Why club and coach development is so important for a strong swimming nation.

There has been a lot of discussion in recent times in regards to the strength of swimming in Australia.  Australia is known as a strong swimming nation and that strength has built off the back of a successful swimming club developmentclub program driven by experience passionate coaches.

Australia has ridden a wave of extreme popularity at the elite level since the Sydney 2000 Olympics and around 2005, the country voted swimming as the number one sport and a number of  swimmers were recognised in the top 25 most popular athletes!  The popularity of swimming has a long history and the current crop of athletes and coaches were building on that history at the top level.  Sponsorship of athletes had become a great vehicle to promote the sport and the LTS and Clubs were the direct beneficiary of this popularity and provided the perfect entrée into this wonderful sport of swimming.

Why then is Swimming Membership on a Downward Spiral?

Just like any other sport that has a high profile, swimming attracts new young members through the learn to swim programs and Clubs.  It is during their time as a member of the Swimming Club that they are recognised as a new member.  More recently, Swimming Australia has introduced a new program to attract members from the higher levels in learn to swim programs.

Now, the membership rate in swimming clubs has two components…

  1. New Members
  2. Member Retention

New member numbers are very healthy and the numbers of participants coming into the sport are very strong. The problem is that the number of swimmers leaving the sport and no longer joining as members is even stronger.

Member Retention is at an all time low, the attraction that brought these youngsters to the sport is not necessarily keeping them in it. In fact at the current rate swimming is loosing more members than it is getting through new members! Hence the downward spiral in swim club memberships.

Why are Swimmers Leaving the Sport?

While this subject can be heavily debated, there is increasing evidence that the Club environment and coach focus is not providing the swimmers with sufficient encouragement and enjoyment to stay involved with the sport.

The reasons are many and below are the key areas that contribute to this departure…

  1. Club Activities not focused on a balance of Competitive and Social programs – club nights, team trips.
  2. Coaches not involved in Club direction and service of members – providing guidance to club committees.
  3. Club Committees filled with members who have been there for too many years and for their own benefit … no change to Club programs and service for years.
  4. No opportunity for new younger members to get on committees and inject new life into the Board.
  5. Coaches focused too much on individual needs and not Team/Club needs … the lure of getting one swimmer on the medal dais overtakes the needs of the Team.
  6. Coach communication skills are not keeping up with the growth and pathways of the millenniums.
  7. Servicing of Clubs by the States and the National body … very little focus on standards required for Clubs and Coaches to work towards … no assistance to progress Clubs towards a sustainable model.
  8. High Performance Coaching … belief in a small squad leads to better individual results.
  9. There are many other areas that are contributing to the demise of club programs but this article will focus on these key areas.

Clubs are the Vehicle to Turn This Trend Around

While the Clubs are the vehicle, the coach needs to have the skills, knowledge, passion and experience to drive the progression of their club.

1. Develop a purpose for your Club program – as coach you can set the tone for the club and the members…
(a) Team Image
(b) Club Competitions – Team Trips
(c) Club Goals – Membership, Level of competition members compete in
The greatest thrill swimmers can experience is to be a part of something and be successful. By creating this purpose and working together towards achievement you will keep the interest of the members.

2. Consistent Coach Leadership … you are the bus driver and the Club provides you the vehicle and the bus route to drive. By helping develop a purpose you influence the Bus route. All you need is to get passengers on board and take them to the destination.
Leading is a skill that can be developed through the pursuit of knowledge. By providing leadership to the Club membership you will be able to provide better guidance to the swimmers and help them achieve more. Swim Coach Advantage will assist coaches to develop their leadership skills.

3. Cooperative Leadership … the Coach and the Club Committee must work together on creating system wide goals. System wide goals refer to every area of the Club and coaching service is focused on working towards these same goals. The balance between membership growth and retention should support the goals of team and individual performance.
If the Club and the Coach create a unified environment and look to each other for support of the member needs, then the club and individual needs will always be FIRST.

4. Club Committees … the club committee must be encouraged to involve new members and members with skill that can assist in the continued growth and service of the club to its members. The Coach has a responsibility to identify parents who have the skills and also understand the role of the committee, by building a committee of parents with skills and motivation for growth and improvement the purpose will always be looked after.
Look to encouraging the Club to implement a maximum amount of time a member can sit in a committee position. This will encourage new members and current committee members to evolve the leadership.

5. They say … if you build it, they will come? When coaches embrace the Club/Team environment and provide the leadership needed, the club will reap the rewards of having such a positive place…
(a) Create and service the development of the Age Group program within the club – Age Group Coaches are the most important link to future swimming champions.
(b) A club/team environment will keep your base of swimmers bigger leading to better odds of producing a state, national or international swimmer or swimmers.
(c) Enjoyment and education in being responsible for the development of so many athletes directly or through assistant coaches.
(d) Multiple goal setting opportunities for Coaches…
i. Membership
ii. Participation at local, district, state and national competitions
iii. Club point scores, relays and relay medals
iv. Individual performances as a club member at local, district, state and national competitions
v. Club member representing district, state or Australia.
The Club Vehicle will give coaches more entrée to more achievements.

6. Coach and Club Development … what are the Coaches and Club Officials doing to up skill themselves? What are the National, State and Coaches’ Associations doing to provide these opportunities?
(a) Coaches Association – providing guidance and a coaching model for coaches to work on bettering skills.
(b) Swimming Australia … rolled out the National Club Standards Program in 2005. This assessed and ranked clubs on performance at an administrative, membership, marketing, performance and social level.
(c) State Associations … run Club Development programs and workshops.
(d) Gold Class Swimming … provides ongoing support to develop coaches in all areas of coaching including member retention, leading a club, improving swimmer performance, improving communication and developing better programs through the Swim Coach Advantage program.
Coaches have a responsibility to continue education and the search for knowledge. This information is available and requires the desire to find it.

7. High Performance Coaching … the reality is that to coach open level swimmers to an elite level is very difficult and not everyone has the skills to handle this.  The development of better, stronger and more focused club programs will provide opportunity for recognition of coaches who have the skills to coach age group swimmers to the top of the tree.  This is also a skill and needs to be recognised.
(a) Club program … creates levels of coaching opportunity and skill development.
(b) Club program … creates environment for talent to be developed.
(c) Club program … can lead to a number of open level swimmers providing opportunities for coaches to develop experience with developing a high performance squad.

The peak of the club can be High Performance but only with a strong base of members who are strong at the club, district, local and state levels. Coaches must be patient in developing this system and realise that by building a base with a club the return will be more numbers, better retention and more chance of talent rising to the top.

It should be the goal of every coach in Australia to work with a Club program and utilise that program to develop them professionally as a full time Coach.

For Clubs who wish to provide support and growth opportunities for their coach, this can be done effectively by financially supporting them to be a member of the universally recognised Swim Coach Advantage membership program. The cost is minimal and the rewards could make massive changes to the future direction of your Club.