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A General Guide to Motivation and Adult Swim Lessons

Praise and Focus on the Big Things During Adult Swim Lessons


When teaching adult swim lessons, especially to those who are beginner swimmers or learning a new skill, there are two aspects that really jump out that make them different from teaching children's swim lessons. First, adults tend to have... we'll call it low swimming-self-esteem. They are embarrassed and they are far from confident that they are going to be able to do this. So first and foremost, swim lesson instructors have to convince adults in a swim lesson that they are doing awesome and that they are exceeding your expectations. You have to make them believe in themselves. If they believe they can do it, they will! Adult swim lessons include a lot of praise and encouragement!

Second, adults tend to be very analytical and very concerned about the details, which can hinder mastering the basics during swim lessons. This is quite the opposite with children's swim lessons. Children just want to swim, play, and have fun; they don't worry about the little things, they just do it! Kids in swim lessons don't want your long explanations, they just want to hear you say go!

Adults, on the other hand, don't want to just "go" during swim lessons. They're afraid to "go." They're afraid they're going to do it wrong and they are afraid of embarrassing themsleves. They want to know precisely how the hand should be pitched, at what degree the arm should be bent, etc. That is a problem, since that is not what they need to know or focus on in a swim lesson.

If you want to do a great job with adult swim lessons, you must convince them that the details are NOT important right now! What's important are the big things, getting the fundamental, general idea of the skill first-details later.

I like to educate them a little on the Fitts and Posner's Stages of Learning. This helps a lot, because when they understand there is actually a well-thought out plan to teaching swim lessons, it alleviates much of their anxiety. So I tell them what we know from motor learning experts is that when any skill is new, The learner is in what is refered to as the Cognitive Stage of Learning:

  • The learner is thinking too much
  • The errors are gross
  • The errors are many
  • There will be an inconsistency in performance
From this learning model, the research clarifies what is important to teach at this early stage. Teach adult swim lessons beginners not to think about the details. They should put all their effort into developing the general swimming movements patterns or actions. Swim instructors should stick to the cues and buzzwords in your lesson plans, and resist from talking detail. When a beginner swimmer is in this stage of learning, the student can't handle detailed information once they start to practice. Because as soon as they start, their mind goes right to "I'm sinking, I'm drowning, I can't do this."

So instead, teach them to kick fast. Instead, teach them to take big strokes. Most importantly, think progressions and baby steps. When you can make adult swim lesson students feel successful with something small, like swimming for two strokes with their faces in the water, then they will have the confidence to try three, then four, etc., and their confidence will grow. Before you know it, they will be swimming across the pool and you will be moving on to teach them freestyle side breathing, backstroke, sidestroke, and more.

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