Club Coach Study Reveals Known Frustrations with USA Swimming

by Laura Rosado 57

February 20th, 2024 Club, Industry, National, News

USA Swimming has released a report on survey results collected from 371 coaches whose teams achieved “Club Excellence” status, meaning they had at least one athlete qualify to the Summer Junior National Championships. The goal of the study was to “examine the experiences of Club Excellence coaches and how USA Swimming can better support these coaches.” The survey was shared with coaches in October 2023 and the results are dated November 2023. The report was conducted externally by IntelliSport Analytics.

While the data isn’t wholly negative, with the majority of coaches answering they were at least “somewhat satisfied” with USA Swimming, frustrations start to arise with the open-ended questions.

Many of these frustrations are aimed towards the SWIMS 3.0 system, a database overhaul that was launched in 2022. While previously swimmer registration was handled by the LSCs, SWIMS 3.0 allowed registration to be done directly by swimmers and parents online. However, this administrative change was cited as a pain point by coaches, especially when introducing new participants to the sport.

Another major barrier to bringing in new members is rising costs, a combination of membership and meet fees. One coach writes that they “have been told by several families the costs of the USA-S membership is a big hurdle.”

From 2022 to 2023, year-round athlete membership dropped by almost 7%, though in January USA Swimming reported that membership was on an upward trajectory.

There are also rising costs associated with being a coach, both in time and money needed for coaching certifications. Coaches worry that this increased burden will drive away up-and-coming talent and push established coaches towards earlier retirements. For reference, the 371 survey participants have an average of 20 years of coaching experience.

At the same time, coaches feel there is a lack of support from the USA Swimming unless they place a swimmer on a national team. There is a perception that resources are only provided for those at the top, and the trickle-down benefits are nonexistent. Coaches desire access to more resources to justify the cost of membership.

Altogether, these concerns culminate into a perceived apathy from USA Swimming for teams without junior or senior national team members.

One coach writes: “My biggest frustration is that USA Swimming doesn’t “see” the heart of its membership… I do not believe much is done for those underneath that elite level.”

Other notable concerns are nothing new, including criticisms of Safe Sport for having “no teeth” and meet registration filling up too quickly.

There have already been changes made in the calendar year that seem to be in response to the survey findings. For example, USA Swimming recently announced that 2024 Futures Championships will have tougher time standards for 19 & over athletes, a roundabout solution to the meets seeing an increased number of college-aged participants.

Overall, the results of the survey reveal an organization disconnected from the majority of its constituents. Taking into account USA Swimming’s $10 million operating deficit in 2022 and falling membership, it seems change, in some form, is inevitable.

Notable Survey Results

Note that the published percentages do not always sum to 100, presumably due to rounding errors.

  • Overall, how satisfied are you with USA Swimming?
    • 23% Somewhat Dissatisfied, Dissatisfied, or Very Dissatisfied
    • 12% Neither Satisfied nor Dissatisfied
    • 66% Somewhat Satisfied, Satisfied, or Very Satisfied
  • How satisfied are you with the technical coaching / performance development support from USA Swimming?
    • 24% Somewhat Dissatisfied, Dissatisfied, or Very Dissatisfied
    • 21% Neither Satisfied nor Dissatisfied
    • 54% Somewhat Satisfied, Satisfied, or Very Satisfied
  • How satisfied are you with the competitive opportunities supported by USA Swimming?
    • 17% Somewhat Dissatisfied, Dissatisfied, or Very Dissatisfied
    • 7% Neither Satisfied nor Dissatisfied
    • 76% Somewhat Satisfied, Satisfied, or Very Satisfied
  • How satisfied are you with athlete camp opportunities provided by USA Swimming?
    • 10% Somewhat Dissatisfied, Dissatisfied, or Very Dissatisfied
    • 20% Neither Satisfied nor Dissatisfied
    • 69% Somewhat Satisfied, Satisfied, or Very Satisfied
  • How easy is it for you to receive help from staff at USA Swimming?
    • 22% Somewhat Dissatisfied, Dissatisfied, or Very Dissatisfied
    • 21% Neither Satisfied nor Dissatisfied
    • 57% Somewhat Satisfied, Satisfied, or Very Satisfied
  • How would you rate the responsiveness of Team Services staff to answer your questions?
    • 13% Somewhat Dissatisfied, Dissatisfied, or Very Dissatisfied
    • 15% Neither Satisfied nor Dissatisfied
    • 73% Somewhat Satisfied, Satisfied, or Very Satisfied
  • USA Swimming’s support of coaches meets my expectations.
    • 30% Somewhat Disagree, Disagree, or Strongly Disagree
    • 16% Neither Agree nor Disagree
    • 54% Somewhat Agree, Agree, or Strongly Agree
  • The number of programs and services offered by USA Swimming has improved in the last two years.
    • 18% Somewhat Disagree, Disagree, or Strongly Disagree
    • 35% Neither Agree nor Disagree
    • 46% Somewhat Agree, Agree, or Strongly Agree

Check out the full report here.

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Jason Lucey
1 month ago

Based off of our experience, it’s ironic how USA swim is getting flak from some coaches. Our former club coach only focused on his trial swimmers, forced kids not to swim high school, and when our daughter choose to stay unattached after being kicked off the club for choosing high school swim, USA swim has helped us navigate the world of unattached swim in a positive way. Some of our local swim clubs and some coaches seem to care about just the elite swimmers and $!

Swimmom
1 month ago

Let’s talk about only caring about elite athletes. Why in an Olympic year are the championship meets for the short course season run as long course? So that .1 (yes – point 1) percent of athletes can make an OT cut? What about the 99.9% of athletes that won’t, and want a true short course championship? And because it is an Olympic year, college students that don’t make NCAAs will try and attend sectionals to make OT cuts, taking spots away from true club swimmers attending their championship meet, and some trying to improve their position for college recruiting. USA Swimming should NOT gear the entire schedule to the elite minority. It is that 99.9% that is actually funding the… Read more »

swimmen
Reply to  Swimmom
1 month ago

Amen! These kids want short course championship meets!

bigpicture
Reply to  Swimmom
1 month ago

Agreed. Club swimmers need their short course championship meets every season.

justanopinion
Reply to  Swimmom
1 month ago

The argument in support of this has been out there for a long time now – several Olympic cycles at least. You can add in the point (that USA-S continues to refuse to acknowledge) is the part that for many, many of the 99.9 as you describe them, these meets are crucial for either direct achievement of, or progressing toward scholarship money in some form at the NCAA level.
With the rising costs of tuitions almost universally, these athletes (and dare I say their families) are more in need of every bit of scholarship they can get. And if we are honest, even if they make meets from LCM, most college coaches are basing their money off SCY results.… Read more »

NW Coach
Reply to  justanopinion
1 month ago

This is a myopic view of the sport. To insinuate that college coaches don’t know how to convert times or recruit swimmers with LCM times is asinine. None of the international swimmers competing in the NCAA (of which there are many)have SCY times, coach’s manage to find them.

USA Swimming should be focused on producing opportunities for as many athletes to compete in LCM during the 4th year of an Olympic cycle as possible. Individual clubs, LSC’s, teams are welcome to host what ever version of SCY championships in the spring that they want. But sectional meets that can go LCM should do that to serve the needs of athletes trying to make trials.

If you are concerned… Read more »

Justanopinion
Reply to  NW Coach
1 month ago

Wrong.

still waiting
1 month ago

Been waiting over a month for a return call from staff.

Safe Sport quick to investigate claims but slow to investigate and penalize individuals “knowingly making false claims”.

If the end of this quad does not put USA Swimming back in the black the entire executive staff should be replaced starting with Hinchey.

The coaches in this survey are a small portion of a large group of people working long difficult schedules for little money and benefits. Hearing about $350,000 salaries and bonuses while our organization is failing its membership is sickening. We took 40% pay cuts to get through the so-called pandemic and to keep everyone employed. USA Swimming gave bonuses while operating at a deficit. Our LSC sent… Read more »

WestCoastRefugee
1 month ago

Surveying only coaches attached to clubs that have a Juniors qualifier is basically trying to create your own echo chamber. Definitely trying to limit the damage by surveying coaches more likely to be Kool-Aid drinkers. Does everyone not pay the same dues and have the same requirements? You would be hard pressed to create a more ignorant, inept organization as USA Swimming is. Open that survey up to all coaches and re-evaluate those responses. I have rarely seen a better advertisement for AAU.

Stinky
Reply to  WestCoastRefugee
1 month ago

Yep, pretty much the definition of Survivorship Bias.

Jeb
1 month ago

Why no preview for ACC and sec starting soon?

GULF Coach
1 month ago

My FAVORITE change that was made as far as SWIMS 3.0 goes…OME and how it is incredibly difficult to find meets. I had to sit with Trey Freeman (USA Swimming) to find the Time Trials for Winter Juniors on OME…his exact comment was…”you need to type it in EXACTLY, including any spaces, otherwise it won’t show up in the search.” And that’s coming from someone that works with it ALL THE TIME!

Super frustrating…but…nothing will get changed other than MORE requirements and HIGHER fees!

Joseph Wheeler
Reply to  GULF Coach
1 month ago

If that is true, the search algorithm is lazy. Send it back to the database/web architects and tell them to implement more friendly searching using spaces as equivalent to asterisks and such.

You should also likely add tag searches and other things to make it easier for participants to find what they’re looking for.

Dan Smith
1 month ago

My initial glance at  the report is that the USA-S staff has a PhD:  Piled Hip Deep.  They are relying on such a tiny number of responses(as Braden noted in 2021 17,000 coaches registered), and all those coaches surveyed had to have at least ONE swimmer qualify for junior nationals; ignoring the vast majority of those coaches (and programs!) laboring in the trenches of the sport, MOST ESPECIALLY:  women, Asians, blacks, as shown by the low number of responses to the survey in those categories, which begs the question:  low numbers of those coaches in USAS coaching ranks, low numbers of coaches having Junior Nationals qualifiers(?) or those contacted that qualified did not feel it represented them well, or the… Read more »

Justanopinion
1 month ago

USAS expects clubs and coaches to run like small businesses with all the expertise and knowledge of a plethora of plates to juggle.
Slashing and not expanding Club Development and Business management opportunities is a critical whiff for USAS.
So many of these complaints and concerns from the clubs could be assisted or alleviated if “headquarters was under the roof” of teams to help guide, coaches, and administrators of the clubs.
Cut “due to costs”. Dear usas – you can’t afford not to. It’s your base. Your bread and butter. And they need help out there.