But how long will it take? Learning as an Adult Onset Swimmer


The most common questions I am asked by new adult learners are “How many lessons will I need and how long will it take for me to learn to swim?

And my unsatisfying answer is always the same.

“I don’t know. That depends upon you.”

It’s not an answer anyone wants.

People want clarity and a logical answer for what seems like a simple question.

They want to be told that within 6 lessons, or less, they will be swimming like those aquatic creatures they see at their local pools. They want to hear that they will be relaxed and that breathing will be effortless, and that regardless of their previous fitness level, they will be able to swim endless distances.

And some of them will. Some will be swimming as of their very first lesson.

Most will not.

It might not be the answer people want, but it’s the honest one.


There are many follow-up questions.

When will I be able to swim without feeling panic?

When will I stop feeling like my legs are sinky?

When will I be able to tread water?

When will I feel safe swimming with my kids?

When will I stop getting water up my nose?

I try to answer these questions, and the many others, as best as I can.

I start by telling my students that I will help them with all of this, but that we will work step-by-step and that it will take time and dedication and desire, and that they will not learn all of  this on Day One.


There is no prescription I can give.

“Take two swim lessons and call me in the morning,” does not exist.

I remind my swimmers that we must be kind to ourselves when we don’t move as quickly as we’d like to. We must remember that to take this on as an adult requires bravery, and we should be proud to take on a challenge so daunting for so many.

We must remember that many adults are not swim literate, and that the idea that “everyone else can swim” is false. (As I learned in my Adult Learn to Swim Certification course last year, 37% of adults cannot swim the length of pool like mine.)

We must remember that just because we see 5-year-olds swimming does not mean it is easy. And in fact, those kids have an advantage over those of us who learn as adults. They do not have a lifetime of water history impacting their every step on this swim journey.


I tell people that I have yet to teach an adult who did not learn, and that the learning was about so much more than swimming. I can tell people that the feeling of being proud of oneself is a powerful one, and that I watch people have that feeling every single day.

I tell them that learning to swim is about patience, and trial and error, and forgiving yourself when your mental image doesn’t match the physical reality. It’s about learning an entirely new set of movements, and embracing an element that has, quite often, been a source of fear.

I tell them that it’s never too late, no matter their age.

And that the learning about our swimming never stops. I tell them there is no such thing as a “perfect” swimmer and I am honest about my own continued work on my practice.

I tell people that learning to swim changes things . I can tell people that learning to swim as an adult, and the sense of accomplishment that come with it, makes someone willing to take on other challenges, to try to learn piano or plan a trip or take a class of another kind.

I can tell them that they need to embrace the small steps and small victories, because they are not small.

And while I can’t tell them how long it will take, I can tell them that they will swim. They will. It will happen.

And they will feel freaking amazing when it does.