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The goals for working in an aquatics venue are to improve the quality of cardiovascular fitness, swimming skills, time spent on-task, self-control, and to reduce impulsive behaviors of the individual with ADD and ADHD.

The pool setting is a positive environment for both the swimmer and the instructor if modifications are made to ensure the safety and to improve the knowledge of the swimmer.

A swimmer with ADD/ADHD has NO physical limitations unless they are a byproduct of medication.

While working in the pool the swimmer should be close to the instructor. The instructor should use a "hands-on" approach when working with the swimmer. Use the swimmer’s name when providing instruction or feedback. A pat on the back should be given to congratulate the swimmer for a job well done. Positive reinforcement should be given to a swimmer for using correct behavior or for successfully completing a task.

Swimmers with ADD/ADHD can participate in all aquatic activities. Lap swimming, aquarobics and deep water running are just a few of the activities in which a swimmer can participate.  The swimmer should decide what activity to pursue based upon personal likes and dislikes.

Individuals with ADD/ADHD may posses all or some of the following characteristics:

  • Easily distracted
  • Difficulty waiting for a turns in games or other activities
  • Socially immature or inappropriate behavior
  • Poor attention span
  • Weak impulse control
  • Hyperactivity
  • May talk excessively and at inappropriate times
  • Interrupts when others are talking

Safety Issues

  • To meet the need of swimmers with severe ADD/ADHD a teacher-student ratio of one-to-one is recommended to keep attention of the swimmer and to utilize time spent on task. Otherwise, a ratio of 1-4 or 5 is an appropriate class size.
  • Additional lifeguards may be needed with a large group to allow proper supervision in case of impulsive acts.

Teaching Strategies

  • Lessons in the pool should last approximately 30 minutes. Allow the student 5 minutes of free time during or at the end of the lesson based upon the swimmer’s attention span.
  • Select a time to work in the pool during which there are few outside activities scheduled and/or distractions are minimal. If necessary, section off part of the pool and work only in that area.
  • Instructions in the pool setting should be given consistently.
  • There must be a set routine.

  • The lesson should be well structured and move quickly from one task to another to decrease inattentiveness and increase motivation.
  • The swimmer should be given one task at a time on which to focus.
  • Instruction, tasks, reinforcement and consequences must be consistent.
  • Allow the swimmer to work independently in the pool to improve his/her self-control and time spent on-task. Swimming laps is an activity that can be done independently. Monitor the swimmer for safety and to note for improvements or skills that need to be addressed.
  • Positive reinforcement should be given when the swimmer completes a skill or task correctly or follows the pool rules correctly.
  • Allow the swimmer opportunity for success in every lesson.
  • If the swimmer is counting laps or doing an activity for a specific amount of time, use lap counters or timers to assist in keeping track of what has been accomplished.
  • Use part of the lesson to work on slow, relaxing activities in the pool. Floating and breathing exercises are ways to incorporate this.


Lepore, Monica, Gayle, G. William, Stevens, Shawn. (1998) Adaptive Aquatics Programming A Professional Guide. (p.172, 183). USA: Human Kinetics.

National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities (NICHCY). Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Briefing Paper. October 1994.

This content was created by Julie Harrison,
Undergraduate student in Adapted Physical Education at Texas Woman's University,
as part of requirements for "Aquatics for Special Populations", Huettig, Summer 1999.

page last updated 1/3/2017 1:00 PM