For most clubs and coaches, we are faced with a need to grow to support either the club’s financials or its mission. Growing a club can be an intimidating process. In my career as a Head Coach and Club Administrator, I have consistently followed these 6 rules to achieve significant team growth for nearly two decades. If you are not sure where to start your growth journey… follow these steps for a head start!
1. Do a Good Job
Really, doing a good should-should be numbers 1-100 but for now, let’s just leave it as number 1. Here are the deal people… if you do a good job, people will come. You will notice that a major ad or media campaign is NOT on this list because anyone can generate traffic to their website or try-outs but if you are not doing a good job, all you are doing is exposing yourself to a wide base who now thinks you do a bad job!
The bottom line is this, your best advertising will always be word-of-mouth. Remember that at any club you are essentially running a small business. Think about how you heard of your favorite restaurant or coffee shop or gym. Like new traffic to most successful small businesses, you were probably acting on a recommendation.
Before you undertake a growth plan, take a hard look at your operations. Ask your families to evaluate your program. Find clubs in your area that are growing and ask to observe their operations.
My humble opinion is this, treat your families well, treat your athletes well, treat your coaches well and all will be fine. People will want to come swim with you.
2. Be Inclusive and Accessible
Unless you are in the VERY unique position where your club is sustained by elite level athletes only, you will likely want to take the “pyramid” approach to building a swim club. Your operations at the younger, novice level will support your elite level aspirations. The bulk of your team should be in the Age Group or Entry levels. Senior swimmers are often the most visible part of your team but unless your club has a stable base with which to grow upon, you are not long-term solvent.
Let’s break it down… Inclusive is just that. A successful club is NOT the one that turns away the most people. A successful club prides itself on having a place for each and every athlete who wants to take part. Not only is that a good business strategy but, in my mind, it helps further the mission of most club’s and certainly the vision of USA Swimming as a whole. As a swimming community we spend a lot of time talking about outreach and diversity but what message are we sending if swimming is only for the elite? Create entry level groups at all age levels so that a first-time competitive swimmer at any age can feel welcome.
Feeling welcome brings us to accessibility. Make the process of information gathering for prospective families easy to navigate and put a friendly face on it. Be the club where a first impression is always a good one!
3. Rolling Registration
This seems like a simple one yet many clubs still resist and make their swimmers register once or twice a year. While that is certainly easier for the club it is NOT the easiest for new families. If a swimmer wants to join your team in October and your registration is over in September? Do you think a new family will wait around until April or May to join up? People are fickle and you cannot rely on a prospective registration to hold their interest for a month or two or certainly not five! Have a process whereby you can intake a small group of families and ensure their satisfaction until a new season starts. This is where your entry level groups can be invaluable. Those groups should be organized so they can easily handle a new swimmer at any time of the year.
4. Uniform Intake Policy
Make the process the same every time a new family makes an inquiry. Figure out what information is important to you; where are they from, what is their experience level, what are their best times (if applicable), are there any medical issues to be aware of, what school will their swimmer be coming from, etc…
If your new family is a recommendation from another swim family, you can be sure they expect the same treatment as the person who recommended them. This will also help you stay organized. Appoint one person to handle all intake requests for consistency and oversight. Make your try-outs the same each time. Create a response protocol so each family is assured timely and concise communication. Include information a new family is likely to request like practice times or pricing. Make the process fluid so each family has all the relevant information and feels taken care of.
5. Be Professional
You only get one chance to make a good first impression! Remember who you are marketing to… The family ultimately makes the decision because the family writes the checks! You are trying to impress adults and adults will respond to professional appearance and demeanor. Be cognizant of your communications and your appearance. Pick the new member point person for your organization carefully. I suggest creating a New Member Coordinator position either for a separate administrator or as a supplemental duty for a coach. Give that person the resources and support they need to do that part of their job well. Growth is an important part of any club, do not make it low priority!
6. Take it Slow
Make a long term plan for growth that BEGINS with organizing your club to accept growth. Create the groups necessary to be inclusive. Assign a staff member to the responsibility of coordinating that part of your operations. Create the resources and materials needed to promote your club in a positive and professional light. Take an introspective look at your operations and be ready to accept necessary changes before you invite growth.
Growth does not happen overnight. It is a ground-swell that takes time to gain momentum. Be patient in your approach and grateful for every new family.
Last but not least, ENJOY THE PROCESS! Growing your club is an exciting opportunity and a fun challenge. Take the job seriously but not yourself! Happy program growth everyone!