My day in the Berkshires – Fun at the USMS Adult Learn-to-Swim Instructor Certification program.

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As most of my students know, I am an Adult-Onset-Swimmer.

When I was 27 years old, I decided to master this whole swimming thing, and despite my fears and anxieties, I signed up for a Beginning Swimming class at Portland State University where I was attending graduate school.

I have never looked back, and over the years, I have thought often of Joanna, my teacher, always wishing I had a way to find her and thank her for changing my life. My kind, encouraging, and patient instructor, and her introduction to a life aquatic, meant that I left my first swim course loving the water and feeling confident that I really COULD learn this swimming thing.

Through my work at Swimcrest, I’ve been able to pay that kindness forward a bit, and last Saturday, I took yet another step in my progression as an instructor of adult swimmers.

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I got up early and headed out to the Berkshires where I was fortunate enough to attend a U.S. Masters Swimming Adult Learn-To-Swim Instructor Certification program. A beta-test for a certification course being rolled out across the country, this was the second time the course was offered, with the goal being that it will train a new group of instructors ready to help the countless adults who cannot swim.

The course was led by swimmer and coach Bill Meiers, “the Aquatics Director for Bard College at Simon’s Rock and the Head Coach of the PaceMakers Swim Team. As the Chairman of the New England LMSC, he directed the effort that led to the ‘April is Adult Learn to Swim Month’ initiative which included training over 100 volunteers to teach non-swimming adults.(via)

Dynamic, enthused, and knowledgeable, Meiers spent the day sharing his love of the sport and of teaching.

With 50 participants who had traveled from points across New England to attend, I felt particularly lucky that my drive was less than an hour and a half as there were folks from Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont, and farther afield in Massachusetts. Many had driven 3+ hours to attend the training and I met swimmers whose names I’ve been reading for years, happy to expand my swimming community.

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The day began with classroom work.

We talked about everything from the statistics of how many adults are unable to swim the length of a pool (37%), to the particulars of running your own program. We discussed the different types of adult learners from fearful to and specific techniques for instruction in each stroke.

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And we covered specific methods for instructing those who are new to the water, everything from how to help a fearful person feel comfortable before they even touch the water to helping someone learn to float or kick or breathe.

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These are things I do every single day, but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn and I enjoyed hearing things I might be able to bring to my own instruction.

One element I appreciated is that there is flexibility within the guidelines set out by the ALTS program. Yes, there are specific methods recommended, but it was clear that part of the training was about figuring out what works for you, as an instructor, and for your students, as learners of all types.

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The second part of the day, after lunch, was spent in the pool. And that’s when the fun really began!

For me, this was the most productive part of the day. Divided into teams of 3 to role-play and discuss what we had learned, this was the time to share techniques, to evaluate what we thought would work best both for our students and think about how to apply that to our type of instruction, whether we are professional instructors doing this as a job or volunteers hoping to help others during the USMS April Adult Learn-to-Swim month, part of the work of the USMS Swimming Saves Lives Foundation.

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I loved hearing from other instructors, learning what works for them and picking up tips. While I participate in online coaching forums and am constantly seeking to improve my practice, there’s a benefit to talking in person, sharing ideas, and the spontaneous discussion that happens in a setting like this.

I hope that the continuing education component of the program will afford more opportunities to meet with other instructors with more hands-on experience to be shared.

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By the end of the day, each of us was certified as a USMS Adult Learn-to-Swim Instructor, and I confess, I feel some pride at that title.

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The funny thing is that in my years of teaching, not one client or parent of a client, has ever asked me about my professional certifications or even whether or not I am a lifeguard. While I appreciate their trust, I love the idea of continuing to grow my experience, pushing myself to always strive to become a better and more effective instructor, always maintaining my love for the water and the act of teaching itself.

I headed home, tired but happy.

But first, I stopped at the outlet mall near the highway.

I kid you not that the FIRST item of clothing I spotted was this:

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As I paid for my silly t-shirt, because OF COURSE I bought it, I realized it was the perfectly fitting ending to what had been a fantastic day.

We all can swim. We just don’t know it yet.

Thank you to all who organized the training and I look forward to seeing all of my new instructor friends again soon.

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