Can a Lifeguard Teach Swim Lessons

Becoming a lifeguard is a serious task and so is becoming a swim instructor, luckily both of these skills complement each other. Lifeguards require an intensive class, multiple tests, practical examinations and quite a bit of swimming.  With all of this work put into becoming a lifeguard it is no wonder why most lifeguards decide to share their love of the water and want to share that love by teaching others how to swim.

Although becoming a lifeguard is an admirable accomplishment it is not the same as becoming a swim instructor.  Many people assume that being a lifeguard is all the experience you need to be a competent lifeguard but that could not be further from the truth. 

A lifeguard is trained to protect struggling and drowning patrons, which is providing an immediate fix to a problem.  Teaching someone how to swim is giving an individual the skill necessary to be a safe swimmer throughout their entire lifetime.  The decision to become a swim instructor should be given the same commitment that lifeguards put into become a certified lifeguard.

There are several steps that every lifeguard will need to take if they want to become a successful swim instructor. These steps include becoming a competent swimmer, shadowing current swim instructors, considering a swim instructor certification, and learning the ins and outs of the teaching process.  Taking the time to walk through these steps will allow you to become a successful swim instructor for years to come.  Before I delve into these steps I would like to note that the process revolved around becoming a new instructor does not require weeks of research and most of this can be done on the job, or rather in the pool.

Becoming a Competent Swimmer

Part of becoming a Red Cross certified lifeguard is a swim test to make sure that potential lifeguards have the ability and stamina to swim long distances.  This swim test, however, does not require the lifeguard to have a good understanding of the strokes or even being able to perform them well. 

Although there are many swim instructors who are not technically the strongest swimmers, that does not excuse a swim instructor from having a basic knowledge to successfully perform each skill and stroke well enough to clearly demonstrate, explain and assist students throughout learning. 

If you feel that you are not the strongest technical swimmer, you will want to take the time to improve your own skills and the control you have over your body in the water.  There are several ways to do this. 

First, get in the water and practice swimming.  Depending on the age group you hope to teach, you will need to decide where your focus during practice should lie.  If you are teaching younger swimmers you will want to focus on being able to understand what makes a good float, glides, kicks, and how to generally manipulate the water to move forward.  The higher levels you are hoping to teach, the more technical knowledge you will need. 

Being a lifeguard means you will most likely have easy access to a pool that will let you practice and develop an understanding of the skills you are hoping to teach.  It is important to note, however, that your focus, while swimming, should not be strictly on improving your own skills but by developing and understanding of how the body works and moves while performing the skills.  By questioning how effective your stroke is, what you could do to make it stronger, and what is slowing you down, you will not only be improving your abilities but be preparing yourself to help students who struggle with the same things.

If you feel that you need more help than just a little pool time get some help from a friend or coworker who is a stronger swimmer.  I have spent quite a bit of time assisting new teachers in the water improving their techniques with the hopes of making them a stronger and more proficient teacher.  A lot of these teachers have been teaching lower levels for a while and are hoping to improve their skills with the more technical strokes, such as breast stroke or butterfly, so that they can increase the classes they are qualified to teach.    

Shadow Other Instructors

Once you feel that you can swim well enough to teach others it is time to shadow other instructors and see how the basic swim lesson is taught.  I should clarify that there isn’t really any “basic” swim lesson as every teacher and program requires different things from their students but by shadowing other instructors you are able to get a feel for how to present skills, interact with students, and offer corrections in a supportive and effective manner.  All good swimmers are not good teachers so observing the skills of a teacher will help you figure out what kinds of teacher you want to be. 

Shadowing teachers isn’t just for new swim instructors either.  I have shadowed other teachers when they have a different method than mine or when I notice they have games or songs I want to use in my own classes.  Being a good instructor means that you should feel comfortable stealing and adapting any and all teaching methods that you see as effective, fun and useful.  Part of being a great teacher is using what you learn from others and expecting your tricks and tools to be used by others.

Should you get Certified to Teach Swim Lessons?

You may want to consider a swim instructor certification program.  The reason I suggest considering obtaining a certification, rather than insisting it is necessary, is because having a certification is not necessary depending on where you teach.

In my experience most parents are not aware of the certifications so they will not even ask about your certifications.  Saying that, having a certification is not necessary but it is another tool that will benefit you.  By becoming certified, you are increasing your ability to being an effective teacher. 

Going through a certification course means that you will be instructed in how to teach students effectively.  Often these certification programs will require you to recertify after several years.  If your position does not require you to have a certification, you may choose to not recertify, but you will always be able to use what you have learned to help your students and business.

I do want to mention that like a lifeguard certification, swim instructor certifications teach you how to be a swim instructor according to their program and standards. As I have taken classes and courses, I have found a lot of different teaching methods I adopt into my own practice, but sometime I do not agree with the way they suggest teaching a specific skill.  The reason this is important is because adhering to only one program limits your ability to reach different students at different levels. 

If you are interested in learning how to find the right certification process, please look at my article that addresses the different programs that could be available in your area, their cost and process.

Learning the Teaching Process

Finally, the last thing I would recommend when you are interested in becoming a swim instructor is to take the time to learn what a swim class consists of and how to be a successful teacher.  Up to this point, I have discussed how to gain the knowledge necessary to be able to teach, but there is another aspect to teaching, which is having control of your class. Putting children in the water can spell disaster if a teacher does not have control of their class.  There are several aspects which exemplify this knowledge.

  • Setting firm and consistent rules. Children are known for pushing boundaries and when they are in the water that could spell disaster. Having rules may seem like common sense, but there is a trick to what kind of rules to have and how many.  You can overwhelm a class if you make a rule for every little thing so you will want to keep the rules simple, such as “Listen when the teacher is talking.”  Since you are in a pool, you may choose to have one or two more specific rules for safety such as “Keep your hands on the wall unless you are working with the teacher.”  Once you have decided upon your classroom rule you will want to share them with the students first thing and often remind them so that the students know you are serious.
  • How to control a class.  Often a class or 3 year-olds can get a little crazy in under a minute. A successful teacher understands how to roll with craziness and morph that energy into a productive activity.  If I notice a class getting out of control, I will change up the activity so that multiple students can participate at once or that all the children become involved.
  • When to teach new skills and practice old one.  The longer your swim sessions, the more skills you will be expected to introduce.  As a new teacher, I would often introduce new skills at the beginning of a class and be disappointed that the students hadn’t mastered them by the end of the class.  Through time and trial, I realized my students need time to process the information I was giving them, especially for skills that involved multiple parts.  I changed my method and spent the first part of my class practicing older skills and introducing new skills in the last half of class.  I noticed that they would struggle during that class but by the next class the improvement was monumental.

These are just examples of the things that are a part of being a teacher in any setting.  These skills are difficult to learn until you get into the water, but a good way to start is by sitting down and writing out lesson plans that will help you think through the flow of your class period. 

As you become a seasoned instructor, you will be able to do this very quickly or in your head ,but developing an understanding of what is required of you as a teacher will help your transition from lifeguard to swim instructor go smoothly.


Becoming a lifeguard is a huge accomplishment, but that does not mean that you are ready to teach others to swim yet.  If being a swim instructor is what you want then begin taking the steps to be an effective and successful instructor.  Take your time to learn about the information you need to share, observe and shadow other teachers, research the benefits of becoming certified, and develop what you expect the dynamic of your classroom to be and it will pay dividends when you finally are ready to instruct your first class. 

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