Managing Different Abilities Within A Swim Lesson

Swimming teaching is a fun and rewarding experience.  Unfortunately sometimes it can also be an overwhelming experience if instructors have a multitude of different levels in their class.  It is recommended that swimmers are groups homogenously for swimmer and instructor ease.  Infants should be grouped within the growth and development stages.  Older swimmers should be grouped according to skill level instead of age.  Unfortunately there are instances when this may not be possible so instructors will have to work on strategies to manage different levels within a lesson should this ever arise.  Here are some handy tips for instructors who come across this in their teaching.


Infant Swimmers with Parents in the Water

Having parents in the water is a great opportunity to manage different levels within the lesson without too much stress or hassle.  A good instructor can let the parents know what they expect and then supervise as each parent in the lesson teaches their own child specific skills and drills within the lesson.  Once the instructor has gathered the group and discussed drills/skills to practice they can then send them on their way to practice.  The instructor can then move around the group and give specific feedback and support to parents and swimmers when needed.


Older Swimmers Participating by Themselves

This can be a more challenging experience for instructors trying to manage a medium to large group of swimmers with different abilities.  Remember that it won’t hurt a more advanced swimmer to practice easier skills and drills but they need to be challenged too.  Swimmers who don’t have the necessary skills to perform a specific drill will struggle and form poor neuromuscular patterns if practicing incorrectly.


Suggestions for Managing Different Abilities in the Lesson

  • The use of circuits can help by having swimmers practice a different skill for 5-10 minutes in a different section of the pool and then move along to the next skill when instructed. Supervision and feedback is key in the use of circuits – instructors should be confident managing different activities.
  • Have swimmers practice the same skill but vary the difficulty for swimmers. For example breathing can be taught in a variety of stages – swimmers can all do breathing activities together – kickboard to the front, kickboard to the side, kickboard one hand on board, no kickboard breathing, 6 kicks change arms breathing, freestyle drill etc.
  • Practice the same skill with different recovery activities – for example every swimmer kicks down, better swimmers kick back for recovery others walk back for recovery.
  • Utilise more advance swimmers for demonstration. Then have all swimmers practice.  Be careful not to always use the same swimmer for demonstration as it may look like favouritism.
  • Combine classes with another instructor for more supervision and support. Each instructor can help with a specific level within the lesson.


It is definitely a challenge trying to manage different abilities within a swimming lesson but if done correctly can be extremely rewarding.  Good luck in achieving this.  Much like all skills the more you can practice the better you will be!


How do you keep swimmers interested and engaged? Share your ideas in the comments below.

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Laurie Lawrence


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