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Ask the ALTS Experts

Answers to your trickiest ALTS questions from our lead instructors. Email your questions to Holly Neumann.

  1. Ask a lead ALTS instructor

    by , February 11th, 2017 at 09:17 PM (Ask the ALTS Experts)
    Answers to your trickiest Adult Learn to Swim questions, by USMS-certified lead ALTS instructor Dominic Latella:

    Some of my students have physical limitations that make the competency test a real challenge. What is the best way to deal with this?

    It’s always a good idea to have an initial interview with your clients and ask them about any injuries or limitations they may have. This way, you know early on if you need to make some adaptions for them. Once you have identified any limitation, you can prepare to adjust their competency test. For instance, if someone cannot pull themselves out of the water, they’ll need to be at a pool that has access to a ramp or a ladder.

    I get lots of questions about swim “toys.” What are some of the best pieces of equipment for new swimmers and why?

    It’s most helpful to use equipment that is available to your swimmers when they’re not working with you. This way they’ll feel comfortable enough to practice on their own. Fins are one of the most helpful pieces of equipment for new swimmers. Fins help support buoyancy and will help strengthen muscles used for swimming. Another “toy” that’s good for new swimmers is a snorkel. A snorkel helps people who struggle to take a breath gain confidence with the act of swimming. This will help them focus on becoming more comfortable in the water before going back to focus on working on the breath.
  2. Ask a Lead ALTS Instructor

    by , October 6th, 2016 at 09:30 AM (Ask the ALTS Experts)
    Adult Learn-to-Swim questions answered by Lead Certified ALTS Instructor Dave Burgess:

    1) I would love to teach adults to swim as a part-time job, and I want to work independently. What is my first step? How do I find pool space and clients?

    Working independently is a great way to fill some part-time hours with rewarding work. And pool space is sometimes easier to procure than people anticipate. Look to your local high school and college facilities. They often rent lane space for community programs, lessons, and swim clubs. Local YMCA or JCC facilities are options – however they may want be the administrators of the program that is being offered. If you’re looking to be in full control of your offering, then the high school, or college, pool options are attractive. And remember, you might not need a 25-yard pool to get things off the ground. Gyms or fitness centers that have smaller pools could be an option – and not only does this provide an additional offering for the gym, but it could also mean new long-term members for them.

    Advertising for your services can be done via simple flyers at the pool facility, as well as at local gyms, markets, etc. Social media and a website are always good options, but it’s amazing what some simple flyers and word-of-mouth will produce.

    Also look into creating a sole proprietorship registration with your state. It’s cheap, and doing so legitimizes your business and income.

    2) I have two swimmers who want to take lessons together, but they are at very different skill levels. How can I best manage their lesson time?

    A group lesson with two individuals is a great way to maximize your time. However, when you have clients of differing abilities, it can create some challenges. If the clients in question are friends, or know each other well enough, then you can certainly make it work. The challenge is simply that one will be moving faster than the other in regards to skills progression.

    However, you need to do an initial assessment to ensure that they are not too far apart from one another – you don’t want be stretched too thin during sessions as you need to provide equal attention to both individuals. There is a safety issue to consider, too, as you cannot divert your full attention from one swimmer to another if they are doing very different skills.

    To keep things easy for you, and to ensure that each client gets the attention and service they require, in this situation it might be best to run separate sessions. They’ll get a better experience in the long run. Your word-of-mouth marketing will thank you for it!

    3) I have a student who is starting to get frustrated because he can swim, but can’t seem to coordinate the breathing. What are your best tips for learning to side-breathe, and do you recommend a snorkel for a student like this?

    The best steps to address the coordination of breathing while swimming freestyle is to revisit the breathing progression of skills.

    Standing and holding onto the wall/gutter, move through the breathing motions. Then add the single-arm stroke – still standing, holding onto the wall – working on the head movement and breathing to the side. You can then progress to having your client push off the wall, take a couple of strokes, breathe, and stop. Just one breath! Stopping at one breath initially makes the skill more attainable. Then move to two, and so on. And as always, ensure that they are off-gassing, or “blowing bubbles,” so breathing in is easier.

    This is sometimes a difficult skill, as it can require a lot of coordination. While it can be frustrating, it is frequently beneficial to take a step or two back and revisit previous skills to reinforce the confidence. Provide positive reinforcement that your student is doing a great job, and that, in time, this skill will come.

    A snorkel can be used initially to ensure good air exchange (blowing bubbles or off-gassing with the head submerged) and very well might make it easier for the student to feel comfortable exhaling while their face is submerged. Once they are comfortable with this, then they can remove the snorkel and move to the breathing progression.
  3. Ask a Lead ALTS Instructor

    by , June 24th, 2016 at 09:59 AM (Ask the ALTS Experts)
    This issue's entry is answered by Lead ALTS Instructor Lisa Brown. Lisa is the aquatics director at Zionsville Aquatics Center in Zionsville, Ind.

    Q: I want to add adult lessons to our facility’s schedule, but my aquatics director doesn’t see the need. What can
    I say to convince her?

    When discussing any programming idea with a director, always think, “What is in it for the facility?” What income opportunities are there with adult learn-to-swim programs? Be sure you know what other adult programs exist, as this would appeal to a similar crowd. The swim lessons might compete with other programs, or they might be a natural addition – how many people taking water aerobics need swim lessons? Very likely, many of them.
    Remind the aquatics director that adult lessons bring in the heads-of-households that have the decision-making power to bring in more family members for income opportunities such as children’s lessons and other programming.
    Inform the director about studies that show that many adults who do not know how to swim, also have children who do not know how to swim. In fact, only 13 percent of children of nonswimmers will ever learn to swim, according to the USA Swimming Foundation. It’s a vicious circle that your facility can help stop, making a difference in the community.
    Tell the director about ALTS marketing assistance from USMS -- banners and printed materials, as well as the searchable database for the public to find certified instructors, and the searchable Places to Swim page on The ALTS program can be listed on the facility’s Places to Swim entry, as well as other programming. The ALTS program will drive people into the facility. And once the customers are happy with their lessons, they will share their experience with friends and family.
    What would it cost to add adult learn-to-swim? Just a little pool space, and the benefits will pay off for years to come.

    Q: How can I convince my aquatics director to send some of my co-workers to get USMS-ALTS certified?

    The ALTS certification provides the instructor proven training and strategies tailored for adult learners. Once certified, the ALTS instructor is part of a nationally recognized program that is standardized across the nation. Having this education and training boosts the success rate of the lessons, and if the lessons are more successful, more people will sign up, bringing in more business and income to the facility.

    Q: I have a student who has learned the basics, and wants to swim for exercise. He doesn’t want to join our Masters team. What should I teach him first?

    Teach him how fun it is to swim with another person. Swim with him, as an instructor and as a friend. In the water, you can show him the techniques that will help refine his stroke.
    Teach him how to use a pace clock to train, how to circle swim, how to work on a powerful kick and how to do flip turns. Remind him that swimming is ever-changing: as you perfect one part of your swimming there is always something else to improve upon. Make sure he knows he does not have to be a “master” swimmer to be part of a Masters team, and that sometimes swimming with a group can help you get better. If your student is still not interested, that is fine, just teach them the fun points of lap swimming.
  4. Ask the ALTS Lead Instructors

    by , April 6th, 2016 at 02:01 PM (Ask the ALTS Experts)
    This issue's questions answered by Lead ALTS Instructor Bill Meier

    Q: I have a student whose legs sink, no matter what I try. Any tips?

    When trying to float on either their front or back, some students will find that their legs don’t float to the surface. This lack of buoyancy is natural and as an instructor, reassure your student that she'll be able to counteract this. Remind your student that head position will have a direct effect on the position of the body in the water. When the head is raised higher out of the water, the legs will sink. Have your student try to float with her head deeper in the water. For some students, the legs will come up if the head is all the way under on a front float. If the legs are still resting on or close to the bottom of the pool, ask the student to kick gently. If this doesn't work, which would put your student in a very rarefied group, have your student put on a pair of fins to make the kick more efficient and keep the toes pointed.

    Q: My student wants to learn sidestroke while keeping her face out of the water,but she keeps tipping onto her front. What can I do to help her correct this?

    Have your student grip a kickboard from the top so her whole arm is supported by the board. If fins are available, have her put them on. With the arm holding the board extended above the head, the student should lean on the board so that the shoulder of the arm holding the board faces the bottom of the pool and the other shoulder is out of the water, pointing toward the sky or ceiling.

    Now, the student should be floating sideways in the water and begin flutter kicking side to side, not up and down with her ear on the side of the kickboard as she looks up toward the sky or ceiling. Once the body position and kick have been established, introduce the scissor kick, reminding the student to "kick, glide, kick, glide." Next, add the pull with the free arm.

    Finally, take away the board, explain the whole stroke, demonstrate this yourself, and ask your student to try the same motion without the board. Once she's comfortable with the motion, take away the fins, and she should be swimming sidestroke.

    Q: My pool has a significant drop-off about 10 feet from the wall. My students freak out when they see the water getting deeper. How can I convince them that it's OK to keep swimming?

    If your student assures you that she's not afraid of deep water, but then freaks out when the bottom falls away, let this happen only once.

    Tell your student to get out of the pool and ask her to tell you about what she just experienced. Then explain that the water that supported her in the shallow end will do the same in the deep end--the only difference is the distance between her feet and the bottom.

    Next, with you in the water holding a floatation device that can support two people, have your student enter the water by the ladder. Move to the side as she holds on to the ladder. Remind your student that you are there to help, if needed.

    Have your student do a supported front float, asking her to look around the pool while her face is in the water. Remind her to focus on the positive. Once your student relaxes, have her glide short distances diagonally at the corner of the deep end, extending the distance as her comfort and confidence increases. Swim along the side toward the shallow end, explaining that she or can stop and hold the side at any point. And don't forget to congratulate your student on her remarkable progress.

    Send your questions to Education Manager Holly Neumann!

    Updated April 12th, 2016 at 02:07 PM by Adult Learn to Swim

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