Keys for Every Swim Teacher





By Robert Strauss

 1. GUARANTEE HELP:           

  1. “Hold me…” <says the teacher offering an open hand; the friendly teacher does not reach to grab the student’s hand>.
  2. “Step down, be careful, go slow”, <continue offering open hand, and step back>.
  3. “Hold on to the rail”, <if no rail to walk in pool offer both hands and allow child to make the decision to hold on>
  4. Direct a fearful person to hold on to your hands verbally, allow him the first move to grab your open hand, and then slowly, carefully secure him by hugging him with his back to your front and wrapping your arms carefully around their waist/chest; your lips are close to his ear
  5. Whisper lines that guarantee help: “I need to help you all the time, you are little and cannot go by yourself”, “be careful don’t push me, you don’t know how to swim!”

Children under 3 should be in the water with a parent, ‘the lifeguard that protects them from themselves!’ Frequently children are hesitant to go in the water with a teacher they do not know, it is normal to: “get away from strangers and to get away from the pool” in most homes these are important rules. In swim lesson #1, in one breath Mom says, “…this is your teacher, go in the pool!” What did Mom say? What does she mean? Is Mom BREAKING THE RULES? Two “NO, NO’s” at the same time!




“It’s OK to cry, it’s OK to be scared!” Let the ‘future’ swimmer know that you are aware that he is scared, that is why you have to help all the time!” If child begins to scream or cry, release slowly, and ask, “What happened?”, “did you get hurt?”, “did I hurt you?” wait for reply, and if crying doesn’t stop, ask nicely, “please don’t scare everyone around the pool!” In the event crying won’t stop, initiate a gentle search for a ‘booboo’; find a cut, a recent scrape, scab or a scar, when you find something, with a soft and unsure tone of voice ask, “Is this why you are crying?” If you get a positive reply, offer a band aid, and honest sympathy. If there is no reply or you cannot find ‘a cut’, look directly in the window of his eye and with a very soft voice ask, “Are you crying on purpose?” <Pause> At this point, comes the opportunity to keep him in the water. “Do you want to get out?” for the first time you get a “YES!” Turn him around, hug the child back of student to belly of teacher, so both can face Mom, “Let’s look for Mommy” when you have the mother’s attention, “Mommy, (child’s name), wants to get out, shake your head indicating you need a NO answer, and almost immediately ask, “How much longer?” and immediately say a # of minutes.



Make it easy for the student to want to be there with you. Upon arrival there is always a fear of the unknown, Social skills first exchange names at any safety area, shake hands or offer a high 5’s; “sing a game, and play the song” learn the name of everyone in class, and more importantly everyone in class must know your name, don’t be a stranger. Introduce child/adult to all safety areas: places where they can hold on and/or stand, and more importantly places where they can take a breath easily. Have you heard, “If it is good for the goose, it is good for the gander”? Please be sure that if there is water to pour from a pail or squirt from a toy, the learner does it to the teacher first. Since 1984, the squirting of a bottle full of water with a pinhole on the cap continues to be the fastest smile ‘getter’ as you help them to squeeze and the squirt lands on your face. You know who you squirt next? Not the beginner swimmers, his caretaker outside the pool, just aim and don’t get parents too wet, you can make an ‘enemy’.



Are you twisting your arms and wrists in order to get your students strong hands and finger nails off? When you manage to get hands off, does a foot wrap around your leg? This is happening because they do not trust you! Take a minute and rub your hands and ask, “Do you know what the big hands are for?” Explain that the big hands are there to help ALL THE TIME (see #1). Proceed to rub their hands and ask, “What are these little hands for?” Explain that his hands are the wings to fly in the water… Place the student’s hands on top of your hands, and comment that if ‘the little’ hands are used as claws, it is difficult for the big hands to hold and help him. Stay at ‘Arm’s Reach’, at swim gym this means the length of the arm of the swimmer, not your arm’s length…


  1. Beginners: Breathing, our life support mechanism, is the most important. ‘The trick’ blowing through tight lips as playing a trumpet, a ‘p’ phonetic sound, blow air out continuously: pppppppppp… this exhale can last at least 5”, no vowels in between the p’s, please do not separate the lips. Don’t spend time blowing bubbles, ‘b’ phonetic, air goes out too fast. Count out loud and with your fingers underwater the number of seconds that the beginner will remain in the water, you want to do this holding on to the wall, the rail or at the steps. The count is for the number of seconds they let go of their grip on the wall or rail, even from your hands!
  2. Intermediate/Advanced: In competitive styles most air is exhaled out the nose. The nose protects itself by humming: mmmmmmmmmm… in the early stages, learn to hum w/voice ‘turned on’ release a big breath out the nose in 10.” Summersaults can be devastating, at the instant that the swimmer is upside down, and the nose is exposed to the water pressure if she has not learned how to blow out the nose continuously underwater.


Most children who are scared scream, “I DON’T WANT TO GO UNDER!” (Act somewhat surprised and say, “under the water? That is too far down there, you cannot go under the water, because you don’t know how to swim!” “We are only going to fly right here inside the water, at the tippy top!” and point under the surface.

Have you ever heard? “Teach from the bottom up!”

Frequently, after an attempt to go inside the water, the non-swimmer comes up coughing slightly or at worst choking with water… to prevent any ingestion of water, instinctively or by command he chooses to close the mouth. Open a big mouth, breathe deep, all the way to your stomach, before going under the surface of the water, then hide in the water with a tight balloon face, and ONLY pop the balloon when you are out. As mentioned before, it is a good practice to tell the students how long they will remain under the surface. Show fingers 1 per second and be ready to help at # of fingers/seconds agreed. Remind student to “pop” the balloon at exit; inhale with the mouth not with the nose, a sniff of water can be quite uncomfortable. Stand, sit and lay on the bottom holding on to the step ladder a rail or a hand, with the balloon face or doing ‘the trick’. When ready to add more time, ask the student, if it’s time to go up to number (next finger), if student thinks he is not ready for longer, don’t argue and just count a little slower…


  1. “IT’S OK!” If it WAS okay, the person, any age, that is reacting or over-reacting, would stay calm if they perceived the environment as friendly. Look around. What is unfriendly? Change it! Is it you?
  2. “I KNOW YOU CAN!” How could you know? Furthermore, if for some reason she did not do it, you teach it again! And ‘let it go’. Do not reach levels of frustration, the child or adult beginner will get frustrated too for not pleasing you; LET GO! They’ll get it next class, or in 8 week or 16, they ARE TRYING, THEIR BEST… AND SO ARE YOU!


Expectations are the seed of FRUSTRATION; frustrations are the seed of FAILURE.

Be PROUD of what your students CAN DO! How many people do you know try their worst? It is the fear of asphyxia, a life or death situation that holds back, someone who is scared of swimming. If he did not get it, teach it again a different way, if he does not get it, LET IT GO! Do not reach a levels of frustration, every person tries their best; maybe next class, in 16 weeks or maybe in 32 weeks, but eventually everyone can get it!

What about expectations for advanced swimmers? Same thing, educate on how to set goals, and empower, most everyone tries their BEST; if a goal is not reached, it is their goal not your expectations that they are trying to meet. Goals can be re-set to be more difficult after being achieved, or broken down into smaller steps to finally be reached.


Do not carry a beginner in a horizontal position: chest and/or shoulder girdle in one hand and belly or legs with the other, the head WILL unhinge (nose forward) and load the hips. Allow non-swimmers to discover horizontal travel in water, hold them vertically, ask for the balloon face and initiate a glide; help gently holding at arm pits for a 3” glide, and add 1” or 2” in each subsequent attempt, the water travelling under the body will automatically lift them. If the head unhinges, direct the beginner’s eyes to your toes, and away from your nose… quickly they discover how much easier it is to travel in liquid horizontally.


There is nothing you do with a beginner in any sport that has life and death so close! It is very easy to build on success; it is very difficult to build on failures, as much as we might learn from a mistake. “Help As Much As Necessary, As Little as Possible” the teacher must help as much as necessary for the beginner to succeed, but as little as possible so the learner can reach down deep within to find the necessary skills and feel as if they did it! Do not generate bad experiences, the classic: “Jump, jump!” and when the non-swimmer jumps, walk 2 or 3 steps backward while saying, “Come a little further!” Challenge with achievable goals, help as much as needed until breathing is easy. If you want the beginner to go further, start further, and if they don’t jump, come even closer. The student will ask you to move further as they conquer each distance one step at a time, not when you think they can!

Offer your hand, tie a float on their back, put floats on their arms, do whatever it takes until they can find the handles in the water. Easy Breathing means: every subsequent breath can be taken at will, and every subsequent breath is as good as the first breath.

By |2015-10-02T11:46:10+00:00October 2nd, 2015|News|