|Group of Swimmers by Lomography.com|
Swimming SkillsFirst, you should assess your swimming skills. In other words, be honest with yourself about what you can do in the water. If you have zero swimming skills or are afraid of water, don't be embarrased by that, you will only slow down your progress if you try to artificially bump up your skill level. Learning the basics first and practicing them over and over is the key to success.
Swimming GoalsAfter you have evaluated your swimming skill level, then it is time to set some goals. It is always good to have a goal in mind before starting swimming lessons. The goal should be achievable and realistic in my opinion, but not something that you can master in 30 minutes. The goal should keep you motivated, push you and it also should give a better idea to the swim instructor in terms of what you'd like to learn and how he/she should adjust swimming lessons so you are able to succeed. It is better to set intermediary goals during your learn to swim path, so you can track your progress better. For example: If you are afraid of water, set yourself a goal to learn how to relax and float without the sinking panic in your mind. Then when you master that, go a bit further and mark a goal to swim one length of the pool in any stroke. After that, why not shoot for lowering the effort it takes to swim that far etc. etc. After you set your goals, it is a good idea to discuss them with the swim instructor and adjust them according to their feedback.
Self Learning Swimming LessonsWhen you figured out what you want to learn, it is time to start thinking about how you want to learn it. Some people prefer learning to swim on their own. This approach has become more popular with the Internet age and it could work well as long as you follow a good swimming lesson program structure (on DVD or online) which allows for this type of learning. I'd however argue that at some point you will still need an outside person to evaluate how you are doing and adjust your swimming skills to be more effective and efficient. One crucial problem with learning to swim on your own is the fact that every person is different in the way they learn and in their physical ability, so you might end up spending a lot of money and time before you find the right swimming lesson program for you. Unfortunately, there is no one way to learn to swim. There are guidelines and loosely defined steps that many swimming instruction DVDs follow, but remember, these products are targeting the mass market, so if they work for one person, they migh not necessarily work for another. These instructional videos are also made with a simple idea in mind where you need to first master skill 1 before moving onto skill 2. This approach makes sense, but sometimes proves to be challenging and even impossible for many people. So, if you do plan on learning to swim on your own, I'd summarize it to the following recommendation: If you are just starting out, learning on your own can be tough and not recommended as your only learning path. If you are a bit more advanced in swimming, learning new skills on your own gets easier, but try it before you buy it :).
Private vs. Group Swimming LessonsLearning to swim in private (one on one) or in group swimming lessons is the way to go for majority of us. Private swimming lessons, meaning that there is one instructor for one or two swimmers, could be a bit more expensive endeavor at first, however, the rate of learning is much higher and more flexible. So, in reality the return on your investment is much higher in terms of saved time and frustration since you'll learn to swim much quicker. (If you live in the Helsinki area in Finland, I do teach private swimming lessons as well as provide video analysis of swimming strokes) On the other hand, in group lessons there can usually be 5-20 swimmers who are all following the instructor's advice, so there is not much hands on activity, however, they are much cheaper. The rule of thumb that I'd use here is that if you don't mind paying a bit more money at first, definitely go private. You will learn more in less time, so in long run, it actually could be a better investment than taking numerous swimming lessons. If you have a hydrophobia (fear of water), I'd recommend private lessons as well since you can advance in overcoming your fear on your own pace. However, no matter what lessons you choose, I'd strongly suggest exploring miscellaneous online swimming resources that are out there. You never know, maybe you will pick up the right explanation which will make sense to you in one of them and this will make the particular swimming skill a bliss to master.
Asking the Right Questions?If you have the time and luxury of choosing between more than one swim instructor, it is a very good idea to first go and observe the particular swim instructor at work. What you should look for is the enthusiasm with which the instructor operates. Does the instructor only stand on the pooldeck throughout the entire swim lesson or does he/she get in the water with the swimmer to show and explain the different techniques? How many students are in the swim classes? Does the instructor pair you up with someone during the class, so you can correct each others' mistakes or you are left all alone? Is the instructor supportive and patient in educating the new swimmers? If you like what you see, why not take a few swimming lessons to start with and then see how it goes. If you are not very happy, then look for another swimming lessons program that will suit you better.
Remember that swimming is a priceless skill to have and no matter what path you will choose on your way to improve your swimming skills, you can learn to swim if the choice is wise. However, is there one recipe on how to learn to swim that works for everyone? Definitely not. We are all individuals, so we all need an individual approach to swim learning in order to achieve our swimming potential. So, don't loose hope, get out there and get swimming.