Shout From The Stands: SwimAtlanta is Growing the Sport of Swimming with AAU

by SwimSwam 31

July 08th, 2024 Club, Industry, News, Opinion

This is an editorial from SwimAtlanta, a swimming club that has remained among the top-three in the United States in terms of size and registration for decades.  SwimAtlanta, among other swimming clubs in the U.S., registered many of its members with AAU in 2023 – rather than, or in addition to, USA Swimming. USA Swimming released their 2023 registration numbers in late March of 2024, reporting that enrollment fell by 18,000 members, a 4.61% decline.

By SwimAtlanta

Swimming is a sport that demands dedication, resilience, and passion. To nurture and grow this sport, swimming clubs play a pivotal role in providing young athletes with the resources and support they need to succeed. This series highlights how SwimAtlanta transitioned to AAU Swimming, aiming to inspire other clubs to explore ways to contribute to the growth of swimming. In this first part, we delve into the reasons behind SwimAtlanta’s shift to AAU Swimming, emphasizing operational efficiencies, positive experiences, and increased parental involvement.

Key Decision Factors and Pivotal Moments

SwimAtlanta has been a proud and longstanding member of USA Swimming since 1977 and remains committed to this organization with no plans to leave. Our goal is to grow the sport of swimming, and we believe that incorporating AAU Swimming into our program will help us achieve this objective.

Chris Davis, Head Coach of SwimAtlanta, along with his coaching staff, led the decision to transition to AAU. The pivotal moment came with the problematic rollout of the Swims 3.0 system by USA Swimming. Despite its role as the national governing body for competitive swimming in the United States, USA Swimming’s execution of the new system caused significant frustration.  SwimAtlanta saw an opportunity with AAU to better serve their community and promote the sport of swimming. The ease of registration, cost savings, and flexible meet formats provided by AAU aligned with SwimAtlanta’s goals of making swimming accessible to young athletes and fostering a supportive, engaged community. Additionally, AAU Swimming’s streamlined process for hiring qualified part-time coaches, which includes a background check, further supported SwimAtlanta’s operational goals and enhanced the quality of their coaching staff.

Initial Considerations: Challenges and Benefits

SwimAtlanta faced significant challenges with the USA Swimming registration process. The reliance on parents to promptly complete registrations to ensure swimmers were covered by insurance created uncertainties about whether all swimmers were adequately always insured. Transitioning to AAU provided a straightforward and reliable solution, ensuring that all swimmers were consistently covered.

One of the largest benefits for SwimAtlanta families is cost savings. AAU offers a flat, low registration fee, simplifying the process for families. In contrast, USA Swimming’s multiple registration options often confused families not knowing which membership was right for them. With AAU, SwimAtlanta could offer a single, low-cost registration, making swimming more accessible.

The simplified meet sanctioning process under AAU allowed SwimAtlanta to be more creative with meet formats. This flexibility made it easier for families to participate in swim team events, especially for young athletes involved in multiple sports. The straightforward approach encouraged more young swimmers to join and stay engaged with the sport.

Transition Reactions and Immediate Benefits

The transition to AAU Swimming was met with overwhelmingly positive reactions from the SwimAtlanta community. Coaches expressed their appreciation for the streamlined administrative processes, which allowed them to dedicate more time and resources to coaching and swimmer development. Swimmers and parents welcomed the reduction in membership costs, making competitive swimming more accessible and financially manageable. The simplified registration process also alleviated administrative burdens, creating a smoother experience for everyone involved.

Coaches’ Perspective:

Coaches were particularly enthusiastic about the streamlined processes introduced by AAU Swimming. The reduction in paperwork and bureaucratic hurdles meant that coaches could spend less time on administrative tasks and more time focusing on training and developing their athletes. This shift enabled them to implement more comprehensive training programs and provide individualized attention to swimmers, fostering a more productive and supportive training environment.  Bonus with the AAU Coaches registration is that the AAU registration fee includes the background check.

Swimmers’ and Parents’ Perspective:

Swimmers and their families noticed immediate benefits from the cost savings associated with AAU membership. Lower registration fees and reduced meet entry costs made competitive swimming more accessible to a broader range of athletes. Parents appreciated the simplified registration process, which eliminated many of the frustrations and time-consuming steps previously associated with competitive swimming. These improvements contributed to a more enjoyable and less stressful experience for swimmers and their families, enhancing overall satisfaction with the SwimAtlanta program.

Community Education and Support:

Efforts to educate the SwimAtlanta community about the benefits of AAU Swimming played a crucial role in garnering support for the transition. Informational sessions, newsletters, and direct communication from coaches and administrative staff helped to highlight the advantages and address any concerns. This proactive approach ensured that the entire community understood the rationale behind the transition and felt confident in its positive impact.

Immediate Benefits:

The transition to AAU Swimming brought several immediate benefits:

  • Cost Savings: The reduction in membership fees and meet entry costs provided significant financial relief to swimmers and their families.
  • Time Savings: Simplified registration processes and reduced administrative tasks allowed coaches and staff to focus on more critical aspects of swimmer development.
  • Efficient Meet Hosting: AAU’s flexible guidelines and streamlined processes made it easier for SwimAtlanta to host meets, increasing opportunities for competition and community engagement.
  • Enhanced Focus on Coaching: With administrative burdens minimized, coaches could devote more time to developing training programs, improving swimmer performance, and fostering a positive team culture.

These benefits not only improved the day-to-day operations of SwimAtlanta but also contributed to the long-term growth and success of the program. By adopting AAU Swimming, SwimAtlanta reinforced its commitment to providing high-quality coaching and competitive opportunities, ultimately supporting the growth of the sport.

Looking Ahead

This series will continue to explore the financial side of the short course season with AAU Swimming and the future for SwimAtlanta and AAU Swimming, always focusing on the goal of growing the sport. By sharing SwimAtlanta’s experiences, we hope to provide valuable insights and encourage other clubs to find innovative solutions to promote swimming in their communities.

Stay tuned for the next installment, where we delve deeper into the financial benefits and future of SwimAtlanta with AAU Swimming. Together, we are working on continuing to grow the sport of swimming and inspire the next generation of athletes.

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The Original Tim
9 days ago

Did SwimSwam accidentally republish the first in the series instead of a new installment?

Reply to  The Original Tim
9 days ago

No. This is an editorial penned/provided by SwimAtlanta. SwimSwam ran it as a courtesy. SwimAtlanta informed us they would be providing two follow ups. We think the next one will provided in a few weeks, and the last one will be provided in August.

The Original Tim
Reply to  Gold Medal Mel Stewart
9 days ago

Right, but this was initially published last week and then republished yesterday. If it’s going to be republished every few days until the next installment, that’s fine, but a note saying so would be appreciated.

Last edited 9 days ago by The Original Tim
The Original Tim
15 days ago

I presume the next installment will give actual $$ figures for differences in registration, sanctioning, etc costs?

Swimmer0883
15 days ago

I coach with a summer team that also runs a year-round program in a very much underserved area (it’s the only indoor pool in the county). I do have my USA swim coach certification.

Most of the swimmers who participate in the year-round program do so because they like swimming but they don’t join a USA swim team for the following reasons 1) the cost 2) the closest USA team is 40+ minutes away and parents can’t get them there easily and 3) they still want to be able to participate in other activities (especially the older kids). We have kids who have been swimming in that program year-round since it started in 2017. While some would like to… Read more »

This Guy
Reply to  Swimmer0883
15 days ago

This is exactly the types of programs needed out there. Swimming shouldn’t be all business, let kids have fun and enjoy the sport! The whole goal is access.
Kudos!

Michael Lawrence
Reply to  Swimmer0883
14 days ago

Block Party!!! calling Julie Bachman, stat

pete kennedy
15 days ago

How many coaches, administrators, parents were present at the meeting many years ago when the AAU was on the hot seat and lost control of competitive swimming. It appears that AAU is on the way back from years of operating under the radar. I was at that meeting.

ThatSwimKid
15 days ago

Also seems like a great idea for the beginners in the sport as mentioned in the article. Easier to “get your foot in the door” with the sport after a fun summer swim season rather than have to pay to fully commit to a sport your 8 and under swimmer may not like when it gets cold in the winter.

Dodgerdog1988
15 days ago

This is awesome for the sport! USA Swimming is over-governed, over-regulated, corrupt and out of touch with their members. The volunteer and paid leadership is very poor and the organization needs to be torn down and rebuilt. Today’s membership is sadly suffering from the sexual abuse cover-ups, insurance scams and financial malfeasance from past (and some present) leadership.

Bob
Reply to  Dodgerdog1988
15 days ago

AAU basketball is an absolute mess, with issues as bad or worse than us swimming.

Michael Lawrence
Reply to  Dodgerdog1988
14 days ago

over regulated … how so?

Dodgerdog1988
Reply to  Michael Lawrence
14 days ago

USA Swimming and their respective LSCs make rules so they can nickel and dime athletes, officials and coaches for everything under the sun. It’s ridiculous, most clubs are barely able to make ends meet.

Mike, you are part of the problem. You sat on USA Swimming Boards & committees while Chuck Wielgus and his handsomely paid (by members) covered up sexual abuse scandals, lied about it when caught and attacked the victims. In addition, you were active on the board when the big insurance scam was in operation where USA Swimming defrauded members by charging them for an illegal offshore insurance company that often refused to cover claims. People like you, who were in leadership positions that enabled Wilgus,… Read more »

John Bradley
Reply to  Dodgerdog1988
13 days ago

This seems pretty aggressive from someone too cowardly to even share their name. Anyone can whine about this stuff – what did you do to correct these alleged wrongs?

No name – no credibility.

Dodgerdog1988
Reply to  John Bradley
13 days ago

There you go, John. In the typical USA Swimming way, you attack victims and critics and call them names. The culture of USA Swimming is to run it with secrecy, fear and intimidation. If one sits on their hands and enables fraud, sexual abuse and a lack of ethics, they are lifted up as they are perfect foils for the USA Swimming board or executive office. If you criticize or question USA Swimming, you are attacked, called names and compromise your club’s, athletes’ and family’s standing in the sport. That’s why I’m not going to put my name out there. I stand on what I wrote, if you were on the board and enabled Chuck Wielgus and his membership paid… Read more »

John Bradley
Reply to  Dodgerdog1988
13 days ago

If you are a part of USA Swimming and you did nothing while you push the allegations you present you are just as complicit as anyone involved. You had an opportunity to get involved and be a force for change.

You’ve chosen the easy route – crying about everyone else when you didn’t step up.

Whining about how everything is everyone else’s fault just makes you sound weak and inept. Grow up.

My favorite is the “deep state” conspiracy you seem to think exists. See something and say something – what’s the worst that could happen? You did nothing – instead of whining do something NOW and be a part of a solution. That’s how you effect change. You… Read more »

Last edited 13 days ago by John Bradley
This Guy
15 days ago

To put some perspective on how big of a deal this is against USA Swimming, Swim Atlanta is one of the most prestigious programs in US swimming history and according to a quick google they have 7 pools with 2,800 swimmers. That’s a lot of memberships moving simply because USA Swimming keeps getting in its own way.

I for one am looking forward to competition with AAU vs USA Swimming, hopefully it forces USA swimming to get its act together.

Swimcoach
Reply to  This Guy
15 days ago

SWAT has good influence over other teams…follow the leader kind of thing. How many more large teams will divert beginner families to AAU?

What might the breakpoint be before USA Swimming changes their ways, FIXES SWIMS 3.???, and gets back to Promote the Sport, Build the Base, Achieve Competitive Success?

distanceswammer
Reply to  This Guy
15 days ago

SWAT is not one of the biggest forces in USA swimming. They’ve produced 1 Olympian and the last Olympics she competed at was nearly ten years ago. They have 7 pools and 2800 swimmers because they don’t care if you show up, they’ll take your money regardless. Dynamo is a smaller club in the Atlanta area and has produced many more successful swimmers than Swim Atlanta at the collegiate and international level.

1650butterfly
Reply to  distanceswammer
15 days ago

POV: you swim for Dynamo

This Guy
Reply to  distanceswammer
15 days ago

Look at this fun guy!

SCoach
Reply to  distanceswammer
15 days ago

Your “facts” are WAY off…

Swimcoach
Reply to  distanceswammer
15 days ago

My comment has nothing to do with performance, but they do rank higher in VCC and Club Excellence.

Regardless, when a large team, like SWAT, makes a shift to another body, like AAU, there is bound to be followers. If they have even 25% of their membership, 700 swimmers, join AAU, that is impactful. 700 swimmers is equal to maybe 3 average sized teams.

And Chris is a tremendous businessman. So, if he is willing to make a change, others will follow. It’s all about the Benjamins!

JimSwim22
Reply to  Swimcoach
15 days ago

700 swimmers is not 3 average size clubs. Average club size is under 100

swimapologist
Reply to  distanceswammer
15 days ago

Imagine measuring youth sports programs by “the number of Olympians they’ve produced in the last decade.” You’ve lost the plot mate.

Also LOLLLLLING at your “because they don’t care if you show up, they’ll take your money regardless.” I don’t even know how to respond to it because it sounds so much more ridiculous every time I read it. You mean there are families willing to pay thousands of dollars for membership on a swim team every year and…never show up?

Does every club have this problem? And the rest of this solve it by saying “no no, no more money”? Maybe I need to start a club team damn. Except I’m going to kick out everyone who DOES show… Read more »

Oldswimmer
Reply to  swimapologist
15 days ago

I’ve been away from USAS for awhile but my read as a masters coach a few years ago was that USAS leaves little incentive for any swimmers and families who aren’t 100% devoted to swimming. Any team who understands there is a market out there for less “committed” swimmers is wise.

YGBSM
Reply to  Oldswimmer
15 days ago

Except ….. you have to manage them when they do show up. It’s not necessarily wise.

This is the conundrum clubs face, particularly with their older kids and other top groups – do they stick to their commitment expectations and bounce non-compliant swimmers? Or do they go for the dough and let them ride on the books and then have some nightmarish / mess practices?

Plus the group culture / program development expectations are in the balance when the uncommitted do show up, typically with a lower work ethic (and potentially lower attitude).

Swammer
Reply to  swimapologist
14 days ago

Imagine measuring youth sports programs by “the number of Olympians they’ve produced in the last decade.” You’ve lost the plot mate.

But this is exactly what USA-Swimming, as the NGB for swimming in the United States does. USA Swimming’s primary remit is to develop and field the US swimming Olympic team. Everything else is secondary. USA Swimming is not a youth sports program, excepting those youth who develop into elite world-class athletes. I think a lot of the problems at USA swimming stem from an overemphasis on their goal.

Batting .300 in Swamming
Reply to  distanceswammer
15 days ago

Gjertsen, Dersch, Shanteau, Hersey, and Weir come to mind

Admin
Reply to  This Guy
15 days ago

I’ve been doing this long enough that I don’t believe AAU will be without problems. There are problems that are inherent to scaling these organizations, and there are problems that are inherent with these organizations.

But I keep coming back to this need for competition. Member dissatisfaction, sexual abuse scandals, financial struggles…none of the usual metrics have been enough to change the culture at USA Swimming in the 15 years I’ve been doing this. Maybe competition will be what moves the needle and forces them to actually have to try and get better.

Swimcoach
Reply to  Braden Keith
15 days ago

AAU had its problems which is why US Swimming, now USA-S, was created if I recall history correctly. Currently, imo, USA-S has too many issues it either cannot or will not resolve. Whether its SWIMS, the registration process, the money-grab, etc, it should all demonstrate to those leading the NGB that there are serious issues which need to get fixed. AAU may not be the long-term answer, but perhaps it is a shot-across-the-bow.

Perhaps a lot of the dissatisfaction is a long-term result from COVID. When was the last time there was an actual national convention where LSC reps were in the same spot with USA-S?

Zoom meetings are nice, convenient, but they are not the same as… Read more »