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by Douglas A Green

April 15, 2014

Use an adult learn-to-swim or pre-Masters program to increase and maintain members

Like many Masters swim clubs, our club faces a yearly exodus—usually beginning in October—of members at the end of triathlon season. To better explain: we train two local women’s teams and our own triathlon club beginning in early March through the end of September. These groups swell our club membership numbers by about 80 swimmers. In the past, when the last workout was completed, we have simply said, “Goodbye and we’ll see you next spring.”

Even though we strongly encourage the departing triathletes to join our club for the off-season, many aren’t quite at the ability or confidence level to make the transition. As these people leave, we lose a significant revenue source, which got me thinking about how we can better retain membership during “tri-bernation.”

When we attended the USMS Level 3 Coaching Clinic last year, we learned that expanding our club with an “Introduction to Masters Swimming” program was a great way to develop new business. So, we decided to try a beginner, pre-Masters swim group, which we call, “Try South Coast Masters.”

Our first group began in early October last year and lasted through November. We conducted three workouts a week; Tuesday and Thursday nights and Saturday afternoons. We were able to enroll 25 swimmers and charged $80 for the 2 months, which is about half of our normal rate. We use two outdoor pools, and despite the cool fall temperatures, we averaged 10 to 15 swimmers per workout.

Nearly all of the participants were very weak swimmers. For all practical purposes, our workouts were presented as a semi-private group lesson. We started with the basic fundamentals of freestyle, and worked extensively on breathing, relaxation, alignment, and kicking. We progressed with a series of catch, rotation, extension, and timing drills, and most of our work was done with fins.

After three weeks, we introduced pulling and more challenging drills. After five weeks, we began to “work out” with 50’s, 75’s and 100’s on easy intervals. The last two weeks included open and flip turn work, to help prepare those swimmers who would advance to join our Masters club.

Upon completion in November, the participant response was mixed. Eight members joined our Masters club and became full-time members. Surprisingly, most of the remaining swimmers wanted to continue learning at the same level. With that in mind, we started another introductory program in January.

Retaining 12 swimmers from our first group, to my pleasant surprise, we had another 13 participants sign up, making the new total 25. This program ran for five weeks, and we charged $40. Since half of the 25 had experienced the first session, we progressed much more quickly while following the same teaching process. By week three, the swimmers were doing actual workouts.

We recently finished with the second group and we’ve discovered several important points: There is a demonstrated need for a pre-Masters or a learn-how-to-swim-better program. Participants want to advance, so they may swim with a Masters club; many will support a program where they are learning, improving, and progressing.

Starting this pre-Masters program has been a wonderful experience, and we plan to continue this service. And that’s exactly how we see it: we serve beginning swimmers with the hopes they’ll become full-time members of our club.


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