No child’s play when adults learn to swim

Instructor Kursten Carlson assists Yeping Tran of Sacramento in performing a back float during a lesson at the YMCA in Sacramento.
Instructor Kursten Carlson assists Yeping Tran of Sacramento in performing a back float during a lesson at the YMCA in Sacramento. apayne@sacbee.com

Move over kids, adults are in the pool. While summer swim centers typically fill up with classes for infants and young children, many local facilities – from public city pools to private programs – also offer lessons for adults, ranging in age from late teens to early 70s.

Some adults come to classes hoping to improve their strokes or learn a new technique. Others are complete novices, timid about putting their face in the water or approaching the deep end. Others don’t feel comfortable with how they look in a bathing suit or swim trunks. And some grew up in a culture or country where swimming wasn’t popular or where lessons weren’t affordable.

Often, said Allie Freer, aquatics supervisor at The Well fitness center at Sacramento State, the biggest barriers for adult swimmers are psychological. “They come in underestimating (their abilities),” she said, “usually because of fear. They haven’t swam before, so they don’t know that it’s possible.”

But those fears can be overcome. At a recent Saturday adult swim lesson at the Sacramento Central YMCA’s indoor pool, instructor Kursten Carlson led a class of five students, some of whom were attending their first lesson ever. She noted that adults sometimes have more anxiety than children about getting in the water.

Sacramento resident Yeping Tran was one of the new swimmers. She signed up, she said, because swimming is good exercise and a way to keep cool in the summer. Her first day, mostly spent learning basic water skills like submerging her face and floating on her back, was “fun and not very hard.” Eventually, Tran said, she wants to introduce her husband to swimming.

One of her classmates, Sacramentan Mithia Mukutmoni, learned to swim as a child in community pools. Now, she’s a triathlete. She wanted lessons to work on her strokes, since swimming is her weakest triathlon event. The YMCA classes, she said, are friendly, “motivating” and “energizing.”

Children’s lessons typically follow a set curriculum, but adult lessons tend to be more personalized, said Ali Amundson, aquatics director at the Sacramento Central YMCA. The YMCA’s group lessons are set up to accommodate a range of skills, with beginners and experienced swimmers alike getting individualized instruction. “We teach the class based on what you want to learn,” Amundson explained.

In Folsom, longtime swim instructor Joe Dowd runs a program called Sacswim4life, which draws a number of immigrants, including Intel tech workers from India, who never learned to swim in their home country. “They come over here and they want to learn,” Dowd said.

Swimming lessons are also a way to reduce the risk of accidental drowning. In a study published in 2000 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lack of swimming ability was one of the biggest factors in drowning risk, especially among minorities.

“Swimming is a basic lifesaving skill” in perilous situations, such as when someone falls off a boat without a life jacket, said Cierra Voss, program coordinator for Sacramento city’s aquatics program, which offers summer lessons for adults at public pools.

Instructors say that almost anyone can learn to swim, but it requires focus and practice. “You can’t learn math by studying one day a week,” said the YMCA’s Carlson. “You can’t learn swimming that way either.”

Take the plunge: Swim classes for adults

Here are some local sites that offer adult swimming lessons:

The Well at Sacramento State

  • Group and private swim lessons, June through August, at the CSUS fitness center, 6000 J St. $85 for eight 30-minute group lessons
  • Contact: thewell.csus.edu/aquatics or call (916) 278-3591

City of Sacramento

  • Group and private lessons at 12 city pools during summer months; $56 for six 40-minute lessons.
  • Contact: cityofsacramento.org or call (916) 808-2306

Sacramento Central YMCA

  • Group lessons evenings and Saturday afternoons year-round. Beginners learn to get comfortable in water, work on fundamentals and lap swimming skills. Advanced swimmers focus on endurance and stroke techniques. Lessons held at the YMCA’s indoor pool, 2021 W St., Sacramento
  • Contact: ymcasuperiorcal.org or call (916) 452-9622


  • Regular group lessons offered weeknights year-round; $5 for 30-minute drop-in lessons. Sponsored by United States Masters Swimming and the Sierra Marlins Masters Swim Team at the Burger Physical Therapy center, 1301 E. Bidwell St., Folsom.
  • Contact: sacswim4life.com or email to instructor Joe Dowd: joe@Sacswim4life.com

Editor’s note: This story was changed June 11 to correct the address for the YMCA’s indoor pool.