Swimming Teaching Tips 7 minute read

Top Tips for Maintaining Children’s Attention During a Swimming Lesson

Georgina Martindale
20th August 2020

Welcome back!

Hello SwimPals, and welcome back to our 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 (as always, apologies – terrible swimming puns are an occupational hazard) . . .

Maintaining Children’s Attention during a Swimming Lesson

We’ve all been there . . .

It’s your last lesson of the day, a warm shower and a cup of tea are mere moments away but, for some reason, your little swimmers just aren’t listening to you.

Eliza is underwater, preoccupied with something she’s seen on the pool floor, Imran is getting upset because Connor’s splashing the water and Alisha looks like she’s listening but when you set your class off on an exercise, she has no idea what she’s supposed to be doing.

Sometimes, it’s just “one of those days” – it’s important to remember this.

You can’t control everything, and our little swimmers are just as susceptible to “off-days” as we are. Maybe Eliza fell out with her big sister before coming to swimming, maybe Imran didn’t sleep very well last night and maybe Alisha is worried about a spelling test she has coming up at school.

If you are having “one of those days”, don’t be hard on yourself!

Be kind to yourself. Everybody has them and tomorrow is a new day full of exciting possibilities.

That being said, over the years, as I have grown and gained confidence as a swimming teacher, I have trialled and collected a number of strategies to help me maintain the attention of my swimmers.

I am going to share my little toolkit of teaching tactics with you, now!

Five Top Tips

1. Turn it into a GAME!

Having to stop picking your nose and pay attention to your swimming teacher doesn’t have to be a chore. It could be an opportunity to win a game.

Setting the ground-rules early and frequent use is key with this one.

Explain to your swimmers that every time you raise the crab-shaped float in the air, you want them to stop what they’re doing, hold on to the side and listen carefully. Then explain that the first person to do so is the winner!

When you’ve used this strategy a couple of times and they understand how it works, you’ll have your little swimmers racing to the side and straining their necks to listen to you with one slight twitch of the float.

Make sure you make a big fuss of the winner each time.

Once this strategy has become a routine part of your lessons, you can start to vary it and make the game a little bit more challenging. For example, you could raise the crab-shaped float if you want them to gather at the near-side of the pool and the octopus-shaped float if you want them to gather at the far-side of the pool. Or you could just raise a totally random float in the air and see if you manage to catch anybody out.

Maybe you could use a traffic light system? Red for STOP, orange for LISTEN and green for GO. (Just double-check that nobody in your class is colourblind).

Or you could silently start doing different actions (e.g. touch your nose, put your hand on top of your head, turn around, etc.) and wait until everyone has realised and has started copying you. Again, make sure you make a big fuss of the person who started copying your actions first.

There are lots of options with this one. Have a play around with a few ideas and see which one your swimmers respond to the best.

2. Praise & Positivity

I’ve talked a lot about the lessons that don’t quite go your way but what about all the other lessons that go absolutely swimmingly?

I’m pleased to say that, most of the time, I’m really happy with how my lesson is going. My swimmers are having fun, I feel like they’re making great progress and they’re all being as good as gold – listening to my instructions carefully, watching my demonstrations earnestly and trying their absolute best.

It’s really important that, in these moments, you provide positive feedback to your swimmers.

If someone in your class is paying really good attention, praise them!

“Wow! You are being such a fantastic listener today, Imran! Thank you.”

Even if they’re a swimmer who always listens really well in class, they deserve positive feedback. This lets them know that their good behaviour has not gone unnoticed and reinforces positive habits. It also sets a great example for other children in your class.

Specific feedback is also key!

“Well done!” Doesn’t provide your swimmer with very much information. They know they did something well . . . but what?

If you say “I am really impressed with your listening today, Eliza. I’m going to make sure I tell your mummy that you’ve been a super listener!” – this provides your swimmer with clear and specific feedback and they will know how and why to repeat this positive behaviour in the future.

3. Reduce Distractions

You’ve handed out the watering cans and now you’re explaining the activity . . . but, hang on . . . nobody’s listening to you. It’s almost as if you gave each of your swimmers a really fun toy just before you started providing instructions.

Oh wait. You did.

This one’s a classic. I have made this error SO many times (and I expect I will continue to do so for many years to come).

Who can blame your swimmers for devoting all of their attention to the personal waterfall you have just gifted them? Watering cans are awesome!

Luckily, there is a very simple solution.

Only hand out toys or equipment AFTER you have explained the activity and/or provided your demonstration.

This goes for everything – even something as seemingly boring as a float. Trust me. The amount of time my swimmers have spent trying to stand on their floats! Have you tried it? It’s actually quite fun.

Reducing distractions on poolside like asking parents and carers to sit in a designated area a few metres away and moving toys and equipment out of reaching distance can also help your swimmers to maintain focus.

4. Keep it fun. Keep it moving.

This one is pretty self-explanatory.

A person’s attention span is something that grows and develops as they get older.

Children learn best when they’re having fun and don’t even realise that they’re learning!

Include lots of games in your lessons and don’t be afraid to be a bit silly (my talent for silly voices and funny faces has served me well over the years).

Don’t spend too much time on one activity. If you feel an exercise has gone a bit stale or your swimmers just aren’t enjoying it today, move on. You can come back and tackle that skill another day. Don’t put them off forward rolls for good because you spent a 30-minute lesson perfecting them.

Include a variety of activities and keep the lesson moving. An exciting new activity is much easier to pay attention to than one you’ve been stuck on for 15 minutes.

5. “Let me see . . . who is being my BEST listener?”

Finally, I gift to you, my SECRET WEAPON!

Maybe you already use this phrase (or something very similar) but I am prepared to go on record saying that it works 99% of the time.

I know it seems so simple but I’m not kidding. It’s like a magic spell!

Every time I say “Let me see, who is being my BEST listener?”, all of my swimmers quickly stand to attention with a look of intense anticipation in their eyes as they wait to hear WHO is being my best listener.

You should know though, I REALLY sell it!

We’re talking furrowing my brow, pursing my lips, stroking my imaginary beard, pausing after “Let me see . . .” and really emphasising BEST.

So you’ll have to do the same. 😉

Oh, and ALWAYS let them know who is in fact being the best listener at that particular moment in time.

It’s a magic spell that doesn’t seem to lose any power no matter how many times you use it, so feel free to use it multiple times a lesson.

If it’s really working for you, you could go as far as to crown a Listening Legend at the end of every lesson. Just an idea.

So that’s it!

My five top tips. I hope they help you in some way. Even if it just confirms you’re doing a great job.

Remember, some days you can try every trick in the book but, for some reason, the lesson just won’t go your way.

Don’t worry. It happens to all of us.

You are doing an amazing job!

What are your thoughts?

Do you use any of the tips and tricks I’ve mentioned?

Do you have any tricks-of-the-trade you’re willing to share?

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).

3 comments on this post

  1. Wow more amazing ideas, absolutely love this blog.
    The best listener tip sounds a great idea, I’m going to try it as soon as my lessons restart .
    Thank you for giving your time to express your ideas and thoughts about teaching swimming and keeping the attention of children.
    I fully agree children learn best when they are happy and enjoying what they are doing.
    Play and games is the best way for children to learn anything. I believe that if a teacher is good at praising effort every person who has taken part in that lesson will leave the feeling happy and also with a great feeling of achievement.
    So the feeling of achievement equals good learning and great progress.
    Thank you again and look forward to your next blog.

    1. Thank you again for your lovely feedback, Julia. I’m so glad you are finding our blog series useful and enjoyable! Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. Let’s praise children for their effort and they will leave our lessons feeling proud and fulfilled . . . and looking forward to coming back the next week for some more fun and games!

      Best wishes,

  2. I love your blog Georgina, the tips are great.
    I love the thought of doing an action that gets the attention of one child then hopefully the whole class realise and join in. This must save your voice.
    We must all try and make children enjoy their swimming lessons, I agree with the comment from Julia let’s praise effort!
    At the moment I know some swim schools are planning the starting back process and that some swim schools have already begun lessons again.
    We have had a lot to think about getting back into swimming lessons this is because of the added consideration about how to prevent the spread of this virus.
    The schools will be starting again in September, they have also had lots to think about, policies and routines to change.
    I think it is extremely important for children to be able to go to school and equally it is important for them to continue with their outside of school activities.
    I am hoping that all the swim schools will be able to get get back to normal sooner rather than later!
    We all know that swimming is an important ‘Life Skill ‘ and is within the national curriculum.
    Schools who hire out their pools should support swim schools to get their lessons going again.
    If these outside activities get going again and things in general get back to a more normal routine, I believe it will give parents a greater confidence to send their children back to school.
    I hope everyone in our industry is okay and is beginning to see their way through this unusual situation.
    Good luck everyone.
    Thank you Georgina you have been a great inspiration.

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