Summer is almost here, which means now is the time to get your kids (or yourself!) signed up for private swimming lessons. We spoke with Jamie Hubbard, owner of The Swim Academy in Salt Lake City, Utah (and a highly-rated Thumbtack pro) to find out why swimming lessons are so important and what you should keep in mind as you set about finding the right instructor.
Lessons Are About More Than Learning to Swim
Jamie Hubbard had a traumatic near-drowning experience when she was two years old. After that, her parents immediately put her in swimming lessons, but she hated them. Her parents didn’t give up though and eventually she learned to love the water becoming an avid swimmer whose swimming career paid for her college education. She believes that swimming lessons are first and foremost about helping students improve and become better swimmers, but says there’s so much more to it. “There are many life lessons that can be learned from swimming: hard work, dedication, commitment, overcoming difficult things, reaching one’s potential, and challenging yourself and overcoming things you didn’t think you can do.
Look for Instructors with Experience and Certifications
Hubbard warns that experience doesn’t always mean an instructor is going to be great, but says it is a decent indicator. “I think experience with different certification programs is very helpful,” she says. It means the instructor has various insights into different ways to teach. Certifications will vary depending on where you live, but she says most certifications help people become better teachers. “It’s not just about swimming,” she says. “It’s about being a powerful teacher and then knowing how to teach swimming skills on top of that.”
The certification is the book knowledge, Hubbard says. “But applying that knowledge in a way that translates to the student is a skill not everyone has.” If the instructor is going to be working with kids, you want to make sure they can stick to appropriate boundaries, but also be playful and teach creatively. “When they do that, kids learn so fast,” she says. “A good teacher also needs to be able to problem solve because you’ll come across children who have all kinds of problems, whether it’s a fear of water or a habit of not bending their legs when they kick. A good teacher who can problem solve can teach them how to overcome all of that.”
Teaching Kids vs. Teaching Adults
It’s all about an instructor who knows how to adjust their personality to teach a teenager or an adult. “They’re not treating those people the same way they would a child, but they still have those same qualities of being able to problem solve, give good feedback, and find creative ways for the students to understand and apply the skills,” Hubbard says. One thing she does point out is that she finds swimmers with a lot of experience are usually better teachers for adults, where as an instructor doesn’t need to be an amazing swimmer to teach little kids. “They just have to be a good teacher.”
The Pool Matters
Hubbard says that bring in a public pool during public swim isn’t a great time for kids to learn as they get too distracted. Temperature also matters. “If it’s too cold, kids can’t relax; they’re shivering and they don’t want to move, so it’s hard to teach a lesson.” But if it’s too warm, that can also be a problem. She recommends an indoor pool be around 86 to 89 degrees and points out that outdoor pool temperatures will vary according to the weather.
Take Lessons in Groups of Two or Three
Some kids need one-on-one lessons, Hubbard says, but she feels like semi-private (two to three kids) is ideal because it’s more affordable and everyone usually gets the same amount of practice time they would in a private lesson. “The fewer students in the class the better though because they get more practice and that’s key to kids.”
Start Lessons When the Kids Are Young
Hubbard says you want to introduce your kids to water when they’re little, though admittedly, they don’t really know what’s going on until eight or nine months. (She started lessons with both of hers at six weeks old.) When you feel comfortable, you want to get your kids used to the water and start with basic skills like putting the face in and blowing bubbles. “But you can wait to start actual lessons until the child is two or two and a half,” she says. “That’s when they have more listening skills and as long as they’ve had exposure to the water and been working on bubbles and back floats, they’ll learn really fast.”
Fear of the Water Is Real
If the student is scared of the water, it’s important to find an instructor who can understand and validate that fear. “They’re going to get a lot more trust from the student than someone who insists the water isn’t scary,” Hubbard says. “Because now the child doesn’t trust them.” Instead, the instructor should talk about why they water is scary, validate that it is, while working to earn and keep trust. The instructor should reassure the student that they’ll keep them safe. “If they say they won’t let go, they can’t let go.” That’s also important for parents to apply this methodology because when they tell their kids “The water’s not scary,” the child’s fear goes up. Kids need to feel heard so they can gain trust. After they have that, then they can make progress.
Progress Is Different for Everyone
The average child will probably pick up decent swimming skills after two to three months of once a week lessons. But, Hubbard is quick to point out, “It depends on their learning ability. Some kids pick physical things up quickly; others learn math fast.” For kids who learn physically fast, they could pick swimming up in as few as a couple of weeks. Just be patient either way. It’ll happen when they’re ready.
The Key is Consistency
Just because your kid is a great swimmer when he’s four doesn’t mean the lessons should stop. In fact, Hubbard says, the key with learning swimming is to be consistent with lessons throughout a child’s life. “As their bodies change and grow, their balance and ability to do things changes, which means they need to update their skills,” she says. “They might learn something in a couple of months, but if they don’t practice and maintain that skill, they’ll grow bigger, their coordination will change, and then their body will be different and they won’t have that muscle memory.
Whether you’re the parent or the student, Hubbard says you shouldn’t be afraid to give feedback. Let the instructor know if there’s something you want to change because if you have a good instructor, they will be open to hearing it and adjusting their teaching accordingly.
Pricing will differ based on where you live, skill level, and how many people are in the lesson, but The Swim Academy charges $40 for a 30-minute semi-private lesson (two swimmers) with an intermediate coach and $60 for the same situation but with an elite coach. A 30-minute private lesson with a basic coach is $25.