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Making The Most With What You’ve Got

Written By: Jonathan Kaplan

Thank you for joining us again here at The Office as we continue to explore the sides of coaching that many of us swim nerds tend to not think about when we get into the profession. We’ve enjoyed taking our “Road Trip” on a journey through the creation of an exceptional swimming program from the ground-up. For the last two months we discussed how we can “Fill the Pool” and it’s been amazing! Now we have this beautiful program, the swimmers are thriving and swimming fast, and the parents are happy with what you have been able to accomplish. What’s next? How do we grow and improve from here? How do we make the most with what we’ve got right now?

I’m glad you asked because that’s exactly what we plan to go over today as we seek to give our car a massive upgrade on this road trip! The trick to it, though, is finding ways to continue to improve the program while keeping consistent with our mission & vision. We will do this by listening to our families, becoming innovative in how we communicate as well as the programs we offer, while maintaining the same energy that sparked the enthusiasm of our community in the first place. Let’s remember that there is a fine line between the success that comes from creating “tradition”, and the detriment that can come from saying things like “this is how we’ve always done it.”

Seek Out New Ways to Communicate

Our swimmers and families are busier than ever. Whether it’s right or wrong depending on your philosophy and personal beliefs, our children and young athletes have more of their lives planned out for them than ever before. The days of “play” are dwindling and athletes have a more regimented life filled with school, sports & activities. With each of these comes a lot of information that parents need to know and it can be overwhelming.

In the year-round swimming world, there is A LOT of communication that needs to go out but A LOT of it does not get absorbed and digested by families because their children have school, soccer, ballet, robotics, each of which also have their own websites, communication, etc. There is not one perfect answer for me to say “You’ll improve the quality of your program by communicating this way…..”. The correct answer is that you need to find several new ways and keep track of it with data to see how effective they are. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Use your social media! If you’re older and not very tech savvy, get a younger coach or even a volunteer parent to help you have a stronger social media presence.

  • Emails are important but need to be digestible. Put recent and fresh pictures and stories in your team newsletter that gives the family a reason to want to open and read your email over the other ones they receive.

  • Mass texting services are great for quick notes. Practice cancelled for weather or last second change in location? Send out a mass text!

  • Continue to update your website. Every program has a website, but is yours easy to find information? How many clicks does it take to get to where you want to be? Create a list of the 5 most frequent reasons your families visit your website and see how much searching it takes to get their answers.

Engage Families & Listen to Them

One of the most common traps a new and exciting young team can fall into is seeing the continued growth and happiness of the swimmers and families around you, leading to the coaching staff and leaders feeling like things are GREAT! I’ll save you the suspense, there is always something you can and should be working on to improve within your organization. The greatest companies in the world stay on top because they have research and development departments that exist for the sole purpose of seeking out new ways to improve. Here are some ways you can do this and truly listen to the families and swimmers you are hoping to serve.

  • Surveys are great for receiving data. They can be time consuming and boring to fill out, so keep them short and to the point so you can learn about the 3-4 most important things your team needs to know.

  • Personal calls and emails to check in. Building relationships are the cornerstone to the success of all swim teams. Setting up frequent calls and/or emails to pass along how their swimmer is doing helps them feel connected to the program while also giving them a low pressure window of opportunity to share a concern they may have been sitting on that your team needs to know about so you can address and fix it.

  • Exit interviews or cancellation forms. Whether you like it or not, it is critical to learn why swimmers and families are leaving your program, which will inevitably happen for various reason. Listen to them and use that information to be better in the future.

Create New Programs & Use Pop-Ups

One of the reasons pools often struggle financially is because they are incredibly busy in the prime part of the day when students are out of school and parents are off work, but essentially empty for large chunks of time. Get creative with what is known as the “dead space” when the water sits still and the lanes are virtually unused. Do not get hamstrung by thinking there’s no group that would like to use that time and space because you’d be surprised. In addition, break away from the mindset of thinking that programs have to exist the way you’ve known them to in the past. Not everything is “year-round” and not everyone wants “full commitment”.

  • Create pop-up classes & programs! Don’t have time for an 8-week program, but the pool is wide open for 2 weeks? Put together a pop-up class or camp and sell it! Maybe it’s just a one-time clinic that gets more and more popular from year to year.

  • Look for groups and activities outside of year-round swimming. Having the boy or girl scout group come in once a week for 2 hours can generate revenue that helps you achieve your athletic goals.

  • Listen to Families! Maybe you have homeschooled families who want a 1:30 or 2:00 pm workout that you never realized? If you engage the families, you might generate useful ideas.

  • Find the balance between being “innovative” and “cautious” to make sure you both think outside of the box but do not overextend yourself.

This is so exciting! It is my hope that your brain is already exploding with ideas on what you can do. Engage with your staff at your next meeting and request ideas. Gather small groups of swimmers from various training groups and task them with thinking of things that describe the perfect swimming experience. Invite 4-5 parents from the team out to a dinner and ask them what are some of the qualities that make their children’s other activities/teams/schools so great. Once you’ve completed this, you’ll have a LOT of great tools available to help your road trip car have the most incredible upgrades each year.

We hope to see you next month on The Office as we dive into the “Power of Celebration” and discuss ways to keep your swimmers, families and coaches motivated and inspired! See you then!

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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