The process of learning how to swim is completely different from one individual to the next. As a general rule of thumb, kids learn gradually over a number of years and adults take on average 20 hours teaching to be able to swim one length front crawl with breathing.
There are a number of factors that effect the time it will take to teach someone how to swim.
These are fear, body awareness/co-ordination, flexibility, general fitness and teacher knowledge and experience.
Fear plays a strong role in determining the time it will take. An individual with no fear will be relaxed in the water, respond well to instruction and have a more continuous flowing movement. Individuals fearful of the water will likely fight the water, tense up and find it difficult to complete basic movement. Swimming teachers have a general idea from an individuals first few minutes whether they are likely to progress quickly, have a long road ahead of them or are somewhere in between.
All of the obstacles which stand in the way of teaching someone to swim can be overcome. Talking, reading and thinking about swimming is of very little value. The secret is in the action! Through taking the actions in the water you will build confidence and through the necessary support, instructions and encouragement I guarantee I can get you to swim! What I unfortunately cannot guarantee is the time it will take.
Practice of what is being taught at each lesson is as important as the lesson itself. It’s a lot like going to the gym, one session a week is what I would call maintenance and 2/3 times a week is where the real improvements are made. Noticeable improvements in conditioning cannot be made by swimming less than 3 times a week. Professional swimmers would train twice a day 6 times a week, so there is always room for improvement. Incidentally, they spend 2-3 months at the beginning of the season working on technique before the more physically demanding work on endurance and speed begins.
Body awareness and co-ordination play a small role. Over the last few years I have seen numerous clients with a background in dancing, yoga, gymnastics etc go on to become excellent swimmers in a relatively short period of time as their motor functions are highly developed and thus can complete the required movement rather easily. This is not to say that people without these skills cannot learn but more to say that individuals with these advanced motor skills are likely to find it easier.
Flexibility and general fitness play a minor role. They both help but are not the be all and end all. No matter the age it is never too late!
Which brings us on to the last point which I mentioned being teacher knowledge and experience. Current up-to-date knowledge is essential as swimming is constantly evolving.
I am strong believer that you can only transmit what you have yourself! Coming from a background in competitive swimming has got to be of value however it is does not guarantee that a teacher will be good at teaching you how to swim. Finally teacher experience will help with how to get the best out of each student. To date I have taught around 5000 lessons and the way I teach today is not the same way I taught when I first started. To clarify I believe that having a background in swimming, keeping up-to-date with teaching practices and having a solid block of experience behind you fashion better swimmers as a result.
The sequence in which you teach someone how to swim is as follows
B – body position
L – legs
A – arms
B – breathing
T – timing.
This is the same for all strokes. Another point to mention is the sequence in which the strokes are commonly taught is front crawl, backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly.
Incidentally breaststroke is the most technical and butterfly the most physically demanding.
The complete swimmer is the Individual Medley swimmer. Just focusing on front crawl will not necessarily make you faster or better at front crawl. The more movements you engage in the more competent you become in the water.