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Teaching Adult Learn-to-Swim Lessons Pays off for Instructor

Swimmer Bill Ewell enjoyed opportunity to help nearly 30 people in ALTS classes

Daniel Paulling | July 11, 2017

The memory still sticks in Bill Ewell’s mind 40 years later.

The Sarasota (Fla.) Y Sharks Masters swimmer gave swim lessons to a fellow student while in college, one he says was petrified of the water after seeing her brother drown. He says he taught her enough that she’d be able to survive if she found herself in trouble in the water, but he admits it was difficult not being able to teach her how to swim.

“That’s always kind of haunted me,” Ewell says. “[I adopted a mindset of,] ‘Doggone it, I’m never going to have that happen again.’”

Ewell completed the U.S. Masters Swimming’s adult learn-to-swim instructor certification course in 2016 and approached Aaron Taylor, the aquatics director at the YMCA branch where Ewell swims, about volunteering to teach ALTS lessons in April.

Then Ewell went through the process of recruiting several fellow members of the Sharks club who were also ALTS certified to teach with him. Nearly 30 students signed up for the initial program, and 15 continued through May. The program was so successful that it’ll be repeated twice this year.

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Ewell relied on several sources to help him.

“The best part was really the support that I was able to get directly [from the National Office],” he says. “When I couldn’t get some things going forward, they’d say, ‘Have you tried this,’ and I hadn’t tried ‘this.’ That really helped from that standpoint.

“I went to other websites, YouTube, ‘Hmm, that’s an interesting way to learn how to float.’ It was three steps, and it was like, ‘Heck, I’m going to try that.’ There’s a lot out there.”

Ewell received rave reviews from his swimmers for his enthusiasm, knowledge, and support, and many of them accomplished the program’s biggest objective: being able to swim 25 yards by the end of their final lessons.

Ewell helped his students by assigning them “homework” to do between classes, whether in a pool or their bathtub, and he worked closely with his fellow volunteer instructors to make sure they knew what the lesson plan was for each day.

He recommends anyone interested in teaching adult learn-to-swim lessons to go for it and to reach out to current instructors for advice on launching programs.

Ewell, who enjoyed the work so much that he volunteered for three months before joining the YMCA staff, plans to continue teaching adult learn-to-swim lessons.

“Whatever I can do to support a program such as this, it’s a personal passion that I have,” says the 62-year-old Ewell, who is retired after working at Nabisco as a retail sales executive. “It’s really giving back to a sport I’ve done it since I was 9, so it’s kind of a give-back piece as well.”

Want to help other adults learn how to swim? You can become a certified ALTS instructor or donate to the Swimming Saves Lives Foundation, which gives grants to adult-swim-lesson providers. Learn more about how ALTS has impacted adults across the country.

Want to learn how to swim? Find an ALTS instructor in your area.

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About the Author—Daniel Paulling

Daniel Paulling works as the managing editor of SWIMMER magazine and manages content development and production for the STREAMLINES eNewsletter series and articles published on usms.org. He swam for four years at Rollins College and covered Southeastern Conference athletics, Major League Baseball, and the NFL for a number of newspapers and websites across the country, including the Kansas City Star, MLB.com, and USA Today, before joining USMS in March 2017.

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