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Filling the Pool

Written By: Jonathan Kaplan

Welcome back to “The Office” folks! Last month we got in our car and decided to go for a road trip in “Choosing a Destination”. By now, you have a clearer idea of what you want your swimming program to become and you’ve completed the first part of our journey. You can picture it in your mind, and it’s glorious… a Bob Ross painting with little “happy trees”, smiling swimmers, excited parents and the most amazing team you could ever imagine. There’s only one problem. You’re standing in front of an empty pool. Let’s get to work on filling it and making that dream become a reality!

While we would like to believe the “If you build it, they will come” idea, this is not ‘Field of Dreams’, and Shoeless Joe Jackson is not walking out of a cornfield to help you bring swimmers to your program. (If you’ve never seen that movie, you need to stop reading this right now and go watch it. I’ll wait!) You’ve got work to do if you want to A) fill the pool and B) do it in a way that is sustainable for years to come. There will be a lot of planning that needs to go into it and plenty of things you will need to consider ahead of time in order to ensure that you accomplish both of those goals so you don’t run the risk of “losing the farm” like Ray (Kevin Costner).

Be Prepared Below is a list of steps you should consider working on before you even think about advertising and getting those registrations rolling in.

Decide what your group structure will look like for each age and ability. It is important to group your athletes together in ways that create an environment that allows them to be both successful and social. Do you want your groups to be based on age, ability level, a combo of both? Are there other factors to consider like social structure, level of dedication/commitment required? How long do you want each of those levels to practice each day/week?

Create a Practice Schedule. When doing this, I highly recommend you consider the market you are in and look at things from the perspective of the families you are trying to attract. You may have a vision for this perfect program and schedule, but the area might want or need something different. Some coaches may want all swimmers from one practice group to be at the same time for a better team atmosphere. Others may try and create a schedule that is more flexible for families and allows multiple options for practice groups throughout the day. You also would like swimmer’s sibling to join, right? What will the mom/dad schedule look like with multiple swimmers practicing in different groups? Would that schedule be attractive to them or cause headaches? Make sure you know the school schedule of the students you are trying to reach and create a practice schedule with various factors in mind.

Determine the max number of swimmers you can have in your program. To do this, first determine what your maximum overall lane space availability is. Then, decide the max number of swimmers you can have per lane while still having a safe and high-quality workout. For younger levels, it’s easier to fit more bodies into the lanes, which is great for revenue but requires more coaches per group to maintain quality of the level of instruction. From there, you will need to decide how many swimmers per coach you would like to have for each group. In addition, you should make a prediction for what your attendance will be for each group. If it is not required, it’s harder to predict but also allows you to have more swimmers on the roster since not all are coming each day.

Create Goals and Contingency Plans. Once this schedule is complete, you should be able to add up the max for all groups to determine how many total swimmers you can handle. At that point, I recommend making your best educated guess and create some goals for how close you would like to get to that max number but always have a contingency plan for what to do if you fall short, or if you go way higher. If the recruiting doesn’t go as well as you hoped, you have to have a plan for how you are going to build from there and add more “happy little swimmers” to your Bob Ross painting from one season to the next. But what do you do if it blows up and is bigger than you ever thought? I learned this the hard way when I was a young coach and our team had about 100 swimmers on it at the time. I was entering my 2nd year and we had a “try-out” where 150 swimmers showed up! We only had the coaching staff to handle 50 more athletes and had to turn away a bunch of families. Needless to say, I learned from that and hope you are prepared by knowing how many swimmers you are ready for in the event your team blows up quickly.

Choosing a price point. It is important to build a price point that is both appropriate for your families but also allows you to have the coaching staff and resources you’ve already determined that you need in order to fill your pool. Other factors to consider are whether or not you will you have things like volunteer requirements, fundraising requirements, scholarship opportunities, contracts, attendance/meet requirements, additional meet fees, etc? Or, will you have none of those and provide the ultimate flexibility for families? Will there be discounts for families with multiple swimmers? All of these (and more) are factors that you need to determine because they will become tools for you to sell your program.

Listen to the market and be willing to make adjustments. As you begin to accept registrations and start placing athletes into practice groups, you may find that some groups may reach their maximum sooner than others. This may be a sign that you under or overestimated your original predictions and it is important that you listen to the what the market wants in order to make adjustments to your schedule or number of lanes per group, etc to accommodate those athletes.

Alright folks….you have spent a lot of time setting up your canvas, making sure you have your paint, brushes and supplies all lined up and ready to go. You even have in your minds eye what the gorgeous picture is that you want to paint, and you’re itching to get to work on it. Next month in “Filling the Pool (Part Two)”, we will go into detail about the more fun and creative side of marketing your program; advertising. Together, we will help you fill that pool in a way that sets you up for success for years to come so you too can experience that long line of car headlights eager to be a part of your program. (If you didn’t get that last reference, you did not stop and watch “Fields of Dreams” and shame on you, haha!)

Thanks for reading! I look forward to seeing you next month.

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 three sons Rowan, Finlay, and Crew. Needless to say, he and his family are excited for the Rise of the Rapids here with SwimRVA!

Learn More About SwimRVA Rapids and their programming HERE!


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