Written By: Jonathan Kaplan
Welcome back folks! If you have had the opportunity to read through the first two chapters of “The Office” already, you’ll know that we are on a road trip together as we create a long-lasting successful swimming program from the ground up. While the music has been awesome and the snacks tasty during this journey, we have already arrived at our first destination and have taken a brief stop. This is no rest stop though! There is plenty of work to do. So far, you’ve done all the planning you can do with your practice schedule, programming and coaching staff. Now, you’re ready to FILL….THAT…POOL….literally!
Be Willing to Put in the Time Early on and Invest in Relationship Building.
Before you start your brainstorming session on whether or not to use billboards, flyers, social media or emails, you must prepare yourself and decide how much time, energy and effort are you ready and willing to put into filling this pool and creating your program. Building a team is like building a big beautiful garden. There are some plants & flowers you can run down the street to Lowes to get and plant right away that will make your garden beautiful instantly. On the flip side, in order to eventually have the Garden of Eden on your hands, you will have to plant a lot of seeds that will take time to grow and mature. Both of these scenarios are important and take an incredible amount of time and energy that must be put forth.
Although it sounds like I’m talking about the coaching of swimmers, I’m actually referring to building positive and meaningful relationships with the families and parents of your team as well as the athletes themselves. If you are hoping to fill your pool up and take advantage of all of that planning you put in, then you must be prepared to spend a lot of time on the phone and conducting in-person meetings early on. Take the time to get to know the individuals and families who are inquiring about what you are hoping to build. Listen to them and truly hear what they want to get out of their time with you as their coach and with your program. Do this in person or over the phone rather than text/email when possible.
Two good examples of this are when we first started the program at SwimRVA. In 2018, I spoke to the families of nearly 300 swimmers individually on the phone in a matter of a few weeks that August. That, along with other great marketing from our communications department, led to us having 288 swimmers on the team before then end of our first week of existence! Exactly one year later, I remember driving 8 hours to Geneva, OH for Futures Champs in early August, only to spend 7.5 of those hours on the phone with potential families inquiring about our team. I got to know them so well that once we finally met in person, we felt like friends already, and many of those relationships have only grown since then. Once parents and swimmers see and understand that you genuinely care about them, they may become your biggest recruiters for you even early on. The result was SwimRVA going from 0 to 455 swimmers in 12 months.
Have a Plan and Be Organized When Advertising Your Program.
Before you start the brainstorming of ideas, take the time to consider what clientele you are trying to reach and focus more on “direct marketing” where you connect with the families and young athletes you are hoping to attract. For example, if you know you want swimmers to come to a 4:00 pm practice, but the school you are putting flyers in doesn’t get out until 3:50 and is 20 minutes away, chances are you might not get any interest from that particular advertising source. Instead, organize yourself and come up with a plan that targets swimmers from the specific school district, summer league neighborhood, age range, that would be greatly interested in what you are offering.
Throughout my years coaching and building programs, in each unique situation, so many various recruiting tactics would work. Sometimes we would go directly to school open houses with a posterboard, or would get approval from the school district and print out thousands of flyers to take to the schools. An assistant coach and I would drive around all day to schools 45 minutes in all directions while coaching in Florida. We only needed two swimmers to join the team to cover the cost of our flyers and gas!
Other times we would put together “bring-a-friend days”, or incentive programs for current families to recruit friends from their summer league/high school (but NEVER from other USA Swimming teams!). In fact, we would always specifically tell families not to recruit their friends from other teams I have always believed in treating others with respect and kindness, especially our fellow swim teams. If there was a good summer league system nearby (like in Richmond, VA), we would attend summer meets to cheer on our athletes and spread the word, or even coach a free clinic at a summer pool to build that positive relationship and give back to the community. The possibilities are endless and are only limited by your creativity and imagination.
The Power of the “Try-Out”.
For years, I was fortunate to coach and build a fun team in Panama City Beach, FL called the Panama City Swim Team. Since there were not many teams near us, our main competition was actually against other sports. And even though you could technically join our swim team at any time of the year, I realized something that changed the way I went about recruiting swimmers for the rest of my career. Each of the other sports I was competing against for athletes had a “try-out”. This was mostly because it was a seasonal sport and not year-round like USA Swimming. However, it made me realize that the word “try-out” was a term that families were familiar with and could relate to. Our issue was that we advertised swimmers being able to join whenever they wanted. What I didn’t realize I was doing was offering them a chance to procrastinate to the point of never coming out for the team.
One year I decided to change our school flyers and pick a specific “try-out” date that swimmers and families would attend to find out if they were good enough to make the team. The first little secret was that almost all of them were good enough to make the team or our lessons program, but they didn’t know that! The other secret was that if they missed the try-out, they could literally come any other day to be evaluated and join, but they didn’t know that. By giving the families not only a specific date to shoot for, but also the satisfaction of leaving our pool that day getting to say “I made the team!”, we provided the pride and enthusiasm they needed and craved to join in the first place. The result was ASTOUNDING and instant, leading to PCST growing from 65 year-round swimmers to over 600 participants by the final summer 7 years later! Years later at SwimRVA, we transitioned this concept to an “Open House” where all families would come out to learn about the program and meet the coaches. With our first open house nearly filling our 750-person mezzanine, it is safe to say that has been a huge success as well.
I personally love the gardening analogy when it comes to building a program because you have to be patient when creating a garden. In order to be successful, you have to do a lot of research and planning so you can space out the correct flowers, fruits, vegetables, bushes (etc) in the correct soil with the right amount of shade vs sun. If this journey of creating a successful swimming program from the ground up is to bear a lot of fruit for many years to come, we are going to have to be patient and persistent as we work hard to fill the pool. Next month though, you will find that there is a whole new set of challenges that comes from keeping your program fresh and always moving forward. Our focus on this road trip will shift towards the next destination of “Improving the Quality of Your Program”. See you then and thanks for reading!
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!