Adult Learn to Swim Program (ALTS)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over a third of adults in the United States can't swim the length of a pool. This puts them at risk of being one of the 10 people who drown every day in this country. The U.S. Masters Swimming's Adult Learn-to-Swim initiative is having a significant impact on this problem. With education, outreach, and financial support, USMS is making more adults safer around water.

Pacific Masters conducts a regional ALTS program. Organized by clubs, ALTS includes instructor training and classes to teach adults to swim.

Adult Learn to Swim (ALTS) Instructional Tips: Lessons Learned While Teaching

By the Pacific Masters ALTS Committee, Kim Elsbach (chair) Get Fit Davis Masters; Carol Nip, Albany Armada Aquatic Masters; Christina Kossa, Richmond Plunge Masters; Susan Collins, Walnut Creek Masters; Natalie Clark, Fresno Area Manatee Masters, Mark Frazier, Vacaville Swim Club; Lisa Frazier, Vacaville Swim Club

In honor of learn to swim month (April), Pacific's ALTS instructors share the following instruction tips, gathered from their experience teaching ALTS classes.

Read More

  1. Listen, customize, and point out progress. Ask students how they feel about their progress and listen to their concerns regarding their swimming improvement. Every student has distinct goals which may evolve over the course of the ALTS program. If possible, customize instruction to meet the students' specific goals, and let them know it's OK if they're not ready to tackle any specific skill. It's also important to be flexible in teaching specific safety skills (e.g., it may be easier for some to float on their back for 1 minute, even if they can't tread water for 1 minute). Finally, point out where they're improving as a way of encouraging them, even when they don't master every skill.
  2. Plan to do something at the end of the course to celebrate the accomplishments!
  3. Learning takes place outside of class. Ask students what they remember from their last class and what they've worked on in between classes. This is especially important if co-teaching a course. Give instructions for what to work on outside of class time and between class sessions. It may be helpful to have pool schedules available so that students can find open times to practice between lessons.
  4. Be flexible about using equipment. Using fins, snorkels, kickboards, nose clips, facemasks (especially for those with smaller faces for whom goggles don't fit) can be a great way to help students master skills, and reduce fear. Some curriculums can even be built around using specific equipment. This might not work equally well for everyone, and some students may do better without the equipment. Trying a skill without equipment first, only adding equipment later if needed, is a good strategy.
  5. Consider collaborative or co-teaching teaching for a given ALTS course. This allows instructors more flexibility in working around their schedules, and adds personnel in case an instructor can't make a class. For example, in an eight week course, have one instructor teach classes 1-4, and another teach classes 5-8. This is also a way to train new instructors who may be teaching for the first time.
  6. Recommend scheduling 45 minutes to 1 hour for each ALTS class. While 30 minutes may be enough time to teach new skills in an ALTS class, some students may want to practice their skills after the primary instruction ends. They'll appreciate more pool time. Showing videos and practicing skills on deck, before entering the water is often helpful before a day's lesson. This on-deck instruction may take at least 15 minutes and shouldn't take time away from in-water instruction. Remember that not everyone will proceed at the same pace during a given class.
  7. Tips for specific skills:
    1. Teach recovery (i.e., standing up) from a front float and back float when teaching floating skills. These are critical skills to avoiding panic if a student starts to sink or gets water up their nose. It may be helpful to tell students to "see your feet on the bottom of the pool (when recovering from a front float) before they bring their head up above water".
    2. When instructing in deep water, focus on feeling having students feel comfortable floating before try to swim. Tell students to think of water "like a cloud that is there to hold you up". Use fins/board/noodles to help them get comfortable in deep water.
    3. For students who have trouble keeping good body position during freestyle, have them try swimming with fins (this may be especially helpful for muscular swimmers, or those who have trouble pointing their toes). Make sure they can kick with fins and a kickboard before having them swim with fins. Have students practice kicking from the side of the pool with fins before swimming with them.
    4. For students reluctant to put their face in the water, it is helpful to find out why. If fear is the root of the problem, try breathing exercises on dry land before having them submerge their faces in the water. Make sure they are focusing on breathing out, rather than getting air in.
    5. In teaching treading water, you may want to start with a back float, and slowly transition to treading water (i.e., move their arms during a back float so that they become more vertical). Start in shallow water, so that they can touch the bottom, and move to deeper water as they get more comfortable treading water.

Pacific Masters Swimming - Adult Learn to Swim Committee
Kim Elsbach (chair) Davis Aquatic Masters,
Carol Nip, Albany Armada Aquatics Masters,
Susan Collins, Walnut Creek Masters,
Natalie Clark, Fresno Area Manatee Masters,
Shari Cruse, Marin Aquatic Masters,
Mark Frazier, Vacaville Swim Club,
Lisa Frazier, Vacaville Swim Club,

ALTS: Information for Coaches and Instructors

As part of the ALTS program, Pacific Masters and USMS have developed considerable resources for coaches and instructors who committed to developing their own Adult Learn to Swim programs. Available are links to instructional videos, webinars, and slides, as well as information on how to apply for an Adult Learn to Swim Grant from United States Masters Swimming.

Link to USMS Adult Learn to Swim Website:

How to Become a Certified Adult Learn to Swim Instructor:

Instructional Videos:

Adult-Learn-To-Swim Webinar Series

  • January 28, 2021 ALTS Grant Application Process - Recording
  • February 25. 2021 ALTS Peer-to-Peer - Recording
  • March 25, 2021 ALTS Peer-to-Peer - Recording
  • May 27, 2021 ALTS II: Choose your own Adventure, Part One - Presentation - Recording
  • August 26, 2021 ALTS II: Choose your own Adventure , Part Two - Presentation - Recording
  • October 28, 2021 ALTS Community - Recording
  • January 27, 2022 Breathing Into Fear - Calming the Anxious Adult Swimmer - Presentation - Recording
  • February 24, 2022 Becoming a More Effective ALTS Instructor - Presentation - Recording
  • March 24, 2022 Lessons on Partnering with Volunteers and the Community from Pacific Masters - Presentation - Recording
  • June 16, 2022 Lap Swimming 101 - "Building a Bridge to Masters from ALTS" - Presentation

ALTS: Information for Adults Who Want to Learn to Swim

ALTS programs are offered by clubs throughout the Pacific Masters region. Here is a list of the clubs currently offering Adult Learn to Swim programs. If you are interested, reach out to the designated contact at a location near you to learn their next scheduled course. 

Adult Learn to Swim Classes

club Location Dates of next ALTS Swim Program Types of Adult Lessons Offered: (1) Fearful non-swimmer (can't swim, fear of water), (2) Fearless non-swimmer (can't swim, no fear of water), (3) Fearful beginning swimmer (can swim a little, fear of water), (4) Fearless beginning swimmer (can swim a little, no fear of water) (5) Bridge to Masters - advanced lessons for those who have completed initial Adult Learn to Swim program Contact first name Contact last name email
Albany Armada Aquatic Masters Albany Aquatics Center, 1311 Portland Ave, Albany, CA 94706 throughout the year as requested 3, 4, 5 Carol Nip
BRET HARTE AQUATIC MASTERS BRET HARTE AQUATIC CENTER, 387 Murphys Grade Rd, Angels Camp, CA 95222 TBD 1, 2, 3, 4 Peter Oliver
Streamliners Claremont Club and Spa, 41 Tunnel Road, Berkeley - California 94705; 510-283-1381 TBD 1,2,3,4 Sue Ahelee
Get Fit Masters Davis 809 Picasso Ave, Davis, CA 95618 April/May/June/July/August/Sept 2023 1, 2, 3, 4 Nikki Martin
Get Fit Masters Davis 809 Picasso Ave, Davis, CA 95618 April/May/June/July/August/Sept 2023 1, 2, 3, 4 Kim  Elsbach
Davis Aquatic Masters Civic Center Pool, 599 B St, Davis, CA 95616 July, 2023 1, 2, 3, 4 Kathy Gill
El Dorado Solar Bears El Dorado Hills Community Services District; 1021 Harvard Wy, El Dorado Hills, CA; 916-799-3141 TBD 1,2,3,4 Laura Shope
Sierra Marlins Masters Steve Miklos Aquatic Center (formerly Folsom Aquatic Center) at Lembi Park, 1200 Riley St, Folsom, CA 95630 throughout the year as requested 1,2,3,4 Joe Dowd
Fresno Area Manatee Masters (FAMM) Fresno High School, 1839 N Echo Ave, Fresno, CA 93704 Summer 2023 1, 2, 3, 4 Natalie Clark
Menlo Masters Burgess Pool, 501 Laurel Street, Menlo Park, CA  94025 TBD 1,2,3,4 Marisha Driscoll
Penguin Swim Club Pioneer Park Pool, 423 Nimrod St, Nevada City, CA 95959 TBD TBD Julie Griffith-Flatter
Marin Aquatic Mastrs Indian Valley Campus Pool, Novato, CA  94949 June/July 2023 1, 2, 3, 4 Shari Cruse
Temescal Aquatic Masters Temescal Aquatics, 371 45th st oakland ca 94609 April/May and Sept/Oct, 2023 1, 2, 3, 4 Margaret McNamaras
CoastSide Tiger Sharks Terra Nova High School Pool, 1450 Terra Nova Blvd, Pacifica, CA 94044; 650-515-0301 TBD 1,2,3,4 Brad Pence
Richmond Plunge Masters Richmond Municipal Natatorium (“The Plunge”), 1 E Richmond Ave., Richmond, CA 94801 TBD 1, 2, 3, 4 Christina Kossa
South End Rowing Club 500 Jefferson st San Francisco CA  Year-round 1, 2, 3, 4 Veronique Borges 
Santa Rosa Masters Santa Rosa High School Pool, 1235 Mendocino Ave, Santa Rosa, CA 95401 TBD 1, 2, 3, 4 Merrie Walts
Sebastopol Masters Aquatic Club Ives Pool 7400 Willow St. Sebastopol, CA. 95472 none in 2023, back in 2024 1, 2, 3, 4 Donita Flecker
Sebastopol Masters Aquatic Club Ives Pool 7400 Willow St. Sebastopol, CA. 95472 none in 2023, back in 2024 1, 2, 3, 4 Erik Hektner
Vacaville Swim Club Graham Aquatic Center, 1100 Alamo Dr, Vacaville, CA 95687 May-Sept, 2023 1, 2, 3, 4 Mark Frazier
Walnut Creek Masters Clarke Memorial Pool,  Heather Farms Park, 1750 Heather Dr, Walnut Creek, CA 94598 April/May 2023 1, 2 Susan Collins

ALTS: Stories from Adults Who We Taught to Swim

The USMS ALTS program has been a universal success. Master’s swimmers have taught thousands of adult non-swimmers skills that lets them truly enjoy bing in the water and the cofidence to keep them safe. 

Inspirational Videos

Stories from Courageous Adults Learning to Swim


Sapna - Albany Armada 

Karen - Richmond Plunge 

Rachael - Richmond Plunge Masters.MP4