What Is The Right Organizational Structure For Your Swim Club?

by SwimSwam Partner Content 4

November 16th, 2022 Club, Industry, News

Courtesy: Renata Porter

I find that swim clubs generally operate like many startups. They have limited operational staff who are stretched super thin and serving in many different functions. As you grow, obviously there’s more that needs to be done. People’s roles start to pile up and quite honestly, some of these admins that I’ve met really should be adorned with gratitude.

Yes, it works. Until it doesn’t.

One theme I hear often is that a formal structure is too corporate. That they don’t need to micromanage their people. The problem with this thought process is you are only considering who reports to whom – and your old view of what makes a “boss”. It’s much bigger than that. It’s how you lead, communicate, streamline, serve, support, and grow. Also, let’s just be honest, micromanaging people is a poor leadership skill. It has nothing to do with a club ensuring it functions at its best without burning people out in order to serve the membership to the fullest. Even if you have the best staff in the country and you give them full authority to make decisions, that doesn’t mean they don’t want feedback, structure, growth opportunities and clarity on who does what.

Some other reasons I’m given come down to lack of money or inability to find the right staff or volunteers. However, what I’ve found is that taking a step back to evaluate what needs to be done and who is doing it, often reveals redundancies and efficiencies that can solve those issues.

I think the real reason why clubs don’t review and try to optimize their structure is that it takes time and effort with no one who can do the whole task end to end. That’s absolutely true for most clubs and you might have to get outside help. Working on a structure does take time, especially for clubs that have staff who do so many different things that it takes weeks or even months to uncover all of their tasks. I get it, but the benefits outweigh any excuse you can come up with.

What does an optimized organizational structure deliver? Overall, it enhances your operating performance. Plain and simple. Reviewing and aligning role responsibilities ensures that you have a true view of all the work that is being done day to day, week to week. We all think we know what each person does, but more times than I can count I’ve had a conversation where the person I am working with says something like, “OH! And I do this too, oh and then I also do…”.  The review allows you to see trends, where you may recognize you have three people working on one area, even if it’s different tasks, and no one working on another. Streamlining those responsibilities ensures that it can be done end to end more efficiently. Often this happens just because the club is growing and there is a new task that needs to be given to someone, so a round of eenie meenie miney mo begins. It’s given to whoever had an extra minute, not necessarily who would be the right person with the right skills. Which may mean moving responsibilities around to free up time for the right person.

Having more clarity on roles and responsibilities for the staff can be a key contributor to the outcome of their success. When people don’t know who is supposed to be doing a certain task, people assume someone else is doing it until you come down to the wire and then it’s a mad scramble to get it done.  Or you have that one person who just seems to pick up the slack for everyone else. Often times its just little things, but those little things pile up to be irritations. Removing role ambiguity reduces assumptions and allows your staff to take ownership of their role. All of this improves job satisfaction and creates a positive work environment.

Once the roles and responsibilities are aligned, then you should be able to recognize some efficiencies immediately. But it shouldn’t stop there. You should also look at your processes, the way you do things. Are you still doing things the way you did them years ago? They still might be right, but how about looking to see if there is an app or automation that will help. Sometimes process refinement is as simple as taking out extra steps in the process that don’t provide value. Creating efficiencies removes wasted time and eases the pain when multiple critical deadlines are upon you.

Having that optimized structure should also allow for better communication, which includes strong feedback loops. (Something that is seriously lacking in all of business these days.) When you understand who owns what activities or tasks, then it becomes a more direct avenue to get questions answered and decisions made. Additionally, as far as reporting is concerned, when you understand the structure then you have more opportunities to give and receive feedback.

Finally, when you have clear and open communication then you start to build powerful relationships and a positive culture. One where respect and opportunities to share and receive feedback are met with enthusiasm instead of disdain. One where everyone is truly “all in” and engaged with each other and frustrations due to processes are reduced.

Every structure has to fit the organization, I don’t believe there is a one size fits all. However, there are standards and places to start. Then you can adapt it to suit your club’s needs. I would suggest that if you feel things are not really working well functionally or operationally, start taking notes. List what needs to be improved. Then when you are ready to do the work, you have something to refer to. That way you’re not starting from scratch and trying to remember everything.

It may not seem like it, but an optimized organizational structure will reduce the burden out of the pool, so better results can be created in the pool.


Renata Porter is a dedicated business consultant with a focus on youth sports clubs. Her company provides actionable guidance and support to help sports clubs to shift from old mindsets and sameness to running the club as the business it is. Renata has helped clubs have positive operational outcomes by being an end-to-end partner, sharing her passion to see clubs succeed.

You can find more information at Your Sports Resource.

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The Original Tim
1 year ago

In my anecdotal experience over the decades with summer league, USAS, and USMS teams, the optimal structure does not involve a board.

Have a single point of decision making for the team and build out the support structure around that, whether that’s assistant coaches dual hatting with wet side and dry side responsibilities or people only focused on one or the other.

I’ve also seen success in having a head coach and a head admin person who run the team. The head coach manages the wet side, the head admin person manages the dry side, and they build out their staff accordingly.

I’ve also seen success with a solitary head coach who manages the whole shebang, but who has assistants… Read more »

Last edited 1 year ago by The Original Tim
Swim coach
Reply to  The Original Tim
1 year ago

IMO, the most successful coach-led/Board-supported program is Dynamo in Atlanta.

1 year ago

For any club, of all corporate designations, it’s critical the structure allows for a robust system of parents in committee and board roles disagreeing on every detail and shamelessly shilling for their own child.

Only this way can clubs achieve the state of bad tempered paralysis that makes swim clubs great the world over.

Free Thinker
Reply to  Togger
1 year ago

you had me in the first half, i’m not going to lie.