Written By: Alexis Keto
Overview & Purpose
Providing health insurance along with other benefits (like retirement, tuition assistance & performance incentives) is an important component of a professional career. Learning why and how to provide or obtain insurance will help the profession of swim coaches collectively raise the bar for compensation across the industry. Head Coaches, Team Leaders and Ownership should consider coaching a full-time job that is worthy of not just facilitating but fairly compensating & providing health insurance in-house rather than forcing coaches to either go on the open market or forgo health insurance entirely.
This is not the same as providing a health insurance stipend.
Misconceptions About Insurance
A small business with an operating budget of less than $500K cannot offer insurance. Through shrewd evaluation of the budget and learning how to properly balance other aspects of the program, at a cost of less than $12,000, a staff of three coaches can have access to benefits at a low cost to themselves. A team does not need to pay for ALL of the insurance, but should cover at least 70%. This can be accomplished with a small raise in dues coupled with an explanation. See #2.
Clients will not be receptive to a rate increase to provide a service that does not directly benefit them - like pool time or training equipment. Most families would be shocked to discover that coaches are not offered insurance through the team. Using $12,000 as an example, a team of 100 athletes would see a raise of $120 per year to provide for three coaches. That’s $10/month!
Coaches would rather see money go to the athletes and to create a better environment for more positive results and if benefits are offered to them, coaches will not opt to take the insurance options. This may be true, but that’s the role of the head coach to explain why health benefits ultimately benefit the team. Coaches need to be at their best - physically and mentally - to lead the program. Invest in the coaches. It’s a common theme in all the best companies - Google, SAS Institute, Disney - employees are the primary asset.
Swim Coaching is not a profession in the same sense that other full-time jobs. The hours coaches keep are not traditional working hours and they get the “day-off” in the middle of the day so they don’t deserve benefits. This argument is easily dispelled by actually having coaches track their hours for a few weeks - like billable hours. The coaching profession is virtually a 5a-9p job for many coaches, with incredibly weird vacations and holidays. For comparison, part-time Starbucks employees get benefits, so should swim coaches.
If coaches get sick or use the benefits, the organization’s costs will rise and be unsustainable. While overall costs may go up if a coach on staff gets a serious illness, using and evaluating providers is a way to mitigate health insurance costs, as well as to consider other options offered within your organization. That being said - preventative medicine is incredibly affordable and can help prevent many of those rather serious outcomes which could lead to long-term coaching illness.
Coaches with health insurance will have less likelihood of leaving the program in a health emergency. If coaches know they are supported through a time of health crisis, the need to gain other employment will be lessened, especially if that support is included in a larger compensation practice including things like FMLA, Short & Long Term Disability and reasonable accomodations for return to work.
Health insurance provides security for coaching populations that are underrepresented. There are increasingly more coaches who are single parents, but because the profession does not allow for sufficient support and development to sustain the erratic coaching hours, really quality coaches end up leaving the profession to find more sustainable employment. The hours cannot change that much, so the profession must adapt to create an inclusive support system for those coaches. Health care is one part of that support system.
Coaches are an asset to the program. Oftentimes, when we speak of financial assets, we speak of facilities and equipment, but we rarely include coaches in that mix, despite investing financially in their salaries. Healthcare is a basic way to continue to invest in employees and their longevity with the program.
Offering access to benefits to part-time coaches will increase coach retention in the assistant roles and provide a better Safe Sport model for athletes. So many teams operate in a scenario where there is one coach on deck for multiple athletes. Not only is this unsafe from a water safety perspective, but it’s unsafe from a safe sport perspective. Two-deep instruction is a recommended best practice, and providing part-time coaches with access to health care through the USA Swimming network is a great way to secure non-traditional coaches from post-grads to parents on the team to even team alumni.
MENTAL HEALTH. The coaching industry in general, is a challenging industry, but swim coaching is a uniquely isolating sport as there are very few support systems available to swim coaches. Many times, these coaches are in areas where there may not be another coach for miles around. Most health coverage has free mental health resources for teams and coaches to encourage working through difficult situations and help them perform at their best.
Working with a multi-use HR company to facilitate benefits, along with payroll/HR concerns/Retirement. These include companies like Paychex or ADP. “It's important to note that outsourcing costs can vary anywhere from $45 to $1,500 per month based on the number of employees and the particular services required. Charges range from 4% to 8% of each employee's pre tax monthly salary, which means that the total cost will vary considerably based on size. In some cases, services can be outsourced for a flat monthly fee as well.”
Researching costs of insurance in the open-market and the cost of living in the local area and offering full-time coaches a stipend to fully cover insurance. Recognize that the lowest offered insurance through USA Swimming & USEF is around $350/mo or $4,200 per year. Nationwide - the average 1-bedroom apartment is $1,684 and a 2-bedroom apartment is around $1,997. Teams should make sure to take that into account when considering, not just insurance, but overall staff compensation.
Professional Standards Matter For All Coaches
Coaches should not have to compromise their standard of living to accommodate for a full-time professional job. “As of Mar 24, 2022, the average annual pay for an Athletic Coach in the United States is $40,644 a year. Just in case you need a simple salary calculator, that works out to be approximately $19.54 an hour. This is the equivalent of $782/week or $3,387/month.”
Contrast that with school teachers, which are one of the normal comparisons that coaches use, and the coaching profession falls below that threshold. “The average Middle School Teacher salary is $58,616 as of February 25, 2022, but the salary range typically falls between $50,669 and $74,031.” That figure does not include whatever standard benefit package that teachers receive in most school settings, as the benefit package is an expected component of their profession.
Salary discussions are a separate conversation entirely (we need a more comprehensive analysis of coaching pay at all levels) but health insurance is a good first step to creating a healthy work environment for the coaches!
Health Insurance should not be a supplemental or optional benefit for full time, salaried positions, it should be part of a complete compensation package. It’s time to elevate our profession and treat ourselves and our employees with the respect they deserve given the experience and expertise required to perform our job well. If any coaches or board or ownership would like additional information, please do not hesitate to reach out. Creating options for health insurance through USA Swimming was a big part of the pandemic for me. It is not unreasonable financially for even the smallest teams and I’m happy to help navigate the process!
Coach Alexis Keto believes in the well-rounded, socially-aware athlete and infuses this philosophy into each workout, competition & team endeavor. Each swimmer has the potential to be successful, and she feels that coaches should help swimmers discover their pathways to success and to their goals on a personal and individualized level. Over her 20-plus years of coaching, Alexis has had the good fortune of coaching at every level of the sport - summer league, high school, club and college. In her twelve years at Colorado, the team grew from 4 state qualifiers to 75 state qualifiers, 40+ Sectional qualifiers, Multiple State Record Holders, Junior National (USA/NCSA/ISCA) Qualifiers and National/Olympic Trial athletes. This tradition of excellence continued most recently with New Trier Aquatics with World Championship Trials and Senior National finalists. Perhaps her greatest pride, however, is her ability to use her college coaching/recruiting experience at NC State & Northwestern to help athletes find the perfect college - whether at Division 1 schools or NAIA schools. Over 50 athletes have continued their swimming career at the collegiate level with an impressive number becoming team captains during their college tenure. Every swimmer has something to give to the team and has something to gain from the sport and Coach Alexis is eager to develop all facets of the athlete. She is also actively involved in the development of the sport of swimming at state and national level, currently serving on national committees, formerly very active in the development of the Western Senior Zone Championships and she has held several positions in the Colorado LSC. Her involvement is not just in governance, as she has coached and developed several local, zone and national camps & teams - as part of the task force for the inaugural 2018 Leadership Summit and as head coach of the 2018 Eastern Zone Select Camp. She currently is on the USA Swimming Club Development Committee and the Awards Committee.