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Defining Swim Levels & Skills in Common Across Programs

Defining Swim Levels & Skills in Common Across Programs

The different level names in all the different swim schools can be confusing to students of swimming, parents and careers wanting to compare swim schools. This is my attempt to help mitigate that.

Image of a young boy swimming laps in the pools. Defining Swim Levels & Skills in Common Across Programs
Doing Laps

Just about every pool I have ever worked at like to give a different name to their skill levels. This should not be surprising as every school wants to develop their brand. Besides calling level 1 something like Platypus is cut and the general consensus is that kids relate better to a level that is associated with some sort of character. The problem is that when a student changes swim schools or a teacher tries to learn new information through study it is easy to become very confused as to what the different levels are and how they relate to what you are learning.

However, all the skill levels are effectively the same. Sure there is some variation in the way that a skill is taught but everybody is still trying to teach essentially the same skill at each level. But this can be hard to see if you are not familiar with what those skills are in each level.

I thought therefore that it may be useful to outline what each level does without the spin or branding. This may give you a helpful guide when you visit or read about other swim schools to be able to compare them. That way when you go to a school and the first level is say Platypus all you need to do is look at the description of each skill and compare it to what you have learned from the list to know exactly how that school compares to other schools in levels. With this in mind, it won't matter whether your school calls there level Swans or Dolphins or Sharks or Jellyfish of penguins or hippos or whatever you will always be able to compare swim schools.

There are really only three levels of swimmer:

Non-swimmer or Beginner
Such swimmers may demonstrate no understanding of water at all let alone any skills in but they also may demonstrate paddling and kicking coordination but uses assistance when swimming and they may demonstrate a fear of the water.

These swimmers demonstrate forward motion in the water on back and front without assistance, endurance and technique need improvement.

This level are able to swim the length of the pool without stopping, demonstrates proficient front and backstroke skills, interested in learning additional strokes

Wait... Get Your Lesson Plans Here

But I am going to outline 6 levels. This is so I can define each skill better.

Be aware however that different schools will break up levels differently. That is level 1 may be broken up into 2 or even 3 levels. or different elements from different levels may be mixed and matched. Often there is also safety activities added in to build out the lessons. This may sometimes partly be due to the age of the swimmers but more often than it is so that the school can show regular improvement in the students in order to encourage continued attendance. People, especially children love to know that are making progress even if it is only incremental.

Swim Levels

Level 1 - Exploring the Water

The objective of this level is for the student to learn the skills to feel more comfortable in the water and develop good swimming habits and safe practices around the water.

This level has no prerequisite and the student cannot do anything unsupported.

    Introduction to water, emphasizing comfort and safety. Elementary aquatic skills are introduced such as:
  • Entering and exiting the water
  • Submerging mouth, nose and eyes
  • Blowing bubbles through the mouth and nose
  • Bobbing in the water
  • Front and back floating
  • Beginning to learn front and back swimming using arms and legs
  • Retrieving objects underwater
  • Learning how to stay safe and know how to call for help

Level 2 - Fundamental Aquatic Skills

The objective at this level is to become successful with basic fundamental water skills.

Prerequisites are that the student is able to do some skills unsupported, even if for only a few seconds. They should also be able to submerge their mouth, nose and eyes and blow bubbles and be comfortable doing so.

    Skills to be learned are:
  • Front and back glides
  • Arm and leg actions
  • Developing swimming with the front crawl
  • Developing swimming with back crawl
  • Safe water entry by jumping or stepping from the side

Level 3 - Stroke Development

The objective at this level is to build on skills from Level 2 and develop strokes through additional guided practice in deeper water.

Prerequisites are that the student is able to swim on front and back unsupported for short distances with alternating arm action and continuous kicking. They should also be able to float and glide unsupported and fully submerged several times and be comfortable doing so.

    Skills to be learned are:
  • Open eyes underwater and retrieve underwater objects
  • Swim short distances using front crawl with flutter kick
  • Swim short distances using back crawl with flutter kick
  • Developing swimming using breaststroke and breaststroke kick
  • Developing dolphin kick
  • Demonstrate rotary breathing

Level 4 - Stroke Improvement

Develop confidence, coordination and strength in the strokes learned in Level 3 and improve other aquatic skills.

Prerequisites are that the student is able to swim front crawl, back crawl, breaststroke with breaststroke kick for longer distances than level 3 and learning to dive and tread water.

    Skills to be learned are:
  • Swim front crawl with rotary breathing
  • Demonstrate competent but not perfect backstroke, backstroke and breaststroke as well as dolphin kick
  • Dive from sitting and kneeling position

Level 5 - Stroke Refinement

Build on coordination and improve all strokes.

Prerequisites are that the student is able to swim front crawl with rotary breathing and back crawl, breaststroke, butterfly. Strokes should have all the elements and only need refinement.

    Skills to be learned are:
  • Refinement of all strokes
  • Flip turns on front and back
  • Adiquate diving skills
  • Swimming longer distances

Level 6 - Stroke Perfection and Swimming Proficiency

Prerequisites are that the student is able to swim front crawl and back crawl doing multiple laps of the pool at least 50 yards and other strokes at least 1 lap. Technique in all the strokes should be strong with good coordination. Flip turns, shallow dives and tread water should be proficient.

Refine strokes so participants swim with ease, efficiency, power and smoothness over greater distances. Level 6 should be valid for options that focus on preparing swimmers to participate in more advanced activities, including fitness swimmer, personal water safety and lifeguard readiness.


I want to acknowledge the University of Massachusetts Amherst website in my preparation of this article.

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