YMCA Swim Lesson Levels


The very first Young Men's Christian Association program (YMCA) was founded in London in 1844, with the organization reaching America in 1851 in Boston. Today, there are more than 2,600 YMCA clubs across the nation, serving 21 million people with community events. Many YMCAs feature swim lessons for children; the level of instruction varies depending on age and capability of the child.


  • YMCAs offer opportunities for children as young as six months old to up to five years to meet the challenges of learning to swim. Parent/child classes, also called waterbabies, allow children to get used to the water and become comfortable there while feeling safe with a parent.

    Children begin by learning basic movements like kicking and stroking with the arms, as well as getting used to having their faces in or near the water. These basics build the foundation for later swimming techniques such as swimming underwater and breathing exercises.


  • Preschool classes are without parental guidance, and are generally 30 minutes long, and teach students basic pool safety and boating safety. They are broken into the following four skill levels:
    1) Pike lessons are designed for children with little or no experience in the water. Students learn basic skills like blowing bubbles, floating on their front and back and paddling with support.
    2) Eel lessons incorporate jumping in and paddling without support for children who have already mastered some of the pike level skills, such as floating.
    3) Ray lessons incorporate the needs of intermediate swimmers who can move through shallow water independently. They are taught the foundations of specific strokes such as the backstroke, sidestroke and breaststroke. Student are also introduced to breathing techniques and diving.
    4) Starfish is the most-advanced level of preschool lessons. These classes develop more intricate techniques for strokes and dives.


  • Youth lessons are generally designed for students age six to 12, and include the following six progressively challenging levels:
    1) Polliwogs are for youth swimmers with little to no water experience. These children learn basic techniques like floating and basic strokes.
    2) Guppies are intermediate students who learn to perform in-water techniques without flotation devices, and learn basic foundations for complicated techniques like diving. They are also introduced to the basics of front and back crawl, sidestroke, breaststroke and basic backstroke.
    3) Minnows learn to refine their stroke techniques and diving skills.
    4) Fish-level students learn to incorporate turning into their basic strokes, and learn more complicated strokes like the butterfly stroke.
    5) Flying fish students focus on increasing their endurance for swimming distances with the strokes they've learned.
    6) Shark-level students begin racing and swimming certain distances to perfect their stroke techniques.

Young Adult and Adult

  • Young adult lessons are designed for students between the ages of 13 and 16; adult classes involve any students over the age of 16. These programs teach students to be proficient in all of the skills and strokes taught to youth swimmers, but the classes are not broken up by levels; everyone learns together.

    For adults who are proficient in swimming, some clubs offer synchronized swimming classes and teams that can allow adults to demonstrate their skills.

    Not all YMCA clubs offer older student classes.

Other Classes

  • Some YMCAs offer special swim lesson classes for individuals with special needs, such as physical, mental or social disabilities. These classes focus on establishing proficiency in as many swimming skills as the student is able to accomplish with his or her disability.

    Some clubs also offer private swim lessons for any age level. These lessons focus on the same skills as the other classes.

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  • Photo Credit Boy With Orange Swim Goggles and Swim Fins image by Wimbledon from Fotolia.com
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