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Mary's tips for swimming teachers

Careers Advice

Tips for swimming teachers from Mary Clarke are not to be ignored. After 30 years with Pilgrims Swimming Club in Immingham, Mary Clark knows a thing or two about teaching swimming, from lifesaving classes to learn-to-swim programmes for babies.

A keen swimmer from a young age, she could sometimes be found in the waters of Grimsby Docks. Now she can be found at the pool four days a week, giving private lessons as well as continuing with Pilgrims and working with aspiring swimmers of all ages.

We asked Mary if she would be happy to pass on tips for swimming teachers starting out on their career, and she said yes.

Tips for swimming teachers: adults

Teaching adults presents a different challenge to children, says Mary, and for many it is a case of overcoming a fear of water.

“Almost all of them have been pushed in or fallen in. One woman had fallen down a well and had been there for a while. There is a fear of putting their face in the water so it is about reassurance, that you are going to be in the water with them.

“When they do their first width you know they are coming back. When you see the look on the faces of the adults who haven’t swum! It’s fantastic.

Tips for swimming teachers: disability swimming

Given the spectrum of disabilities, says Mary, every lesson is different. Be ready for tis. The able-bodied are in there too – they are all in together so you can expect challenges in each class.

You have to be on the ball and have a lesson plan, but most of all it’s about having fun.

One lady I teach has limbs that go into contraction out of the pool, but give her a rubber ring and she is off. Teaching swimmers with disabilities teaches you an awful lot.

Tips for swimming teachers: age as a barrier

One of my big tips for swimming teachers is expect to teach people of all ages. The oldest pupil Mary’s had is 89. He had a severe curvature of the spine and wanted to learn how to swim.

Eventually he learned how to do sidestroke and on his 90th birthday managed a full length. I was so pleased for him. Thereafter he was a regular, attending twice a week until his death at the age of 93.

When he passed away in his sleep, he was in a care home and for the last year of his life he would always want to swim. He was always asking if he was going the next day.

Mary’s big six top teaching tips

For Mary, learning to swim is essential. “It’s a totally new world when people learn to swim and something everyone can enjoy together. You teach them to swim and be a person.”

With that in mind Mary has compiled her big six tips for swimming teachers. They are:

  1. Keep it simple. Give good, clear instructions with the visual aid of demonstration.
  2. Have lots of patience.
  3. Always praise and encourage to help increase confidence.
  4. Make sure there is an element of fun in every lesson.
  5. Never pressurise a child or adult or make anything an issue.
  6. Use whatever flotation you can and say, ‘Well done, you had a good try.’ This way they have never failed. They have to enjoy it because otherwise they won’t come back next week.