How to Teach Swimming to Adults

Female Competitive Swimmer Doing Laps

Drowning is a serious public health risk, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2012 that there were an average of 3,533 drownings every year between 2005 and 2009. Adults who can swim are safer near water, and have more opportunities for physical activity. Teaching adults to swim requires that you work past their fear and embarrassment and provide a supportive environment.

Choose a quiet, private environment. Novice adult swimmers may be embarrassed by their inability to swim, so don't teach them alongside children or in the middle of a crowded pool. Some adults who can't swim are afraid of water, so ease these students' nerves by providing life jackets as they master the basics.

Teach basic kicking skills in water that's shallow enough to touch the bottom. Position your students at the edge of the pool and encourage them to practice kicking their legs. Point out to them that, as they kick, their bodies rise above the water. Encourage them to kick their legs straight out.

Teach students how to tread water. Students who can tread water may feel more comfortable in deep water because they know they can survive for at least a few seconds. Encourage them to move their legs and arms in gentle, circular motions rather than fighting the water. Treading water in shallow water can provide an extra layer of safety for fearful swimmers.

Allow your students to wear life jackets as they learn swimming strokes. The goal is to teach them proper stroke techniques, not to immediately teach them to swim. Show them basic strokes such as the doggy paddle, free style stroke and back stroke, and help them practice these techniques in life jackets. Next, encourage them to kick their legs as they perform strokes.

Encourage your students to take off their life jackets and practice basic strokes in shallow water while kicking their legs. Remain nearby in case they panic or forget how to do a stroke. Take time to model each stroke to them so that they know how it should look. If a student's technique is bad, move her arms or legs for her to show her how the movement should feel.


If you're not a trained lifeguard, there should be a lifeguard on duty during swimming lessons to add an extra layer of safety.

Continue regular swimming practice for several weeks. Familiarity and comfort with the water is key for helping adults master swimming, and adults with plenty of practice will become stronger swimmers.