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Swimming Instructor and Coach Job Description, Career as a Swimming Instructor and Coach, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: Red Cross certification, passing scores on Advanced Lifesaving and Water Safety Instructors exams, and first aid training; teaching certification and advanced degrees necessary for some positions

Salary: Average for full-time position—$40,000 per year

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Swimming instructors and coaches teach people of all ages how to swim. Their students include infants, toddlers, children, adolescents, adults, seniors, and physically and mentally challenged children and adults. A swimming instructor must be able to work with a timid student as well as a confident one.

Swimming instructors and coaches also work with people who already know how to swim but want to improve their skills. Some coach swimming teams; others teach people the rescue techniques required to become lifeguards. All swimming instructors need expert lifesaving skills because they are ultimately responsible for the safety of their students.

Swimming instructors and coaches develop their own teaching methods through experience and gear their approach to their students' level. Nearly all swimming instructors and coaches use the Red Cross Manual as the basis for their teaching, but they leave room for flexibility and innovative instruction tailored to the individual student. The Red Cross Manual covers all swimming strokes, suggests teaching drills, and offers good advice to instructors.

Swimming instructors and coaches are employed by community recreation departments, city pools, private swim clubs, summer camps, youth organizations, schools, and colleges. Some swimming coaches are self-employed.

Swimming instructors at summer camps usually work under a waterfront director's supervision. The waterfront director is in charge of all camp water activities, including swimming and boating. Instructors working for community recreation departments are given their assignments by the recreation director—the person in charge of administering all recreation activities. Instructors at private swimming pools are hired by and work under the supervision of the pool operator or manager. The manager is in charge of maintaining the pool and setting admission prices. Some swim clubs are nonprofit organizations owned by parent groups.

Education and Training Requirements

Most employers require their swimming instructors and coaches to be certified by the American Red Cross. Advanced Lifesaving is a class that teaches rescue procedures and artificial respiration techniques. To be trained in Advanced Lifesaving, candidates must be at least fifteen years old. After passing this course, prospective swimming instructors and coaches are eligible to take the Water Safety Instructors class, which tests for knowledge of all lifesaving methods, the proper ways to perform all swim strokes, and mastery of teaching skills. Candidates may also be required to have a standard first aid card issued by the Red Cross.

Swimming instructors need prior experience working with children, so work as a camp counselor is considered a valuable asset. Instructors who teach in elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools typically need to be certified physical education teachers. Those who teach in colleges may need advanced degrees in physical education. Most swimming instructors and coaches were athletes as students and have some experience in the field of sports.

Getting the Job

Because some swimming instructors are employed only during the summer months, it is important that they contact potential employers by the month of March. Private swim clubs, youth organizations, schools, and colleges offer year-round employment. The American Red Cross Web site lists job openings. Prospective instructors and coaches with teaching credentials should apply directly to the school districts of their choice.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

A swimming instructor at a camp can be promoted to waterfront director. With further education and experience, swimming instructors and coaches for city recreation departments may become recreation directors. Recreation directors need a college degree. Swimming instructors at colleges, city pools, private swim clubs, and youth organizations often become pool operators. Some instructors and coaches open their own swimming schools—a move that requires good business sense, a considerable amount of money for the initial investment, and a reputation for excellence in the field.

The employment outlook for swimming instructors is expected to grow as fast as the average through the year 2014. Besides school swim programs about 2,800 swim clubs now operate in the United States, representing an increase of about 20 percent since the mid-1980s; however, the number of swimmers at those clubs has not increased by the same amount.

Working Conditions

Swimming instructors and coaches who work outdoors are in the sun for long periods of time, so they are subject to sunburn and sunstroke. All instructors and coaches must be very vocal; they often shout their instructions to students in the water. The work is both physically and mentally demanding. Swimming instructors and coaches usually work long hours, especially if they accompany swimmers to swim meets.

Swimming instructors and coaches must have a great deal of patience and empathy. They should enjoy working with people, particularly children. Instructors need a sense of humor to make their classes fun and enjoyable. Class size varies widely: some instructors teach only one or two students at a time, while others teach as many as twenty.

Where to Go for More Information

American Red Cross National Headquarters
2025 E St. NW
Washington, DC 20006
(202) 303-4498

American Swimming Coaches Association
5101 NW 21st Ave., Ste. 200
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33309
(800) 356-2722

Earnings and Benefits

Salaries for swimming instructors and coaches vary widely, depending on the geographic location of their job, the type of employer, the number of swimmers in the water at one time, the instructor's experience, and whether the job is part time or full time. As a rule of thumb, a full-time instructor or coach at a club with about one hundred swimmers will earn about $40,000 per year. Summer jobs typically pay from minimum wage to $10 per hour. Instructors and coaches who work for organizations such as the YMCA may receive lower wages while working but earn exceptional retirement benefits. If instructors at local recreation centers are considered civil-service employees they are paid according to a set scale; those working in camps may receive somewhat lower pay because room and board are provided. Instructors and coaches who are employed year-round usually receive health insurance, paid vacations, a car allowance, and other benefits.

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