Swimming Teaching Tips 7 minute read

Teaching Swimming from the Pool Side vs. Teaching in the Water

Georgina Martindale
3rd August 2020
Teaching from the Pool Side vs. Teaching in the Water

Hello fellow SwimPals, and welcome to our brand-new blog series! My name is Georgie, expert goggle-tightener, enthusiastic bubble-blower, specialist swimming-cap-putter-onner and most importantly . . . long-term swimming teacher.

I will be posting a weekly blog right here on the SwimPal website to share with you:

So, without further ado, let’s dive into this week’s topic (apologies in advance – terrible swimming puns are an occupational hazard) . . .

Teaching from the Poolside vs. Teaching in the Water

Having spoken to many swimming teachers over the years and worked for more than one swim school, I have found this topic can generate quite the debate with most teachers firmly planting themselves on one side of the deck.

The latest Covid-19 guidelines issued by Swim England and the STA (see next week’s blog) recommend that, as we gradually return to teaching, all swimming lessons should be delivered from the poolside (exceptions may apply). In light of these changes, many of us are going to have to adapt our preferred and well-established teaching strategies (myself included).

To explore this topic, I have placed a table below including some of the pros and cons of teaching from the poolside vs. teaching in the water. I have then outlined 5 top tips for teaching from the poolside to help those of us who are having to adjust the way we teach in order to promote a safe environment in our post-pandemic society.



  • You are afforded with a great bird’s-eye view of your swimmers. It can be easier to observe water skills and stroke technique.
  • You have easy and quick access to the poolside in general. This could include extra equipment or teaching notes, for example.
  • Delivering your lesson from the poolside can encourage independence in the water in your swimmers.
  • All of your swimmers are able to see you clearly as you deliver the lesson. They are also able to identify you quickly if they need to gain your attention in an emergency.

  • The lesson environment can feel less intimate and less personal. The time in the water is no longer a shared experience between teacher and swimmer.
  • It can be very hot on poolside which can be quite an uncomfortable working environment if you are teaching for hours at a time. There is also a danger of dehydration and fatigue.
  • There is often a need to increase your vocal volume when issuing verbal instructions from the poolside. This can be harmful to the voice if done under strain and for long periods of time.
  • Providing demonstrations from the poolside can be tricky and some swimmers find it difficult to transfer what they’ve seen you do on poolside to the skill they are to complete in the water. For example, I have stood on one leg and demonstrated breaststroke legs and arms and two of my swimmers then proceeded to swim breaststroke with only one leg (quite a skill in itself if you ask me but not what I was going for).



  • Being a calm and supportive presence in the water can be very reassuring and encouraging for nervous swimmers.
  • Providing an ‘in-water’ demonstration of a stroke or skill can be an invaluable learning opportunity for the visual learners in your class.
  • It can be extremely beneficial for your swimmers to observe your behaviour in and around the water. For example, every time you safely enter or exit the water, these important water safety skills are consolidated in your swimmers’ minds. It may also encourage a swimmer’s confidence and progress. For example, every time you put your face in the water and come up with a big smile on your face, this demonstrates to the hesitant swimmer that putting your face in the water is nothing to be afraid of.

  • Some swimmers may become overly tactile with you in the water and come to depend on your presence to complete tasks.
  • It is sometimes difficult to observe your swimmers’ strokes and skills from the water.
  • Getting wet can be a bit of a faff. It can make ticking registers, taking notes and handing out certificates a bit tricky and, yes, if you’ve been relatively stationary in a swimming pool for a few hours, it can get pretty chilly (a wetsuit is often a great investment).

Personal Preference

Personally, I like to employ a mix of both teaching styles when delivering a swimming lesson. With my beginner classes (children or adults), I will spend almost the entire duration of the lesson in the water with my pupils. As my swimmers become more advanced (e.g. are able to swim 10 metres without the aid of a floatation device) I will start to deliver some of the lesson from the poolside. Once my swimmers are able to swim all four strokes and we start to progress to longer distances, I will deliver most of the lesson from the poolside, entering the water occasionally to provide demonstrations.

There are many reasons why a teacher might choose to teach from the poolside rather than in the water and vice versa, however . . .

. . . I have known teachers (two, to be exact) who delivered their swimming lessons from the poolside simply because they did not want to get wet.

I do not agree with this as a rationale.

As swimming teachers, we should not only be prepared to get wet and a bit cold (and deal with all the faff that comes along with that), we should be keen to! We are supposed to be fostering a love of swimming and water skills in our swimmers and one of the best ways to do this is to lead by example.

Other considerations may, of course, include whether or not you have a teaching assistant in the water. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference (or maybe your manager’s preference), comfort and available resources . . . (and sometimes the guidelines relating to a global pandemic).

You know how you teach best!

Finally, here are just a few tips for those of us not used to delivering the entirety of our swimming lessons from the poolside.

Top Tips for Poolside Teaching
  1. Water, clothing & footwear – It’s hot on poolside and it can be slippy. Make sure you’re wearing clothing that’s loose, cool and wouldn’t be a hinderance if you had to enter the water in an emergency. You might also want to wear indoor footwear suitable for poolside with a rubber grip on the sole. And water! Make sure you have a bottle of water with you. Hydrate hydrate hydrate.
  2. Equipment – Think about how your need for equipment might differ. For example, I find bright orange cones really useful for clearly marking distances or parameters when teaching from the poolside. I also always keep a float or two handy for kneeling on.
  3. Vocal hygiene – Look after your voice! It is one of your greatest tools as a teacher. Think carefully about how you’re using it. Do not strain to make yourself heard. Consider using other techniques to gain your swimmers’ attention. For example, you could hold up a colourful float when you want them to stop, look and listen. You could also consider the use of a handsfree microphone and speaker (often used by fitness class instructors). And again, drink plenty of water! It’s great for your voice box.
  4. Ground rules – If teaching from the poolside is going to be new for both you and your class, take a minute to explain the changes at the start of the lesson. You could use this time to explain why it is you’re making this change and to field any questions your swimmers might have. You could also set a few ground rules. For example, “When I raise this yellow float in the air, I want you all to stop what you’re doing, hold on to the side and listen carefully”.
  5. Visual learners – Don’t forget about your visual learners. Some swimmers will really miss your ‘in-water’ demonstrations. Consider other ways you can cater to their learning needs. For example:
    • it is still possible to provide movement demonstrations from the poolside;
    • you could bring pre-prepared, laminated pictures to poolside;
    • you could use a tablet to provide video demonstrations; or,
    • if you’re particularly handy with a pen, you could provide sketches on a whiteboard.

So, what are your thoughts?

Do you prefer teaching from the poolside or teaching in the water?

Do you feel ready to return to the pools and teach in a Covid-19 secure way?

We’d love to hear from you!

Please share your opinions, personal experiences and advice in the comments below . . . and if you have any questions or if there are any topics you’d like us to cover in future blogs, let us know.

Georgina Martindale
Georgina Martindale

Georgina is a Swim England and STA qualified swimming teacher and an RLSS and ILFS qualified lifeguard. With over ten years of teaching under her belt, Georgina has a wealth of experience teaching swimmers of all ages and abilities. A firm believer that swimming teachers have a duty to foster a lifelong love of swimming and water-safety in their pupils, Georgina is passionate that swimming lessons should be first and foremost . . . FUN! Georgina is also a qualified speech and language therapist and finds her knowledge in this area invaluable in creating an inclusive and accessible learning environment for all (especially when working with swimmers who have additional communication needs).

15 comments on this post

    1. Thank you for the feedback, Sally. I’m so glad you liked the blog. My next blog will be looking at the Covid-19 guidelines that have been released by Swim England and the STA. Make sure you head back to our website next Monday to give it a read!

      Best wishes,

    1. Hi Lucy, thank you for the positive feedback. It’s so great to hear you enjoyed the blog! Next week’s blog is focussing on the new Covid-19 guidelines for swimming lessons. We’d love to hear your thoughts so make sure you come back next Monday to give it a read.

      Best wishes,

  1. Well written blog, thank you for the great ideas and information. I look forward to your next blog.
    I prefer teaching from the poolside because I find it easier to spot any corrections needed to swimmers techniques.
    I also feel that I can judge my swimmers progression better from the poolside and easily see their expressions so can tell if they are finding a skill difficult to master.
    The only times I find it is better to be in the water is for younger children so under 3yrs, with new swimmers who don’t have any balance at all and if I need to demonstrate a stroke or part of a stroke.

    1. Thank you for the lovely feedback, Julia! You are most welcome.

      It’s great to have an insight into a fellow teacher’s lesson strategies. I agree! Being on poolside is great for spotting any corrections needed in a swimmer’s stroke technique and I definitely like to be in the water with younger swimmers who have very little balance.

      Best wishes,

  2. I think the same way as above that start with begginers in the water especially if they are nervous and as they progress you wean them off you being in the water of course once you are teaching stroke technique yoh have a better view out the water

    1. Hi Sara, thank you for sharing your thoughts. It’s great to hear from fellow teachers and swimmers. Yes, I agree, it’s nice to be in the water with the beginners (especially if they’re nervous) and there is definitely a “weaning” process as they progress and gain water confidence.

      Best wishes,

  3. I certainly prefer a more direct approach in the water with the little ones but definitely like to have a more analytical approach from poolside with the older more technical swimmers. I feel it is nice to make a distinction between swim teacher and swim coach. I do however, like to get in the water with the older swimmers to finish with a game. Hey, I like to have fun too!!

    As for teaching post Covid personally I do feel quite nervous. I can’t imagine not being hands-on with some of the younger swimmers so it may be a case that we have to have a staggered restart to lessons with the older more competent swimmers returning first. That way we can keep distance safely. That being said, as I am sure you would agree, swimming is an essential skill and the virus has already been detrimental to so many young swimmers progress. I therefore think it is our duty to get everyone back in the pool ASAP.

    Great read and I look forward to your insight in the future.

    Take care.


    1. Hi Isaiah, it’s really great to get your perspective on the topic and hear about your experiences. Thank you for sharing so much! I’m like you – if I haven’t been in the water, I love to get in at the end of a lesson and join in with a game.

      Your nervousness around returning to the pool post-Covid is totally understandable. I also feel some trepidation at the thought of getting back to swimming teaching but yes, I couldn’t agree more, it would be great to get our swimmers back in the water as quickly and as safely as possible!

      A staggered return to lessons could be the way to go. It will be interesting to see what measures individual swim schools and clubs put in place.

      Next week’s blog focusses on the Covid-19 guidelines that have been issued by Swim England and the STA. I’m hoping it will go some way towards demystifying and detangling the information that’s out there and help us to feel more confident about returning to our wonderful sport.

      Best wishes,

  4. What a great read and my sentiments exactly- like to be in with the little ones but once they are competent and safe I prefer to be out. Thank you ?‍♂️

    1. Hi Donna, thanks so much for the feedback and for sharing your thoughts on this week’s topic. All of us here in the comments section seem to be in agreement – we like to be in the water with the younger/less experienced swimmers and prefer to deliver most of the lesson from the poolside with our more competent swimmers. It’s really great to hear from other teachers.

      Best wishes,

  5. Great first post Georgie! And thanks to everyone for their comments, its great to hear from other swimming teachers.

    I love teaching in the water. I find it easier to maintain the children’s attention during the lesson. In fact maintaining children’s attention is another topic we have planned soon so stay tuned!

    I find teaching from the side is useful for higher classes but I still like to get into the water to demonstrate certain activities.

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