USA Swimming Launching “Block Party” Pilot Program To Make Meets More Accessible For Clubs

USA Swimming has partnered with Reimagine Sports to launch a new program with an eye toward easy-to-run, family-friendly meets, akin to summer league, that make the sport of swimming more accessible to new members.

“Block Party” is entering its pilot stage this spring, with approximately 40 clubs receiving invites to take part, and it will run through the end of the summer.

The program will allow clubs to host meets without going through their LSC, making the sanctioning process seamless. The primary goal is to provide new families with a competition option for their swimmers that doesn’t include the high costs and long hours associated with multi-day (often travel) meets.

“Essentially, an easier to run, low cost, family-friendly meet option, that would be very easy to sanction, very easy run by our clubs,” Joel Shinofield, USA Swimming’s Managing Director of Sport Development, told SwimSwam.

The genesis of Block Party comes from Reimagine Sports, a consultancy firm dedicated to working with stakeholders in the youth sports industry.

The company is co-owned by Gulf Swimming LSC Executive Director Julie Bachman and Minnetonka Director of Aquatics John Bradley, and Illinois Swimming Administrative Director Pam Lowenthal is also working on Block Party as the project leader.

“The customers in the youth sports funnel are signaling the need for a product that is easier for families to engage with – we need to make it possible for USA Swimming clubs to have the tools they need to run more meets, more simply, more often,” Bachman told SwimSwam.

“We are excited to have the opportunity to pilot this initiative with clubs across the country and deliver a report on the impact these tools have had on club growth, retention, and culture.”

The idea has been in the works for years, but part of the appeal from a USA Swimming perspective is that the organization came off its biggest two-year growth period in nearly a decade post-COVID with a decline in membership retention last year.

Shinofield told SwimSwam that currently, approximately 30 percent of USA Swimming clubs host meets, and that the retention rate of swimmers who compete is significantly higher than those who do not.

Block Party will open up more competition opportunities for the less-experienced swimmers, hopefully getting them to stick around with the sport.

“So more competitions are better, right? And especially more competitions that compete better with other sports are really important,” Shinofield said.

In other sports, getting the chance to compete frequently is assumed when a parent signs up their kids. In swimming that’s not always the case, and the program aims to close that gap.

“This is not necessarily geared towards the kid who has been swimming for six years and is tried and true and loves it. This is how we entice new families to stay in the sport.

“Because if you approach the sport from a new parent perspective, especially one without new swimming experience, what do they expect? Well, they expect what they see in other sports, which is about a three-hour commitment, maybe a four-hour commitment per week, that is inclusive of competition. And right now, that’s not really the model for swimming.”

Streamlining the process for parents and coaches to be certified to serve as officials at these meets is also planned to be rolled out alongside the program.

When a meet is held right now, all of the meet fees go directly to the LSCs. At Block Party meets, those will go directly to the clubs, with a one-day sanctioning fee to USA Swimming.

“(Block Party) was an attempt to say, hey, if we’re really going to address the retention, and onboarding of families into our sport and the growth of our sport, we need to have a vehicle to offer very easy competitions,” said Shinofield.

“So this is really a learn-to-compete program, hopefully becomes a love-to-compete program, and then helps onboard and retain a lot more families, which helps the LSCs. So we’re not cutting out the LSCs, we’re actually hoping to create a growth vehicle for our clubs, our LSCs and USA Swimming at large.”

Shinfield added that the LSCs could really capitalize on the Block Party meets by creating mini-championship style competitions at the end of the season based on Block Party results, with the goal of having those swimmers eventually being on the psych sheets of entry-level LSC meets.

The times registered at Block Party meets will count — they’ll go into USA Swimming’s database — but can only go so far. They won’t be eligible for entry into Sectional-level meets and above, but can be used to enter lower-level meets depending on the individual LSC.

The host club has the option of inviting as many other teams as they like and running as many sessions as they want.

“A lot of our a lot of our structures aren’t geared towards new modern families, like the future of swimming is not more three-day meets,” said Shinofield. “They’re, expensive to run. I mean, when you look at the average pool rents right now to run one of those meets … the future of swimming is competing with other sports, and making sure that our entry-level is accessible.

“Right now in some places it isn’t a great fit for what families are looking for. And we saw that in the significant number of new members but a lower retention rate. So that means people are interested, but then when they get here they’re like, whoa, this might be too much.

“And so this, this, I believe is good for the LSCs because it’s good for the clubs. Our primary partner in this, and who we have to support, are the clubs, and so do the LSCs. And we should all be thinking about how to support our clubs.”

Once the pilot period wraps up at the end of the summer, the results will be presented at USA Swimming’s Annual Business Meeting in the fall.

At the forefront of what a successful pilot period looks like is a positive experience for the clubs, along with no hiccups from a technological standpoint.

“The biggest one is that teams have a positive experience and (the program) allows them to run competitions that make their families happy, right? And that the kids have a good experience, those are the two primary goals,” said Shinofield.

“The big other goal is that the technology works and the system works, that the third party (Reimagine Sports) is able to provide service to the clubs that are doing it so that they feel like they’re supported. And the other thing is that we can develop a list of best practices so that we can share both with the clubs and the LSCs, should this go to a bigger opportunity.

That bigger opportunity would be a full-scale national rollout.

There is still some educating of clubs to do, such as using the online sanctioning tool within the USA Swimming club portal, and there are conversations scheduled with the LSCs on how this is a positive thing for all, but teams in the pilot system are ready to get rolling and Shinofield expects meets to be underway by the end of April.

“We have got to make our sport easier to get involved with, more accessible, more fun, more technology, you know, and more reflective of what families want. That doesn’t mean we change what can happen at the top, but we’ve got to get more people interested and engaged and involved first, we can’t scare them off.”

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Shea Manning
1 month ago

So the response to swimming’s big tent issue is to create a smaller tent within the tent–using the same leadership that has overseen the shrinking tent… Hoping that people on the outside will come back in, not realizing that it’s the psychotic nature of competitive swim culture that drives and keeps people away.

Wanna know what makes Summer Swim so magical? The lack of crazy USA-S personalities at the top (or at the very least greatly diminished power). They’re run by the communities and families themselves–and it’s so compelling in leagues like the Northern Virginia Swim League and Montgomery County Swim League because the USA-S leaders/coaches WANT to take part. You think it’s any coincidence that these leagues also… Read more »

Reply to  Shea Manning
1 month ago

PREACH!!!! Spot on! Wish I could upvote this again and again

Last edited 1 month ago by TheIckabog
Reply to  Shea Manning
17 days ago

Yes! Summer leagues are awesome. But most have all the stuff that this is trying to eliminate in hopes of making USA-S better. Summer leagues have rules, officials, fees, and lots of volunteers. They all work hard, get to know each other and guide the group as it goes. Many are even a 5 days a week + a meet on the weekend commitment for the kids/famliies. Maybe those things aren’t the problem?

Mark Minier
1 month ago

Just like USA swimming always a day late and a dollar short. Most teams Have implemented something like this to develop their new or experienced swimmers. This will end up being another money grab by the lsc’s and usa swimming. Looking to offset their financial losses.

Last edited 1 month ago by Mark Minier
Reply to  Mark Minier
1 month ago

That’s kind of what I was thinking. This was happening 30 years ago in some areas. Why are we paying a 3rd party for this. It sounds like an idea that would have been brought up in a committee meeting after teams tried it out and developed as a national model free to USA Swimming by volunteers long ago.

CG Sports Company
1 month ago

Congrats to the team at Reimagine Sports, let’s go!!

1 month ago

So, this sort of makes it sound like that the current burden on hosting meets is created by the LSCs, which is not true. Meets are hard to put together because of all the requirements that USA-Swimming has put in place – number of marshals, number of officials, etc. Most LSCs do change some Sanction fees as well, but at least where I am, those are NOT what make meets prohibitive, not at all.

Now they create a program that is going to bypass all those requirements, and also take the little funding LSCs get from the Sanction process? The idea is good, but how come these meets can bypass those requirements, and LSCs can’t do the same? This is… Read more »

1 month ago

Agree that this is a step in the right direction. This possibly coupled with the Swimmingly Meet Management system I’ve heard about sounds like it would make running easy and shorter meets for grassroots swimmers a win-win!

Reply to  SCoach
1 month ago

agreed, goo step but lots of questions. swimmingly tailored for this simple meet concept. all in one w straight forward integrated in-app timing, meet mgmt and backend etc. seem to be focused on this developmental concept.

Reply to  SCoach
1 month ago

Just had an awesome demo with the Swimmingly team last week. If teams can use Swimmingly to run simple meets with their timing system AND sanction meets, this could be a great opportunity for any and all teams that don’t currently host swim meets. Cool idea…hope it works out.

Interested Observer
1 month ago

Hate to say it, but we actually need to give USA Swimming some kudos here. More kids swimming meets = more kids staying in the sport.

Reply to  Interested Observer
1 month ago

It’s a good idea sure.

But the execution, as usual, is the problem. It’s going to funnel more money out of the sport and into a private org rather than USA Swimming developing the system themselves and keeping all the money in the sport.

Reply to  swimapologist
1 month ago

Does anyone see a conflict of interest with this company being run by people who also lead LSCs? At the very least it seems strange that they are providing a service that allows teams to avoid dealing with the LSC all while actually dealing with very same leaders of LSCs.

Reply to  swimapologist
1 month ago

And the private org is being run by several LSC leaders!

Reply to  swimapologist
1 month ago

If the objective is a simple path for clubs to run sanctioned meets directly with USA Swimming, we should ask what exactly the role is of this 3rd party “Reimagine Sports”. Clarity needed.

Reply to  Anon2
17 days ago

It’s likely to hand off $$ to a select few.

Reply to  swimapologist
1 month ago

I don’t exactly call this “out of the sport”

“The company is co-owned by Gulf Swimming LSC Executive Director Julie Bachmanand Minnetonka Director of Aquatics John Bradley, and Illinois Swimming Administrative Director Pam Lowenthal is also working on Block Party as the project leader.”

Gulf Coach
Reply to  swimapologist
1 month ago

This summer is a PILOT program test run. They are doing it this way to see what the possible hiccups will be.

I think it’s an EXCELLENT way to roll out a potential new idea for the entire country to follow. This is VERY DIFFERENT from the coaches education that gets rammed down our throats with zero say in the process.

Great Job Julie, JB, and Pam!

1 month ago

A child and/or parent is more likely afraid of the hard work and commitment it takes to achieve in competitive swimming, then suffering a lack of access to entertainment.

This plays out in every vocation – it may not be good enough to just show up.

The tired mantra of accessibility comes typically when organizations are hungry for operating dollars; of course they will participate.

Kudos to the marketeers in creating a need for their services.

As a parent, I’m sure I would have preferred little or no expense on my part to get my kids engaged in life.

I’m waiting for the evidence that proves the sport is turning athletes away, for whatever reason.

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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