Super Strokes - the Tom & Teddy guide to choosing a great swim teacher

Published 27 Mar, 2014

31 March 2014


When did you learn to do your “pizza arms” and “froggy legs”? No idea what we’re talking about? This is swim-teacher lingo for the humble breast stroke (“rainbow arms” and “locked legs” for freestyle – in case you were wondering).

Swimming lessons are a big deal in the tropics. Many of us take our kids to the pool every day, especially in the hot, hot summer months when it’s so hard to cool down.  So it stands to reason that children start their swim strokes at a very early age. There are swim schools and private instructors a-plenty, but how to choose the right lessons for your little ones? Here’s the Tom & Teddy guide to picking a children’s swim instructor (as a team, we’ve got a combined total of eight kids who’ve all had a variety of swim teachers from the good, the okay and the downright terrible).

First-time jitters

It’s not unusual for young beginners to be nervous in the water, reluctant to even put a toe in. Singapore-based swim instructor, Deb Reid, tells us that it’s essential to take things very slowly at first.  A good swim teacher understands that first-time swimmers need to learn at their own pace rather than be forced to do something that they might be scared of. She also thinks it’s a wise idea for parents to be within sight at all times with plenty of encouraging smiles, and that children arrive early to their lessons so that they don’t feel rushed and become stressed. Deb recommends that parents try to find a teacher with “patience, understanding and a smiling face!”

Fun but firm

Yes, we want our kids to be excited about going swimming and to enjoy the games and “play” aspect of the session, but littlies can become over-exuberant in the water unless the instructor has set out clear rules and regulations. Safety must come first, so an air of authority and the ability to reprimand students who are not listening are a must. Try to observe a lesson before signing up with a teacher – this way you’ll be able to gauge how they deal with any unruly pupils while still keeping the atmosphere light and fun for the rest of the class.

Swim class size

It does depend on the age group and ability level, but in our experience, more than four or five students in a beginner class can be tricky. If it’s a 30 minute lesson, you want your child to be in the pool for the majority of the time, but larger groups mean that the “waiting-on-the-side-for-a-turn time” can take up almost half of the session. Great swim teachers have a knack of keeping their students busy and focused, rewarding them for positive behaviour with some extra fun time at the end – such as going down the slide or seeing who can make the biggest splash.

An eye for technique

Deb Reid shares her tips and tricks for improving strokes…”The best way to improve technique is to practice a few times a week, even if it’s only for a short time. And I always teach pupils to break down their strokes into arms, legs and breathing, practicing each of these elements at a time. I don’t ask them to do lots and lots of laps as this is tiring and often causes the development of bad techniques.”

Mix it up

It seems small children soon get bored if their extra-curriculars are monotonous – how often have you enrolled your little one for a class, only for them to lose all enthusiasm by week three?  Make sure the swim instructor uses a range of equipment (kick boards, noodles, flippers), as well as changing the lesson format each week. Instructors with a wide range of teaching techniques up their sleeves demonstrate that they’re passionate about their work and not just going through the motions.

A sense of humour

One of our favourite swim teachers in Singapore is a bit of a laugh. He pulls funny faces, is happy to give kids a “turtle back ride” across the pool, doesn’t mind a bit of splashing and dunking after the lesson and has an uncanny ability to make his pupils giggle. One of our little girls even wanted to marry him, at the tender age of three… It might seem an obvious tip, but friendly, warm, amusing and kind swim teachers are worth their weight because kids will look forward to lessons rather than being frightened or nervous.

Got a few tips of your own? We’re all ears! Send us your swim-teacher stories – we’d love to hear from you: