Teaching children to swim is a wonderfully rewarding activity/job/career. There is something about watching kids improve in the aquatic environment (to borrow a cliché) that only teachers understand. On paper it’s an easy task, as kids love water. However becoming a first class teacher takes decades, not weeks, and ask anyone who is in this category, learning from the children never really stops.   Ask yourself ……why? From our experience at uSwim and Aquatic Achievers, the primary attribute all great teachers have is a love of children. Not just when children are cute and well behaved. You need to be truly fascinated and in awe of the honesty, fragility, lovability and outright hilarity of children. Another key attribute fantastic swim instructors have is emotional intelligence.
  • You need to be an empathiser
  • Wonder what people are feeling,
  • Walk in other’s shoes,
  • Listen, observe and enjoy other people.
Also, a love of seeing people improve over time and a desire to become a better swimming instructor will ensure your enjoyment of teaching kids to swim.   Decide if you want to be a swim coach, or swim teacher – they are completely different! Many people think lump swimming teachers and swimming coaches into the same basket, when really there is huge fundamental difference. The difference is that swimming teacher’s job is generally (there are teachers who specialise in adult swimming lessons) educating younger children from the age of 3 months on the foundations of swimming and water safety. A swimming coach is someone who trains kids and adults to become faster at the four competitive swimming strokes -Freestyle, Backstroke, Butterfly, and Breaststroke. Coaches are generally dealing with swimmers after the teachers have got them to a certain swimming ability (or in some cases children and people teach themselves). A major consideration is that teachers are obligated (to a degree) to teach all children, whether they are good, bad, slow, fast, big small, friendly, anxious, aggressive etc…. to enjoy the water. Some people are great swimming coaches and great teachers, but just because someone is a great coach/teacher, don’t assume they are both.   No background needed whatsoever. One of the biggest misconceptions out there is that you need a swimming background to be a teacher – NO WAY. Quite often our best teachers at our swim schools are non-swimmers. And vice versa, some of the worst teachers are ex-swimmers who have no idea what they are doing and no affinity with children.   Become certified, get insurance Most western countries have laws or guidelines about becoming a swimming teacher. Many poorer or developing nations don’t. Find out what is legal and get it done. Insurance is also important as accidents can occur in water at all times. Most of the time you will need swim teacher’s accreditation to get insurance. Either way find out how your system works, it’s worth the time.   Specialize when you start There are many sub categories you can break swim teaching up into. We strongly recommend that in the beginning you specialize in one area so you can build you confidence with that age/ability. For the sake of this article, I will use the system at Aquatic Achievers, however there are many other ways to do this. Babies We usually classify babies aged between 3 months and 3 years. Here you will be instructing parents on how to teach their own children, similar to train the trainer. Solo Aged between 2.5 and 4 years, this is commonly viewed as the hardest group to teach, because they are so unpredictable. The solos are going through that stage in their life where they are testing the boundaries, so experience and good strategy is a must. Don’t be surprised when a darling 3 year old turns into a nightmare who throws tantrums. LTS These kids can range from 3 years and above. Here we are teaching the basics of swimming safety, and also stroke preparation. These kids generally respond to upbeat and entertaining classes where skills are reinforced by repetition and muscle memory. Stroke correction Here we are at the crossroads before squads. This area is where we want to improve the technique of Backstroke and Freestyle, so that children can swim well and enjoy the aquatic environment. Repetition is also key here, however swim teachers also need to become good at motivating kids to continually do an activity that in itself is tiresome and difficult. Great swimming instructors have kids begging to come back next week after a hard swimming session.   Watch other great teachers Watch brilliant teachers and you learn, simple as that.   Be aware the cycles/complacency A common tendency for swimming instructors is become cocky after some success. We see it all the time after about 1 year of teaching. Almost everyone goes through it. The kids love you, parents praise how good of a teacher you are and you listen and think you can do no wrong – big mistake. It’s at this point you need to search for the really difficult teaching situations, which are endless. Here are some examples:
  • the babies who want stop crying,
  • The parent who is terrified in the water with their baby
  • the overweight 8 year old that cannot kick properly,
  • the 3 year old who screams continuously,
  • the 4 year old who won’t put their face in the water,
  • the seven year old who disrupts the class by punching others,
  • the little girl who hates male teachers,
  • the petrified 5 year old who cannot stop shaking,
  • the 6 year old who is as stiff as a board – the list goes on and on.
  A realization that you can always become better will help you deal with these harder kids/situations. Neil Douglas who started aquatic Achievers and still teaches today at the age of 64 said he learns something every time he hops in and is always watching children’s behaviour and body movements.