New to swimming as an adult? You are not alone. Being in open or deep water can be daunting, intimidating, and thus a difficult decision to undertake. Taking adult swim lessons can open up a new world of adventure, fitness, and could even save your life; particularly if you have any fear or trauma around water. When most people think of swim lessons and swim instruction, they think of small children. However, as an experienced swimming instructor, I have taught and had continued success with all levels of adult swimmers; and it is extraordinarily rewarding for both teacher and student. Out of sheer will, my grandmother learned to swim at 80 years old, overcoming a decades old traumatic near drowning experience in her 20’s.
If you are considering learning as an adult, whether it’s basic skills or stroke refinement, Based on my experiences, these are the 6 most important things that lead to adults making progress:
As adults this is a challenge, as we live in a society of instant gratification and are socialized to feel like a failure if we don’t live up to others’ (or our own) high expectations. Like any type of learning, swimming takes time and you must be patient with yourself and allow for mistakes and frustration as part of the process. No one can become an expert in a day, so have the same patience with yourself as you would have with a child learning a new skill.
2. Don’t Set a Strict Timeline
Many people ask me “how many lessons until I can swim”…it’s a hard question to answer, because everyone is different in terms of progression, learning style, and comfort level. As with anything, the more you put into it, the quicker the outcome will be. Learn to look at the progress based on where you started, not based on someone else’s performance or expectation. While it’s important to have an end goal for your lessons, such as swimming laps for exercise, it doesn’t always go as quickly or smoothly as we want along the way, and that’s normal.
3. Practice and Repetition
Practice, practice, practice. As a swim instructor, I can teach you the skills, theory, correct form, and help you feel comfortable; but it is up to you to practice (safely) between lessons. Carve out some time in your week to get as much repetition in as possible; which will lead to muscle memory of the skills and techniques, and thus quicker progress.
4. Letting Go of Embarrassment and Relaxing
One of the main roadblocks for adults signing up for swim lessons is the embarrassment factor. Children are eager and inquisitive to learn new skills, and have not developed the social awareness to be embarrassed to make mistakes or have a fear of others ‘watching’. Adults new to the water have a lot of anxiety around performance, capability, or internalized fears of the water. You have to repeatedly remind yourself that There is no reason to be embarrassed- you are brave for taking on this life-saving skill!
The job of an experienced instructor is to help you feel more comfortable, and we are not judging, we have seen it all! A lot of adult fear in the water is psychosomatic, and it’s important to use your time with the instructor to work on first being more relaxed in the water and communicate if you are feeling frightened or tense. The more calm and comfortable you are, the more progress you will make.
5. Willingness to Go Slightly Out of Your comfort Zone
In the education world, we use the term ‘scaffolding’ when describing how to teach a new concept to students. This means to teach slightly over their level, so that they can have a deeper understanding new concept and become independent learners; while being mindful to not completely overwhelm and confuse. This delicate balance also translates to swimming: as instructors, we should push you a little bit past what you are comfortable with in order to make progress and give you more confidence in what you are capable of. As adults with more cognitive awareness than children, it is important that you also psychologically push yourself and trust in the instructor’s abilities to keep you safe. Safety is foremost of course, but it is crucial that you are not stuck in only what is comfortable, or you will never know your potential.
6. Use equipment to help as needed
Just like in the fitness world, there is no shame in using equipment (fins, goggles, noodles, kickboards, etc) to help you reach your goals. These are tools to be utilized, not a weakness or deficiency that signal a lack of skill or progress. A good water safety instructor will have many tools in the toolbox as far as equipment and will show you how to use them in order for you to improve and feel physically safe and supported.
In summary, if you are an adult considering taking lessons for any reason. I hope my tools and tips are helpful and inspire you to pursue swimming for any reason. It is deeply rewarding and has so many proven health and safety benefits. Have patience and persistence with yourself, and make sure you find an experienced instructor that is knowledgeable, compassionate, and will push you past what you think you can accomplish, because you can!
Written By Lisa Jablonski Clark
Lisa Jablonski Clark is an experienced swim instructor/former lifeguard. She grew up in Arizona, where learning to swim is essential, and always was in and around pools. She loves the water, and when she moved closer to the ocean in California in 2010, she finally got her scuba certification as well. Lisa has extensive experience teaching swim lessons for the past 12 summers, and have also helped manage 2 swim schools and startup another in Arizona. She has worked for Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, Claremont Country Club in Oakland and Green Hills Country Club in Millbrae with private clients. She has worked with fearful children and adults, stroke refinement programs, autistic and children with disabilities, and babies. Lisa is also a certified K-12 teacher and have 11 years professional classroom experience working with children and a master's degree in art education. She attended the University of Arizona for undergrad, and University of Nebraska, Kearney, for a master's degree. Lisa is currently a full time art teacher in San Francisco. For Lisa, the best part about teaching swimming is knowing that she is teaching a life-long and life-saving skill, and making a positive difference in the world.