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Choosing A Destination

Written By: Jonathan Kaplan


Times sure have changed since the days when we used to have to look at a map to figure out how to get somewhere. For our younger readers, yes, I’m getting on the older side, which means there will be some “back in my day” references that I simply cannot help. Just roll with it. But I do remember what it was like when we used maps (using my old man voice). Then, that turned into printing out directions ahead of time before you went anywhere to make sure you didn’t get lost along the way. Thank you “Mapquest”. Nowadays, you never need to know how to get anywhere ahead of time because you can just hop in the car, look up the destination and have Google maps or a GPS tell you where to go every step of the way.


When it comes to building a swimming program from the ground up, or simply improving the overall running of your team, I recommend the old school approach of determining your destination in advance while planning out the route you want to take to get there. However, one great thing about using Google Maps is that it will adjust for unexpected delays that arrive while on your journey. Consider “The Office” as your map/Mapquest/GPS guide to helping you improve your “off the deck” skills that we often do not realize we need until we are already knee deep into the coaching profession while wishing someone had sat us down and taught us this stuff beforehand.

So where do you want to go? For this series, let’s pretend you are a coach who is creating your own program, or maybe you are just taking over a smaller organization with a lot of potential. Don’t worry, if you’re a “been there, done that” coach, there are still plenty of things that may be helpful today, or in upcoming blog posts.


What is usually the first thing that comes to mind when starting an organization? You must create a mission and vision statement, right? While the vision is important, it is more about the “how do we get there” portion of the GPS. First, we need to agree on the destination before we put this car in drive, otherwise we might find ourselves in the mountains when we were intending to go to the beach! In this case, that would be the mission. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What do you hope to accomplish with this team?

  • How are you going to serve the market in your community?

  • What are the aquatic and competitive swimming needs of the community?

  • What do you want your team identity to be?

There are a lot of different types of teams out there! What do you want to be? One thing I learned in my college marketing classes was to listen to the market and what the consumers wanted. (And my marketing professor played in a band with Tom Petty, so we should probably listen to him, ha!) Create a product that there is a need for rather than trying to force one on a market that doesn’t have a strong desire or need for it. Whether you want to be the fastest team, the largest team, the friendly team, the family-oriented team, the exclusive team, the inclusive team or any combination of the above, you need to determine this before you even consider starting the car because it will literally be the driving force behind all of your decisions. Pun fully intended.


There is no right or wrong answer either, which is the best part. However, if you are looking to have the greatest impact on the community, have a strong program and achieve your goals, you are going to need to have that identity from the beginning. Once you have established that, you can type that destination into your GPS and you’ll see several different paths that may pop up for you to choose from. However, you aren’t going anywhere unless you 1) have a car in the first place, 2) have someone to drive the car, 3) provide finances to put fuel in the car, 4) have people to help when the car breaks down, etc etc etc. This is all what we will go through over the upcoming months.


Not all teams are created equal and not all programs and coaches answer to the same leaders. The new organization you are taking on this journey could be coached-owned, led by a board of directors, city council, YMCA, JCC, non-profit, collegiate or any various other possibilities. The key starting point in all of these situations is to establish a positive healthy relationship with those in charge who make the decisions and help them see that this is their journey as well. The more “buy-in” you receive from that leadership, the healthier the relationship will be and the more successful your team will be for years to come.


The best part about this road trip we are on, besides the gas station stops for sweet snacks, drinks and candy (yes, I have still have a “swimmer appetite”), is that there are a lot of stops along the way that will make your experience unique. In order to get to the second destination, you often must successfully arrive at the first. In order to continue and not get stalled out, you will need to have exceptional data to help you plan the next trip. Each of “The Office” segments will have data suggestions that may help for that part of the journey. I highly suggest you keep up with all data possible over the years because you will be grateful for it while trying to make decisions or anticipate future scenarios. Below is a starter kit to help you get started. This is not a fully extensive list, so fill it in with your own thoughts and ideas.

  • Detailed roster management data (including monthly roster numbers, attendance, retention, reasons for families joining/leaving)

  • Competitive data (team records, all-time top 10 lists, practice test-set results, meet attendance percentages, championship meet points/rankings from year to year)

  • Budget (we will go into this further, but hire someone or get an experienced volunteer at first if you do not have the skills at the beginning)

  • Attendance data (practice attendance for athletes, number of athletes per lane/group each day, attendance peaks and dips)

Now that we have an idea on where we are going, next month in “The Office” we will get to work on “Filling the Pool”. Together, we will dive into how to maximize the resources you have by proper planning that will help you continue to grow in numbers and quality over the years. Crank up the engine, crank up the tunes and let’s get going! Thanks for reading and see you again soon.


Jonathan and the Rapids are entering their 4th season together after an incredible freshman and sophomore campaign. During those two seasons, the Rapids have managed to change the landscape of swimming in the Greater Richmond area by providing accessibility and flexibility to families while also swimming at the highest levels. The relationships his coaches are building with the athletes are personal and life-changing. As a result, in just over two seasons, the Rapids have grown from 0 swimmers to over 500 athletes! In addition, the Rapids have grown from 3 to 16 coaches, helping us focus on developing character skills that have allowed us to become one of the Top 8 teams in the state (out of 45) and Top 185 teams in the nation (out of 3,000)! Prior to SwimRVA Jonathan got married and moved back to the Richmond area where he went on to enjoy a very successful two years as the head coach at the Dolphin Club in Richmond. In two years he grew the club from 63 to 183 athletes. Jonathan believes in each child's potential and growing relationships one swimmer, one family at a time. While at Dolphin Club, the team improved in USA Swimming's virtual club rankings from 31st to 23rd in the state and 1955th to 958th nationally. At Virginia Swimming's age group champs the team improved from 30th (27 points) to 15th (291 points) and his girls team finished 9th overall, while also having a Top 15 team finish (Top 10 Girls) at Senior Champs for the first time in team history. Prior to Dolphin Club,Jonathan served as the assistant director of competitive swimming at YMCA of Triangle Area. As head coach of the Gold group he tutored 50 YMCA National qualifiers, 5 YMCA national finalists, 12 NCSA Junior National qualifiers, 2 USA-Swimming Winter Junior National and 1 USA-Swimming Winter National qualifier. Jonathan helped YOTA grow to 600 members and earn Top 25 rankings in USA Swimming's Virtual Club Championship. While at YOTA, Jonathan worked with over 130 athletes with video instruction and stroke analyzation. Before heading to Raleigh, Kaplan coached in Richmond for NOVA of Virginia Aquatics as the head coach of the Senior Silver group and assistant coach of Senior Gold. Jonathan's Senior Silver group included 16 NCSA Junior National, 6 USA Swimming Winter Junior National and 1 USA Swimming Winter National Championship qualifier, 1 National Age Group Record participant, and 14 Virginia State Records. While at NOVA the team earned a 3rd place overall team finish at the 2014 Spring NCSA Championships, an overall Virginia State Championship and a 6th place overall team ranking in the USA Swimming Virtual Club Championships. Jonathan help in the organization and create of the first ever Henrico County high school swimming program. From 2006 to 2013 Jonathan was the head swim coach of the Panama City Swim Team. While head coach the year round membership grew from 65 to 250 members. PCST earned bronze medal club status for USA Swimming Club Excellence. In 2012, PCST had its first ever swimmer compete at the USA Swimming Olympic Team Trials. In addition, Kaplan tutored 3 swimmers who qualified for USA Swimming's Summer National Championship, 3 qualifiers to USA Swimming's Summer Junior National Championship, 11 NCSA qualifiers, 1 USA Swimming Junior National Runner Up, 1 US Open Finalist, 5 SES Champions, 2 LSC records, 3 HS All-Americans and 6 Florida High School State Champions. In 2011, PCST won Southeastern Swimming Medium Team Championship. 17 of Kaplan's swimmers went on to compete in the NCAA. One of Jonathan's greatest accomplishments includes the fortune of coaching a high school valedictorian in 6 consecutive years while at PCST. Jonathan is a graduate of Florida State University where he earned his Bachelor of Science in Sport Management and his Master of Science in Sport Administration. He resides in Richmond with his wife, Jessica, and their two sons Rowan and Finlay. Needless to say, he and his family are excited for the Rise of the Rapids here with SwimRVA!


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