What is a purpose built swim school facility?

Most of the swimming pools in this region are inside a multi-use or recreational building. These facilities were not built with the sole intent of providing an accommodating environment for swim lessons. A purpose built swim school facility has a singular goal for all of its construction, to provide a safe, quiet, clean, and warm, environment for babies to adults to learn. Whether that learning is focused on getting acclimated to the water or refining stroke technique, a purpose-built facility through the specially built ledges, various depths, acoustic paneled walls, or 91-degree water, allows for all customers to have enjoyed a distraction-free experience.

What will my child get out of a purpose-built facility?

Having grown up swimming in Northern Virginia, Tom knows all too well the many negative external factors that come into play with swimming pools. Whether it is the loud, cavernous feel of a recreational facility, or the unpredictably cold temperature and raucous environment of a summer league pool, learning to swim has historically been more about trying to deal with the elements out of the water, rather than learning how to move in the water. The Tom Dolan Swim School has a state of the art pool that is built to minimize or, in some cases, completely eliminate, those external factors so that everyone can focus on teaching babies, children and adults how to be safe and ultimately, swim technically correct.

Who is Tom Dolan?

Tom Dolan grew up in Arlington, Virginia. Tom swam in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics and won back-to-back Gold Medals in the 400 Individual Medley (that is 100 meters of each of the four strokes). He was the World Record holder in the 400 IM for nine years. In the 2000 Olympics, Tom also won a Silver Medal in the 200 Individual Medley. You may recognize Tom’s face as he was fortunate enough to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated and the Wheaties box! Not bad for a skinny kid from the Washington, DC area!

At what age should my child begin swim classes?

Our Waterbabies class begins with babies as young as 3 months old. It is amazing how comfortable babies are in the water. Tom always tells the parents that the younger you start your children, the easier it is for them to become acclimated and on their way to learning skills such as floating, going underwater, and reaching for the wall.

To help promote the importance of starting your baby on the pathway to Swim Thru Life, we are offering WB1 classes to all 3-5 month-old babies FREE OF CHARGE! The life skill of learning to swim is one of the most important gifts that we as parents can provide for our children. To encourage parents and their babies to begin this important journey earlier rather than later, we offer FREE classes for all 3-5 month-old babies. Please take advantage of this free first step to Swim Thru Life and pass the word along to your friends!

*While there are no lesson fees until the baby is 6 months, a $32 registration fee is due at the time of booking.

Are the teachers specially trained before they begin teaching?

Yes, the teachers go through a rigorous 50 hours of training before a decision is made on whether they are fully prepared to teach our systematic approach to each level of instruction. Well-trained instructors are the core of the swim school. Each instructor brings their own personality to their classes but with the intensive training that we provide, all instructors have the same high level of understanding for the class curriculum. This also allows families to adjust the days and times of their lessons without having to worry about what teacher they will have.

What is our make-up policy?

We are happy to provide all swimmers with one FREE make-up lesson each month*. Please keep in mind that we cannot guarantee the same instructor from your weekly lessons, but our free make-ups will help your little swimmer continue to progress and retain that important muscle memory they are learning from our structured curriculum.

*NOTE: We do not offer make-ups for private lessons, camps or walk-in lessons. Make-up lessons may be booked within 7 days of desired lesson time based on availability. Unused make-up lessons expire after 6 months. Make-up lessons have no cash value and may not be used toward tuition. Make-up lessons are approved at our sole discretion.

What is per lesson billing?

Per lesson billing allows for the most flexibility for our parents.  Payment is due on the first business day of the month, by direct debit with either a credit card or bank account. You will only pay for the number of lessons you are scheduled to have in the upcoming month. The monthly bill may be lower if one of your lessons is canceled due to planned holiday closure. Sometimes the monthly bill may be slightly higher if there are five lessons in a month, for example, there are five Saturdays and Sundays with scheduled lessons in January 2021. 

In the Washington, DC region, most families are used to a session-based system for their kid's activities.  Historically, this has been the case because the system started with sports like soccer, baseball, and basketball, which are all seasonal or session-based sports. Swimming, just like learning to play an instrument is a journey that can not be completed in a season or a session. Parents need to provide their kids with year-round instruction so that their children become comfortable and learn proper technique in the water. Tom likes to tell the parents that while keeping children active is always important, learning how to swim is not just another activity, it is a life-saver!

Why don’t the kids swim further distances?

Tom grew up training as a distance swimmer and, as a result, is more than used to training for hours on end and swimming long distances. While this may be the case for athletes preparing for the Olympic Games, children learning how to swim or enhancing their technique need only swim the distance that they swim technically correct. Muscle memory is an amazing benefit and aide when kids learn how to swim or when we are correcting technical flaws, but that same muscle memory works to a child’s detriment when they are swimming incorrectly. By properly swimming shorter distances, kids will learn faster and ultimately use less energy to go further distances. This is where the knowledge of an Olympic gold medalist comes in handy!

How long are the lessons and when should we arrive?

All of our lessons are 30 minutes, except for our stroke enhancement levels, Sailfish, and Tiger Shark, where the lessons run for 45 minutes. It is a good idea to arrive 15 minutes before your lesson so you can check in at reception and allow your child time to change before the lesson begins.

I would rather not get in with my child, when can they start on their own?

Our Waterbabies II level is the last level that requires a parent or caregiver to be in the class with the baby. Once the child is 2 1/2 they are eligible to enter our Penguin level. However, we find that many times, even at 2 1/2, the children are not yet ready to be in the water without a parent or caregiver. In this case, we are happy to help transition the child by challenging them more in the Waterbabies II until they are more comfortable with the social separation from their parent. It is also important to remember that the earlier you start lessons with your baby, instead of waiting until they are 2 1/2, the easier and faster they will become acclimated to the pool and eventually water safe.  There is no reason to dread getting into the water with your baby.  Our pool is heated to 91 degrees so it is comfortable for babies and parents!  Not to mention, we offer our Waterbabies I class FREE OF CHARGE for babies 3-5 months so hop in and enjoy this special time with your baby!

How quickly will my child move to the next level?

We live in a region that is as driven and competitive as anywhere in the US. No one knows better than Tom about goal setting and striving to be the best. However, keep in mind that learning to swim does not happen overnight. It takes years of practice and the more patient you are with your child and their improvement, the happier their pathway to being water safe and technically sound will be.

Who will assess my child and how often does that occur?

We have managers on deck at all times during lesson hours. Our managers are knowledgeable and trained as instructors in all of our levels and, for ease of identifying them, they will be wearing red polo shirts. The managers assess swimmers during all lesson shifts. Our school runs a constant assessment program so that you do not have to wait to hear or read about your child’s progress. Additionally, our managers use tablets to type in live skill notes for swimmers. You can go into your online customer portal to follow your child’s progress in their class! Please feel free to approach them and ask any and all swimming-related questions. If you have a billing or scheduling question, our front desk team in the reception area will be more than happy to help.

Can I stay and watch my child’s class? Where should I sit?

We highly recommend that you stay and watch your child’s lessons and in the case of children under 5, all of our parents stay. Children love praise so when they accomplish something great in the water, they need you there to let them know how well they are doing. Unlike most swim schools, we are happy to have you sit out on the pool deck. You will find our pool environment to be very comfortable and not like a typical hot and humid indoor pool. We have bench seating and coat hooks on the pool deck. We also have a separate air-conditioned parent viewing room. This room helps our parents who have multiple children have a safe, secure place to watch the lessons.

What should I do if my child cries throughout their lesson?

The first thing you should do is not worry. It is very common for our young or inexperienced children to be apprehensive about their lesson. This can happen for many reasons and most of them have nothing to do with the water! It is important to be patient and allow your child time to become acclimated to the facility, the pool, the teacher, and the lesson itself. We have many examples of children who cried for multiple weeks before even attempting to get in the water and now they are swimming along like little fish! Just like learning to swim does not happen overnight, getting acclimated to a new environment or to being away from mom and dad does not happen overnight.

When can we start? Do we have to wait until the beginning of the month?

Absolutely not! You can start today! The beauty of the per lesson fee system is that you only pay for the number of lessons you are scheduled to have in the upcoming month.  If you start in the middle of the month, you only pay for the number of lessons you have scheduled for the remainder of the month. The per lesson systems allows our customers tremendous flexibility. If you have been coming on Monday’s at 5 pm and all of a sudden Monday does not work for you anymore, you are more than welcome to switch to another day and time we have available that suits your schedule.

How many children will be in my class? Why?

Our classes either have four or five, depending on what year your child is in school. The Kindergartners have 4 in a class and First grade on up has five. Tom is a firm believer in group learning in a sport like swimming. The more a child sees others perform a skill, the greater that child will work to mimic that proper skill. Swimming also provides a great backdrop for young life lessons for children. Listening to the teacher, working with others and listening to direction all become part of the children’s learning curve.

How many lessons will my child need per week?

We recommend starting with one per week. You can always add a second as time goes on and your child becomes acclimated to the skills and drills being taught.  When you are ready, adding a second lesson per week will help to increase your child's familiarity with the skills and drills being taught and ultimately help them to advance levels in a shorter period of time.  We also provide a 15% discount on the cost of adding a second lesson per week!

Should I have my child take lessons year round?

Please remember that learning to swim is not just a seasonal activity or goal. Similar to learning to play a musical instrument, children cannot properly learn how to swim by doing it three months out of the year. By allowing your child to swim throughout the year they will continue to progress with their acclimation to the water and/or further their technical abilities.

Is there a benefit to private lessons?

Tom only recommends private lessons if there is a very specific skill that your child is not mastering or if they are very close to move to the next level and need a few extra pointers to get them over the hurdle. In general, we much prefer our children to be in our group lessons. Because we keep the numbers low, there is still plenty of individual attention for you child, yet they learn just as much from each other as they do from the teacher.

How can I help my child learn outside of their lessons?

Our managers on duty (in the red polo’s) will be more than happy to talk with you about the various verbal phrases and physical drills we have your child practicing in their lesson. Because our system is so specific and goal oriented, we can provide very direct and clear feedback as to what your child needs to work on and what you can help reinforce.