Dutch swimming diplomas

A big part of a parent’s life in the Netherlands is taking kids to swimming lessons.  Today was a big day, as my youngest achieved her swimming diploma – meaning the end of several years of weekly swimming lessons after school and on weekends.  As far as I’m aware (and I’d love comments on this), it’s fairly rare for Dutch children to do swimming lessons at school.  Growing up in Australia, I remember it being part of our early curriculum though.  I hated it and often deliberately left my swimming “togs” at home, but that didn’t often work out too well when I lived only a few doors down from the school!  I have vague memories of Lifesaving badges we worked through, I probably have them packed away in a box somewhere.  Isabella loves it though, and if we still lived in Australia, I could totally see her in Little Nippers!

Usually, in The Netherlands, children swim for their A, B, C Diploma.  The “Nationaal Platform Zwembaden” (National Platform of Swimming Pools) have run this programme for many years, and if you click on the image below, it will take you to their website.

Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 23.29.45

Basically, each diploma has certain requirements, and you can read them in English via the PDF of the website above (the bit “in het Engels”)

My eldest achieved her “A” but then went on to the new system below.

In fact, Wikipedia has an interesting article in Dutch that explains swimming diplomas in the Netherlands have a history right back to 1893!


My girls started on this A,B,C system when we first came to the Netherlands a few years ago, but they swim at a new “flagship” pool in The Hague, which has run a pilot for a new system called “Hofspetters/Superspetters”.  This is an initiative by the KNZB (Koninklijke Nederlandse Zwembond – Royal Dutch Swimming Association) and is designed to replace the A,B,C with just one diploma.

Here’s their video:

So instead of swimming for 3 separate diplomas over a couple of years, the goal is that it’s a more difficult diploma, but just one “afzwemmen”.  Their pitch is that it can be gained within one school year, but my youngest is a strong swimmer that went quite quickly through the programme, swimming twice a week, and it still took her 2 years and 135 lessons.  My eldest started on the original programme and got her “A” but then also did this “Hofspetters”.  She had about a year’s swimming lessons in Australia first then another 2.5 years here, and just got her diploma about 6 months ago.

Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 23.28.05

“Afzwemmen” is a very Dutch thing that’s difficult to explain to non-Dutchies!  Basically, it’s a one hour “celebration/demonstration” for the children to gain their diploma.  Essentially by the time they get there, they have already passed everything necessary in the lessons, but this is just the final step.  Usually held on a weekend, it seems to be attended by parents, grandparents and siblings, meaning a very crowded tribune!

It’s also always seemed quite strange to me that swimming lessons continue throughout the winter….growing up in Queensland, I always just saw swimming lessons a summer activity. Here though, pools are indoor and heated – and incredibly humid.

So today, I sat crammed into one of these stands  (this was looking across to the less crowded side!) and watched with pride as my daughter – and 74 other children – were led through the various strokes.

I get totally confused with the translations of what she had to do, perhaps that will be a post of it’s own.  These are the Australian swimming style terms I know:

  • Freestyle
  • Backstroke
  • Breaststroke
  • Butterfly
  • …and the less official but still my favourites:  “dog paddle” and “side stroke”!

Comments below for which is which in Dutch is welcome!  They also do one here I don’t remember ever learning in Australia, which kind of reminds me of an upside down frog!  My daughter is very good at that one and overtook the other kids, so maybe she’ll be an upside-down-frog-stroke champion one day.

They start the kids off in clothes and shoes, as one of the main goals of the swimming lessons is to make sure that if a child falls into the water by accident, they already have experience of the feeling of swimming fully clothed to the edge.  Very sensible thing to focus on in a country full of canals.  We don’t have many swimming pools here and certainly no law that they have to be fenced like in Australia.  Which, by the way, I think is wonderful if it even saves one child’s life….but here doesn’t make much sense when there are canals at every turn and very little space for a pool or decent weather to use it.


The kids have to start with a “koprol” (somersault) into the water, to also teach them how to get their bearings from going in head first.


They also have to show they are able to climb up and over obstacles….


It ends with a lap of each style: backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle and the upside down frog one!

Then, just when the parents think they can’t cope with the humidity and crowding in the stands any more, the kids can go get changed and we’re all ushered into a room to get their medals and diplomas!  They started alphabetically and I was thinking we were going to have to wait all the way to the end with our surname starting with “V”, but thankfully, they did it alphabetically by first name!

Her friend also got his diploma on the same day and his lovely mum ordered a chocolate medal for them both.  She also told me the story of how the woman doing the letters on the chocolate just didn’t “get” the new diploma and insisted on writing the “c diploma”!  Oh well, I guess either way, it will taste as sweet.

Would love your comments below on your experiences of swimming diplomas in Australia and the Netherlands, either recently or when you were a child.


3 thoughts on “Dutch swimming diplomas

  1. It’s a money making racket to keep thousands of Dutch ”swim coaches” employed. The reality is plenty of kids go through this training at great expense as a kind of right of passage for parents and kids alike – it’s as Dutch as a Tosti.

    Check out drowning rates however – for example versus the UK or Germany where there is no such state enforced programme. They are basically identical. Sorry to be so cynical but after years of going through this here in Holland – it’s now clear to me what this thing is all about. Kids that are excellent swimmers are judged not worthy of a diploma (because they have not had – and paid for – 50-100 lessons) http://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/cause-of-death/drownings/by-country/ – check it out for yourself…

    If you want your kid to swim well, aim for the UK badges system or the German or US one. The Dutch one is not suitable for learning to swim well (ie as a sport).

    When they ask you for it at the pool here in Holland, just say your kids have one. They have no way of checking anyhow. They are just enforcing the ”union line”.

    Holand is great and the people are friendly – but they have some strange ideas – this is one of them! (they also do the naked spa thing…and let off fireworks on new years eve like madmen – …who would have thought?..!)

  2. However I do understand where the above comments are coming from, I especially strongly disagree with the above comment about “similar amounts of drownings in Germany”.

    I think putting children through this programme is money well spent, builds confidence for kids, and, does in fact save lives in a country where (to ratio) much more water is than Germany – for example.

    Also, the amounts of people drowning, are mostly tourist males who come to visit Amsterdam, have a drink or two too many, and fall into one of the canals while peeing. (This happens THREE times per month, in Amsterdam, alone.)

    Having visited waterparks around the world, I have had to explain why life vests are mandatory in some parks. Kids find this all too odd.

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