red Cross or SwimAmerica if you want to teach lessons on a regular basis.


Teaching beginners to swim can be dangerous. Never to leave anyone alone unsupervised, and if you're teaching a group, make sure that another adult or lifeguard is watching the group while you aren't working with them.

Many children and adults develop lifelong fear of water because some well-meaning person dunked them or pushed them in water unexpectedly. Never use scare tactics while teaching swimming.

How to Teach Swim Lessons

Be Prepared

First, create swimming lesson plans for beginners. If you don't know what you want to cover in a day, you won't efficiently teach the class. Make sure you consciously break down the skills of swimming into smaller, digestible pieces. The Red Cross's swim lesson plans can help guide you.


Then, set up your equipment before class. Gather your supplies — kickboards, pool noodles, floaties, goggles, etc. — and have them waiting where you'll hold the class.

Start Slowly

In your very first session, introduce swimmers to the water. Play games or sing songs. Don't be surprised if some of them seem fearful. Continue working with them, showing them how much fun the water can be.


Show them how to blow bubbles, then turn their head to the side. This introduces rudimentary rotary breathing, a necessary skill for breathing while swimming.

Practice Kicking

Use the kickboard to show the students how to float on their stomachs and backs. You can play "red light, green light" while teaching them how to kick. When you say green light, they kick as hard as they can, and when you say red light, they have to stop.


Combine Skills

Once they have a handle on basic skills, start putting them all together. Instruct them to hold the kickboard while kicking and doing rotary breathing. Then, teach submersion and breath holding by asking the students to retrieve objects from the bottom of the shallow end.

Next, place a pool noodle across the student's chest and under their armpits so that they can paddle their arms while kicking. Lastly, end every class with a fun game or allow the students to jump off the side into the pool one at a time.


Expect teaching swimming to take awhile. Have fun and be patient.

Think creatively when coming up with games and ways to teach the skills. Every individual learns differently, so you may need to switch things up occasionally.

3 Swimming Drills for Beginners

The skills required for swimming are acquired gradually, and people learn these skills at different speeds. Swimming drills for young swimmers can help them reach their potential in the quickest possible time.

As they practice these pool drills for beginners, they'll become more competent and will begin to perform it automatically, leading to successful swimming of various strokes.

1. Push and Glide

After someone has gained some initial water confidence, you can teach them the essential skill of pushing and gliding. This swimming drill introduces the skill that forms the basis of swimming starts and turns.

Initially, you can teach them to start from standing and push off the pool floor with their feet and reach for the poolside. You can then teach them to push away from the side and glide to a partner who can catch them. As confidence improves, learners can progress to pushing, gliding and standing up on their own.

Teach people to do this drill with their arms outstretched and face in the water with the toes pointed. This introduces the streamlined body shape that forms the basis of swimming starts and turns and the correct body position for swimming front crawl.

2. Swim Kick Drills

The front crawl leg kick is characterized by a continuous, alternating action. There are several swim kick drills you can use to introduce this element of the stroke. A good one to start with is the leg kick while holding the rail at the side of the pool. Teaching points you should highlight are:

  • Toes should be pointed throughout the drill.
  • The kick should start from the hip.
  • The leg should be straight during the upbeat of the kick and slightly bent on the downbeat as the leg accelerates.

As they become more proficient at performing the leg kick while holding the side of the pool, have them do the drill while holding two floats. Later on, just one float, progressing to leg kicking without using any buoyancy aids.

3. Arm Action Drills

The arm action in the front crawl provides continuous propulsion and is characterized by its alternating action. You can introduce the front crawl arm action with a drill that starts standing in the pool.

Demonstrate the hand entering the water in line with the shoulder with the elbow bent. As the hand enters the water, the elbow straightens and the arm should be stretched forward. The catch is a downward and backward movement.

Continue by demonstrating the downsweep with your elbow bent, the insweep with the hand sweeping inward to the center of the body, followed by the upsweep and recovery to show the continuous arm action. The idea should be to splash as little as possible during the drill.

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How to Become a Swim Instructor

Teaching a child or adult how to swim provides a low-impact aerobic activity that lasts a lifetime. Swim lessons are offered at many pools and YMCA facilities. To become a certified swimming instructor, you must go through extensive training and testing.

Swim Lesson Certification

Many organizations help people acquire swim lesson certification. The American Red Cross is one of the main organizations offering a swimming instructor course and testing. A swimming pretest is given to all applicants followed by training courses and a final written test.

Certification level depends on the individual's ability to successfully pass all courses as well as the duration of level 1 instruction. The American Red Cross also provides CPR classes to all instructor trainees.

Aquatic Teaching Foundation Unit

The Aquatic Teaching Foundation Unit (ATFU) is the core of swimming instructor training and covers the basics of swimming safety. Further certification training courses are designed around your level of education and dedication.

For example, certification to teach beginners requires that candidates be at least 16 years old, acquire the Safeguarding and Promoting the Welfare of Children certification, CPR certification and a 20-hour training course in beginner swim technique.

Advanced Instruction

Applicants who are at least 18 and have certain qualifications such as teaching degrees in primary education are eligible for swimming certifications through distance learning.

These specialized certifications require the same training as beginner instructors as well as extended hours to earn a higher certification such as aquatics and intermediate. Requiring between 16 and 36 hours of instruction time, these certifications allow swim instructors to teach people of all ages without supervision from a senior instructor.

Working as a Swimming Instructor

Once you've completed your qualification courses and received your certifications, employment is the next step. Becoming associated with a well-known swimming organization such as the YMCA will help you gain experience and progress toward independent swim instruction.

When providing private swim instruction, you need insurance to cover yourself and your students if an accident occurs. Always make your credentials available to students and parents (if teaching minors) and submit all paperwork in a timely manner when partnering with other organizations.

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