Pros and Cons of Private Swim Lessons

The Good and Bad of Private Swim Lessons

USA, Utah, Orem, Mother with daughter (4-5) swimming in pool
Rubberball Productions - Nicole Hill Gerulat / Getty Images

Are private swim lessons the most beneficial way for kids to learn how to swim? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of private swim lessons.

Student-Instructor Integrity

The number of private swim lessons that a child is going to receive with the same instructor is a factor when determining whether or not private swim lessons are the best alternative. A child may improve faster in a private lesson than in other lesson formats. I believe that rapid improvement is limited to a subjective number of lessons.

Why? The instructor-student integrity tends to break down over time, similar to why it’s difficult to teach your own child in one-on-one situations. The same dynamic develops over time with your child’s swim instructor as the child's comfort level with the teacher increases. When teaching a “one-on-one” lesson, you eventually lose that “teacher-student” integrity because, in order to keep the lesson enjoyable and fun, you have to be the child’s friend (so to speak). When this occurs, there is a break down in the child’s focus on the task at hand. It does vary from one child to the next, and from one teacher to the next, but eventually it happens.

The Missing Peer Learning Factor

The other dynamic that hinders the benefit of private lessons is missing peers. Not only do children benefit from having at least one other child in their lesson for social reasons and to make it more enjoyable, but children also tend to work harder. Even if they’re not competitive by nature, it’s still human nature to work a little harder when you’re around your peers.

Practice Time Factor

Practice is the mother of learning, and this is a consideration that comes into play when determining the best class format - private lessons, semi-privates, trios, quads, small groups, etc. There are a number of factors that will affect practice time in any format, including age, swimming ability, and the instructor’s training and experience. Even with the least experienced of teachers, sufficient practice time will likely be achieved in a private lessons setting. However, with well-trained and experienced teachers, private lessons are certainly not required to achieve the practice time goal.

The Feedback Factor

As you may know, my graduate work is in Physical Education and Motor Learning / Motor Skill Acquisition. One very interesting study that I will never forget was about feedback. The study shows that TOO MUCH FEEDBACK (more than 50% of the time) CAN HINDER LEARNING. The reasoning too much feedback hinders learning is that the learner becomes dependent on the feedback. I would also add the fact that “Kids Just Want to Have Fun!” It’s not that they don’t want to learn, but you will drive most any child up the wall if you are correcting them every time they swim across the pool.

The Cost / Profit Factor

Ironically, while the cost of the private lesson is significantly higher than other formats, it also gives the swim school the lowest rate of return (unless the other class formats don’t fill up). But business aside, my professional advice to any parent who wants their child to become a better swimmer is to pay less (go with semi, trio, quad, etc.) and get more (lessons). In fact, I can prove that philosophy to be true. You can ask anyone who knows me or has seen me teaching my own children and they will tell you that I have always have my children in either semi’s, trios, or even quads. In terms of which specific class I would choose, i.e., semi (2 on 1), trio (3 on 1), etc., it depends on the child’s age and ability level.

As a swim school owner, I want and need to do whatever the customers' preference is, yet I like to educate them on the pros and cons and help them make an educated decision on what is best for their child.

The Scheduling Factor

For a start-up swim school without a sound scheduling/class placement plan, private lessons are certainly the easiest to schedule. You don’t have to predetermine the course needed because the individual’s ability level always determines your lesson plan or progressions. However, if you have a solid placement system in place, you can make the scheduling issue a “non-factor” as we have since 1989!

The Water Safety Factor

From a drowning prevention standpoint, it is difficult to have a safer situation than one-on-one supervision. Nevertheless, I encourage every parent no matter how small the class is to watch your child closely anytime they are in or around the water. There’s no such thing as too much supervision when it comes to our child’s safety in a swimming pool.

For beginners, especially those who can’t touch the bottom, I always favor using a progressive flotation device that clearly adds a safety component to the class. If you are teaching a large group of beginners, say 7 students or more, then I would prefer a Coast Guard approved Life Jacket, at least until the student has developed some swimming fundamentals and can touch the bottom.

When it comes to choosing an instructor, you want to choose one who has a philosophy that is child-centered. There are plenty of unsafe practices could be dangerous for a child if a task-oriented approach is taken by the wrong instructor. Of course Swim Lessons University Instructors are trained to use a child centered approach that includes safe, natural swimming progressions.

There is definitely a time and place for private lessons, and there are instructors, like my close friend Katrina Ramser Parish, who just loves teaching private lessons. There is nothing wrong with that! You do what you love to do! If you’re not happy and enjoying what you are doing, then what’s the point? There are exceptions for every rule. I personally prefer something different in “most” situations. What is that something different? Semi-private lessons, trios, and quad classes, and if the situation is right, i.e., student’s age and ability, teacher’s experience and training, etc., there is a place for small group swim lessons as well.

Updated by Dr. John Mullen on March 25, 2016