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Growth Through Retention

Written By: Jonathan Kaplan

Welcome back everyone! I’ve had a blast with you on this journey towards creating and building a successful swimming program through our monthly blog series, “The Office”. Up through this point in our “road trip”, we’ve successfully determined the type of program we have wanted to create and you’re crushing it! Now that you have established yourself and the quality of your team and swimmer experience is amazing, you might be thinking “What’s next?” If you have the opportunity to grow but you feel like you’ve nearly maxed out your ability to recruit new athletes, it’s time for your staff to begin focusing more on growing through retention.

There are loads of business articles out there that will tell you some variation of just how much harder or more expensive it is to bring in a new “customer” than it is to retain one you’ve already got. While there is plenty of debate on the level of discrepancy between the two (i.e., it is generally accepted that it costs 5 x more to earn a new customer), I think we can all at least agree on the notion that it’s easier to retain a customer (or in this case swimmer or swim family), than it is to go get a new one. Since every team is completely different, there is no “right way” to improve your team’s retention. With that being the case, this month I’m going to offer some ideas, suggestions and thoughts that have worked well over the years in hopes that some of them may be helpful to you and your team’s situation. And the best part is that they all cost little to no money at all!

Create an Emotional Contract: The most successful programs I’ve been fortunate to be at the helm of all achieved their maximum potential by allowing families to swim month to month rather than sign a contract for a year. As a result, our staff has always focused on providing such a positive and welcoming bond with the swimmers and families that we essentially created an “emotional contract” where they never imagine swimming anywhere else. When you have successfully accomplished this, you can withstand and even GROW through anything, even a recession or a pandemic.

Be Kind & Supportive When Swimmers Leave Your Program: Inevitably, swimmers and families will leave your program for various reasons. Convenience, work situation changes, desire to swim for another team, desire to focus on other sports, are just a few of thousands of reasons why swimmers leave programs. Regardless of the circumstances, it is always important to treat others with respect and kindness, especially when they leave your team. Be sure to let them know how much you will always care about them and will be rooting for them. You should do this because it is the right thing to do, but also for the sake of this month’s blog, that helps others feel comfortable in knowing that you genuinely care about them as a person and not just an athlete who helps their team be faster.

Create a Social Structure for Your Swimmers: In a perfect world, your athletes would start on your team at a young age and wouldn’t leave until they head off to college. One of the most important reasons swimmers stay with a program for years and years is because of their friends. Give them as many opportunities as you can to just spend time with their swimming friends. This is hard to accomplish at practice, so create team dinners, activities, team traditions, buddy systems with younger swimmers, etc. Maybe even consider taking out the lane lines and just giving them “free play” time to enjoy the pool together.

Check-In on Your Athletes & Families Often: One of the easiest things to do is to assume a swimmer or family are doing well and are happy, especially when they are swimming fast. While it is true that fast swimming can cure a lot of ailments, now more than ever, it is critical that we check-in on our athletes and parents to see how they are doing. This does not mean we need to pry into their personal lives. But it does go a long way when you send an athlete a team post-card in the mail to let them know how important and special they are.

This should not just be limited to athletes who may be struggling, but should also be an opportunity to remind the ones who appear to be doing great that they truly are great. When calling, emailing or texting parents to check-in, it’s always good important to be prepared to hear something that you may not want to, but could be helpful in making you a better coach for their swimmer and family. This goes a long way in the hearts and minds of swimmers and parents!

Use Data to Keep Track of Growth & Retention: If you’ve been following “The Office” from the beginning of this journey, then you are already enjoying the many uses for the team data you have been collecting from the beginning. By keeping track of things like practice attendance, meet attendance, month to month roster numbers, how many swimmers you lose vs gain each month, you’ll be able to anticipate trends. When you see those trends, you’ll begin to start putting two and two together, which will help you come up with more plans and ideas on how to meet the needs of your families and keep that retention number high!

Create a Feeder System for Your Team: Each program may be in a different spot with this one depending on what else is around you. If there are no lessons programs, CREATE ONE! In fact, create it to the point where the last level of the lessons leads into the swim team. If one already exists, build a great relationship with the lesson programs around you and work with them to show those families “what’s next” when they graduate from their program. You may even want to consider creating your own “summer league” if one doesn’t exist around you. Each of these could not only boost your own team’s budget, but also could give you a consistent flow of athletes at the entry level, allowing you to focus on growth through retention at all other levels.

Thank you for joining once again here at “The Office”! It is exciting to think how far your team has come already and how much more awesome it will continue to become as the months and years go by. Please join us next month on this road trip as we take our car into the shop for a massive upgrade as we learn how to “Create a Coaching Dream Team” within your staff. See 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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