Quality swim classes for 9yo who loves the water?

We've tried ALL the swim classes in the East Bay. My kid loves being the water but learns nothing. Why is it so hard to find swim classes with good quality instruction? Where can we go to just let him play? Is it possible for a kid to be TOO comfortable in the water? 

I'll admit that my kid is Not the best student in the pool... He gets a little overstimulated and hyper, just wants to play, and spends most of the time bobbing under the surface where he can't hear instructions. He seems strong in the water but uncoordinated. To be clear, we're not trying to create an Olympic swimmer here. But it's a waste of time and money if he's not making progress. Better to just let him splash around! 

We've tried classes at the Berkeley Y, EBRPD's Roberts Pool, Emeryville Parks and Rec, Aquatech, Ohana, and Strawberry Canyon. No matter how small the class, the instruction generally seems lackadaisical. Enrolling is a crapshoot because you never know which instructor you'll get. For us, the most successful class was Noodle Ball at Cal Rec. Every swim school has their own levels. (Does "Otter" mean he's learning to blow bubbles or learning the butterfly?!) In our experience, there are few private instructors who can articulate what exactly a child needs to do to move on to the next level. Haven't yet tried Temescal Pool or OPR classes b/c their summer sked is limited and not friendly to working parents. This is all so much harder with all the public pools closed right now...

So I have two questions: 

First: Where can we find good quality instruction? Should I be looking for an American Red Cross program? Should we just shell out for private lessons? Does he need to join a swim team to refine his stroke? I don't think he's ready for that... Do we have to drive through the tunnel to find a good swim teacher? 

Second: Where can he just swim and play with other kids? Get all that energy out and swim for the fun of it? We'd love to join a swim club but can't afford it. 

Thanks and happy swimming!

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It's not currently open due to covid but my family LOVED Canyon Swim School in El Sobrante: http://www.canyonswimschool.com/

Super attentive teachers, small classes, well-run, WARM water ! Lots of places for parents & sibs to hang out while class is in session. 

Good luck!

My daughter took swim lessons at the El Cerrito Pool from the age of 4.5 until about age 10 or 11. Due to my limited time and resources, I signed her up for only 1 or 2 sessions per year, and the rest of the year (literally every weekend), we went to the open swim hours where she splashed around with her friends, and all on her own practiced what she had learned in the swim classes. Due to the pandemic your child won't be able to splash around with other kids, anywhere, but keep the El Cerrito swim center in mind for future reference, http://el-cerrito.org/150/Swim-Center

Our son made the most progress in terms of skills at Sherman Swim School in Lafayette. So yes, you might need to drive thru the tunnel, to where they take swimming quite seriously :) That being said, the lessons at Sherman were super fun! They were just focused. They only do private or semi-private lessons, so there isn't much time for goofing off. And depending on where you live (and time of day), it's just as far to Alameda as to Lafayette... As for your son's approach to lessons, that's on you a little bit (sorry to say)... Of course a quality instructor will help (and private or semi-private lessons with attention on him almost all the time), but don't forget to set firm expectations for listening, etc - just as if he were in a classroom! Maybe set up a reward system for being a good listener and following all the instructions?

I also appreciate that you broke your question into 2 parts, because I think it's important that kids learn to swim properly, with strokes like freestyle, etc. but ALSO have free, unstructured pool time, and there is a definite lack of that opportunity in the bay area! (and I'm referring to pre-covid days, of course)

i will say we tried tons of lessons (small group, big group) and both my kids learned very little (and were occ'l traumatized). we finally just shelled out the money for 1:1 swim lessons at the YMCA and both my kids also got a monetary prize if they could learn to swim 50 yards (we had an incentive of safety in the place we were about to visit with water). I explained carefully to each teacher what my kids issues were (one a bit on the spectrum and couldn't figure out how to imitate what someone else was doing with their body unless it was broken down into small concrete spelled out steps, the other with anxiety) and they addressed those. we figured out which teachers worked for them and within a few (3-6) months of weekly lessons (probably cost total of $3000), they were both able to swim safely. neither is a graceful powerful swimmer but they can swim safely in ocean and pool. felt worth it for a lifelong skill. 

Join the city swim team this summer (I was unclear what city you live in). In Oakland, several city pools have swim teams. It takes some time - there's daily practices in late afternoon and weekend meets. They're pretty flexible about how many practices your kid attends and a minimal number of meets. I was never a big fan of the meets - you sit for hours waiting for a race that lasts less than a minute. But kids learn to swim because they just swim laps together, practicing different strokes. I think the requirement to join is usually just that they can swim the length of the pool, any stroke. A couple of years ago it was $40/summer.

I suggest you sign him up for a summer swim team. If you find one that is low key enough, the kids don’t even have to do meets, they can just go to practice, although our family found the meets to be fun because all our kids were in one place.

Practicing everyday all summer turns kids into strong swimmers and I think it’s cheaper than lessons when you average it out. I don’t know what is happening with covid, but Oakland Rec runs some swim teams that are fun and won’t break the bank. Or you can go through the tunnel to OPP or something.