Why Shorter Distances Build Stronger Swimmers

Learning how to swim isn’t so different from learning how to walk.

When children take their first steps, they’re a bit wobbly and hesitant as they get used to their new-found balance and mobility. They take two steps and fall down, then take three more and fall down again. Every time they get up and try again, they have a little bit more knowledge and experience to draw from.

You wouldn’t expect your toddler to sprint to the other side of the room their first day on their feet. You know they will become steadier and more confident with practice, so you start with baby steps.

At Tom Dolan Swim School, we use the same philosophy to help students build their swimming skills. We teach kids how to swim short distances correctly. Once they have perfected the proper technique for a stroke – for example, mastering the kick, arm extension and head and body position for freestyle – they can gradually move on to new skills and longer distances. It’s important not to rush this process. Learning how to swim correctly is far more important than racing to the far side of the pool.

Here are a few reasons why this is a core principle of our school’s curriculum:

It’s not about how far you can swim. It’s about how many strokes in a row are correct.

We teach shorter distances so instructors can model proper technique and correct mistakes in the moment they see them. This process is similar to learning basic math skills. If a child writes, “4+1=3,” their teacher will explain the error and have them go back and fix it. They’ll keep trying until they get it right. Once they do grasp a concept and can repeat it correctly, they can add more complex skills to this foundation.

Small classes allow for plenty of feedback.

Many kids in our area participate in summer swim leagues, which can provide a great social introduction to swimming. But summer leagues aren’t the best place to learn and practice correct technique; they’re more focused on having fun, staying active and making friends. With dozens of kids and only a few coaches, swim teams don’t usually have the capacity to give individual feedback to each swimmer. Our small swim classes give kids the opportunity to learn in groups of four or five, where they receive lots of personalized attention and instruction.

Short distances build muscle memory.

Our goal is to teach students how to swim every stroke properly every time. Muscle memory is only useful when paired with correct technique  – which is why we put such an emphasis on kids repeating fundamental skills until they master them. Beginning swimmers aren’t yet capable of swimming long distances correctly, so we focus on getting the technique right through short intervals.

Have more questions about our school and curriculum? Read our FAQs page.