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Swimming Lessons FAQ: Everything You Need to Know About Starting Swimming Lessons

Why Swim Lessons Are Important

Although it’s true that many people learn to swim with a few tips from a friend or family member, formal swim lessons from an experienced instructor can help refine technique and ensure a solid knowledge of key water safety principles.

If you’re thinking of signing your child up for swimming lessons or you want to learn to swim as an adult, you might have several questions about the process. This page will explain some of the basics, but we encourage you to call us at 712-232-2068 or fill out our online contact form if you would like additional information.

Why Are Swim Lessons Important?

Swimming is an excellent full-body workout that can help you stay in shape or work toward your weight loss goals. It’s easy on your joints, burns more calories than jogging and is an excellent way to cool off during hot summer days.

In addition to improving your physical fitness, swimming lessons can help build confidence and self-esteem as your skills improve. There is also evidence to suggest that swimming can help improve issues with attention and focus. In fact, Olympian Michael Phelps credits swimming with helping him to effectively manage his ADHD without daily medication.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, learning to swim may one day save your life. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 10 people die each day from unintentional drowning. Of these drowning victims, two are children under the age of 14. This makes drowning one of the top five causes of unintentional deaths in the United States.

unintentional drowning stat

Do Swimming Lessons Eliminate the Risk of Drowning?

It is important to realize that people of any age and level of swimming ability can become victims of drowning. Swimming lessons substantially reduce the risk of drowning, but they are not a substitute for essential safety precautions.

Children should always be supervised whenever they are in the water. It only takes a few seconds for a child to slip under the water’s surface. In the case of an infant, it’s possible for a child to drown in an inch of water in just 30 seconds.

For adults, it is recommended that you always swim with a buddy or in a pool with certified lifeguards present. Do not drink alcohol before or during swimming or while participating in other water activities such as boating and water skiing.

Lifejackets are a must-have item for water safety. Life jackets come in five different types, with each type rated for a different water activity. Jackets for adults are purchased based on chest measurements, while jackets for children are based on weight. Water-wings, pool noodles and other air- or foam-filled toys are not acceptable substitutes for a proper lifejacket.

Where Should I Go for Swimming Lessons in the Harrisburg Area?

The Harrisburg YMCA offers swimming lessons for students of all ages and ability levels in a safe and supportive environment. Students can choose from group instruction, private lessons or semi-private lessons.

YMCA swimming classes meet one day per week for eight weeks and are offered year-round. During the summer, optional two week sessions are available to meet the needs of those who find it difficult to schedule longer sessions.

In addition to traditional swimming lessons, the YMCA also offers competitive swimming, water aerobics, Aqua Zumba, scuba and American Red Cross lifeguard training courses.

How Much Do Swimming Lessons Cost?

The cost of swimming lessons vary based on the type of lesson that’s being requested, but all programs are designed to be as affordable as possible. The Harrisburg YMCA believes that everyone should have the opportunity to learn to swim.

One excellent way to make lessons more affordable is to invest in a YMCA membership. Facility members receive discounted rates for all programs, including swim lessons. Memberships are available for individuals as well as families, with many local employers partnering with the Harrisburg YMCA to offer discounted membership rates.

For low-income participants, financial aid is available in the form of a sliding fee scale. The financial assistance program is made possible through an annual fundraising campaign.

What Is a Good Age for a Child to Take Swimming Lessons?

When Can My Child Start Swimming Lessons

The American Association of Pediatrics states that children are not ready for formal swimming lessons until after their fourth birthday. Before age four, children can’t voluntarily hold their breath for a significant amount of time.

“Mommy and Me” swim classes for children ages six months to three can still be helpful, however. When children are exposed to the water in a safe and controlled environment that includes a parent within an arm’s length, they develop basic aquatic readiness skills and learn to become comfortable in the water. This places them in the perfect frame of mind to begin formal swim training at a later date.

How Do I Know If My Child Is Ready for Swimming Lessons?

As any parent knows, all children develop at a different pace. There is no guarantee your child will automatically be ready for formal swimming instruction at age four.

For swim lessons to be effective, your child needs to be able to listen to an instructor, follow directions and have age-appropriate gross motor skills. If your child is struggling to meet these developmental targets, you may wish to wait an extra year or speak to an instructor about private lessons that offer accommodations suited to his or her unique needs.

What If My Child Has Special Needs?

Swimming lessons are recommended for all children, but they can be especially important for children with special needs. For example, the National Autism Association reports that drowning accounts for 91% of the accidental deaths among children with autism, due to their tendency to wander into unsafe locations without adult supervision.

The Harrisburg YMCA recommends private swimming lessons for special needs children, as individualized instruction allows for accommodations such as a distraction-free environment and the use of adaptive safety equipment.

Can I Get Swimming Lessons as an Adult?

You might be a little embarrassed if you never learned how to swim as a child, but it’s never too late to pick up this vital skill. Swimming lessons for adults are widely available. They cover all of the same essential water safety skills taught in classes for children, but they are limited to students ages 18 and over.

Adult Swimming Statistics

Even if you already think you can swim, a refresher course might be a good idea. A recent survey by the Red Cross found that a significant number of adults overestimate their swimming skills. Red Cross research found that 80% of adults claimed they could swim, but only 56% of this group could successfully perform the five skills recognized as the hallmarks of water competency. These skills include:

  • Stepping or jumping into water over your head.
  • Returning to the surface and floating or treading water for at least one minute.
  • Turning around in a full circle and finding an exit.
  • Swimming a minimum 25 yards to the exit.
  • Exiting from the pool without using the ladder.

What Happens When a Student Is Afraid of the Water?

Some children love the water, while others are a little more apprehensive. If your child has not been exposed to water activities on a regular basis, he or she may display signs of fear or anxiety when beginning swimming lessons. This can be distressing to watch as a parent, but keep in mind that the majority of children will outgrow their fear of water once they begin lessons.

Fear of the water is not limited to children, however. Psychology Today reports that 66% of American adults are afraid of open bodies of water, with 46% reporting that they are afraid of the deep end of the pool. In most cases, their fear is due to limited swimming skills or a past negative experience with the water.

Fear of the water can be dangerous because it’s very easy to panic when you’re embarrassed or feeling like you’re in a situation that’s beyond your control. When your heart is pounding and your thoughts are racing, you can make serious or even fatal mistakes.

Being afraid of the water can make learning to swim a little more difficult, but a fear of the water is no reason to avoid swim lessons entirely. To help students overcome their fear, swim instructors start by discussing the students’ concerns in a calm and non-judgmental way. To demystify the water, the instructor may explain the properties of buoyancy and how they work to help keep a swimmer afloat.

When teaching anxious swimmers, it’s common for instructors to slow down the pace of the lessons so as to avoid making the student feel overwhelmed. Trying to force a swimmer to go underwater, especially when the swimmer is a young child, can be traumatizing. Letting students work at their own pace gives them a feeling of control and a sense of accomplishment as they master new skills.

What Skills Are Taught in Swimming Lessons?

Beginner swimming lessons focus on helping students get comfortable with basic water skills, such as front and back floating with their face in the water, opening their eyes under water and bobbing. Instructional flotation devices, such as kick boards, barbells and float belts, are used to help students learn to adjust to the water.

After basic skills have been mastered, students move on to work toward swimming progressively longer distances, submerging and retrieving an object and being able to turn while swimming. Intermediate level swimming lessons focus on refining the proper technique for the butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and sidestroke. Advanced swimmers work on incorporating rescue and snorkeling skills, as well as mastering the steps for CPR.

Which Option Is Best: Group Instruction or One-On-One Swimming Lessons?

Swimming Lesson Class Ratio

Group lessons are a popular option for young swimmers because of their affordability and the opportunity to engage in social interaction with classmates. At the Harrisburg YMCA, group lessons have an instructor to student ratio of 1:8 for youth, 1:6 for preschool and 1:10 for parent-child classes. This provides ample opportunity to meet new friends, while still learning from the instructor’s expertise.

One-on-one instruction, while slightly more expensive, offers some important benefits, too. Private lessons will typically allow a student to progress faster as the lesson can more easily be tailored to meet his or her individual needs. Students who are anxious around the water or have started lessons at a later age than their peers may also feel more comfortable with personalized instruction. The Harrisburg YMCA offers 1:1 private instruction, as well as semi-private swim lessons with a 1:2 instructor-to-student ratio.

What Supplies Do I Need?

When preparing for swimming lessons, all students should bring a properly-fitting swimsuit, a towel and a bag to carry their things in. Children who are not fully potty trained should wear a snug-fitting swim diaper. Without a swim diaper, fecal material can leak into the pool water. This presents a health risk for all swimmers.

Swim caps are helpful for students with long hair, since the added weight of wet hair can make swimming more difficult.  However, pulling hair back into a ponytail or long braid is a suitable alternative to wearing a swim cap.

It’s best for students to learn to become comfortable in the water without goggles, but a pair of goggles can be useful for more advanced swimmers. Goggles should fit snugly to keep the water out, but not be so tight that the excess pressure causes a headache.

Sometimes, swimmers complain of dry and itchy skin after a lesson. This is typically the result of the chemicals used in the pool’s purification system. To avoid discomfort, it’s recommended that students with sensitive skin shower after a swim lesson and apply baby oil or an emollient lotion before dressing.

Is It OK to Eat Before a Swim Lesson?

If your mother always told you to wait at least an hour after eating before getting into the water, you’ll be happy to hear that there’s no real danger in enjoying a small snack or light meal before a swim lesson. While there is some truth, however, to not jumping into the pool right after you’ve eaten, you just need to give yourself about 20 minutes to digest your food rather than a full hour.

What About Practicing Outside of Class?

As with any skill, learning to swim takes time. Swim lessons can help children and adults learn the basics, but it’s important to keep practicing outside of the designated lesson time.

At the Harrisburg YMCA, group lessons can be combined with private or semi-private lessons to boost a student’s instructional time. There is also a free lane in the pools that all patrons are welcome to use for leisurely swimming.

Do I Need to Be Concerned About Injuries?

Since swimming is a low-impact activity, swimming lessons are unlikely to cause injury. However, it is possible to cause injuries to the shoulders, knees, hips or back if you are using poor stroke technique. Follow your instructor’s tips to maintain good form, and contact a medical professional immediately if you are experiencing any pain or discomfort.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Proficient Swimmer?

Jim Montgomery, triple gold Olympic winner and experienced swim coach, states the average adult with no fear of water can learn to swim 25 yards freestyle after about 20 hours of lessons. For a child or an adult with a fear of water, patience is the key as it will likely take longer than 20 hours before becoming proficient.

Deciding when to start swimming lessons depends on a variety of factors, and there’s no reason to rush it. Since everyone learns at a different pace, it’s best not to get too hung up on how long it will take to develop swimming proficiency, either. When you are participating in swimming lessons, simply focus on having fun and enjoying your time spent in the pool!

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