Importance of Swim Lessons in The Netherlands

There is a lot of water in The Netherlands between canals, canals, lakes, rivers the sea and pools – loads of pools –  kids learn to swim safely & proficiently.   They have a standardized swimming program where kids receive diplomas A-C over the course of several years.   I have no idea what they do in the US, as our kids were too young when living there to enroll in a learn-to-swim program in our area.  Plus ours had chronic ear infections, public pools were not top choice as each time they were in a pool, they would up with an ear infection.

I know loads of friends kids who can swim – but nothing involves lifesaving skills or sailing under a tarp to the hole etc.  It’s more from point a to b.  I do know from being 3+ years in Dublin, it was really slow and took forever there.   A few parents and I complained about this before.  I understand it’s money-making but our kids took several sessions of group lessons and swam with school and I would say they are not proficient to swim to any of the levels below.  S is much better than M and I suspect will get his diplomas quicker, but with lessons hopefully both will be good swimmers soon.

We are visiting the local swimming pool this week to have our kids do a small swim session to access their swim levels and then sign up for swim lessons.  At nearly 8 and 10, they need to know how to swim.   Hotel pools and vacations will be just that much more fun when they can swim safely – especially the big slides and waves.  Might even do some sessions of private lessons during the vacation weeks, to get them going and into their diploma A.  Also, these lessons will be in Dutch, so need to see how that goes and, if necessary, we might need to take them to Eindhoven to take lessons in English.

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The three key national swimming diploma’s are referred to as A, B and C. They teach water safety to children and aim to instill confidence and enjoyment in recreational swimming and water sports. Most swimming schools offer the diplomas with more advanced swimming lessons to follow, called Zwemvaardigheit 1, 2, and 3 diploma.

For the first diploma (A) the children go through 4 different levels;  ‘bad A1’ for beginners, then ‘bad A2’ and so on up to ‘bad A4’. When children earn a passing grade for each element through level A4,  they receive an invitation (usually by e-mail) for the practice session for the A diploma and in one of the following weeks the children perform the official swimming exam to earn their certificate. Once a child has earned his swimming diplomas, they can take part in water sports such as synchronized swimming, surfing, diving and water polo.

During swim lessons children learn such things as swimming with their eyes open. Diploma exams require children to swim with their clothing and shoes on and they’ll need to perform such exercises as a forward-roll into the water followed by getting out by lifting themselves onto a large floating mattress unaided.

With clothing on:

  • With foot jump into the water
  • Tread water 15 seconds
  • Swim 12.5meters breaststroke
  • Diving under a line
  • Half turn around a longitudinal axis
  • Swim 12.5 m backstroke
  • Exit the water

In swimming suit:

  • With headfirst jump into the water
  • 3 meters underwater swim through a hole in a sail
  • Swim 50 m breaststroke
  • Swim 50m backstroke
  • Floating on your stomach and on your back
  • Swim 5m front crawl
  • Tread water 60 seconds with 2 times to turn around the longitudinal axis

As most accidental drownings occur after a person has fallen into a canal, the exam tests realistic scenarios. For children (and adults for that matter), it is vital for them to to be able to handle underwater disorientation while dealing with the additional weight burden of clothing. During swim lessons children are taught not to panic and to react in a calm, controlled manner to maintain a safe environment while in a water setting.

The certificate A program requires a child be able to swim 50 metres using both breast and back strokes, and swim 3 meters underwater through a large ‘escape’ hole in a canvas panel. The parameters increases to 75 meters and 6 meters under water for the B certificate. The C diploma requires 100 meters of surface swimming in swimsuit and clothing with additional obstacles, the forward roll, and finally 9 meters underwater.

Children who have not earned at least a diploma A are required to wear inflatable armbands in all public swimming pools until they have earned the required certificate.  I’m sure Soren will be very embarrassed being TEN!  Most school and children’s sports clubs in The Netherlands will not let children take part in water activities until they have achieved the A, B and C diplomas.

Update:  Both kids did their assessment today at the local pool.  They’ll both be starting in group two to get proper leg techniques down, then add arms and then will be off and running in no time.   Felt good when we left – signed them up for weekly lessons.   Plus free swim in a few times a week, so I’ll join them in the pool which will only help them along.

Friday, March 30th – S was promoted up to level 3 – slowly but getting there.

UPDATE:  OCT 1st – S has his A DIPLOMA and his teacher says he’s nearly at his B.  A few more lessons and he is there already!  Wooo hoooo!


Update:  S has his B diploma now too and going for his C next – 8 stitches in his knee delayed him a bit.


and M has her A and working towards her B.   For her it is more difficult but she’s getting there and for him, we’ll he’s just flying now.


Update:  Sunday, March 31st – both kids are done with their swim!

M has her B diploma and S has his C!!

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