Things that Have Improved the Teaching & Business
of my Learn-to-Swim Program
by

Joani Maskell  .  Peter & Kathy Schrock  .  Jim Reiser  .  Robert Strauss

                                                           WABCswim.com  Dec. 2009         


Joani Maskell

Swimming Safari Swim School

Jacksonville, Florida   America

Website is:    http://www.SwimmingSafari.com

Email is:          swim@SwimmingSafari.com

Introduction

I started teaching swimming in my backyard when I was 11 years old to the neighborhood children. My “business” sustained me each summer until I got married at age 25 yrs of age.

I dabbled in teaching swimming for the next 10-15 years or so through grad school and teaching my own children to swim. When my daughter was a Girl Scout I redid my American Life Guard Training, and then when I got laid off from a “real job,” I decided go back to the best job I ever had: Teaching swimming. I started at a local YMCA/JCA teaching with all the teenagers. I was the oldest swimming teacher they had ever seen. I wanted to learn more about teaching swimming and found the US Swim School Association and Steve Graves and the World Aquatic Babies & Children Network and the World Aquatic Babies Congress.  I attended the WABC2007 conference in
St. Petersburg, Fla.  and loved it.

 After many people asking me to teach in their neighborhood pool, I finally agreed after realizing that these institutions did not appreciate my skills. My business blossomed and I started once again teaching in my own backyard as well as others. I incorporated in 2006. That year I started teaching in a couple of community pools and my own. Three years later, I teach in over 10 community pools as well as my own pool. I also have over 12 part-time employees that I hire during the summer months. This is the first year I have an indoor facility that I am renting from November through April. (I am in North Florida where it is very hot in the summer from May through October and cool during the other months.)

Changes in my program

My teaching style has changed after attending conferences and visiting other swim schools. We used to teach “pop-up breaths,’ but now teach the “roll-over” method. We feel we use a “child-centered” approach, where we use lots of songs, toys and games to distract our children so they don’t even know they are learning, but instead have lots of fun.

I used to be afraid of teaching babies, anyone under 3 yrs of age. After, again, visiting other schools and getting some training at various conferences, I started doing infants. I love them! Babies are just so amazing and beautiful. We really emphasize teaching the parents learn how to interact with their babies in the water.

I didn’t do adults originally, either. Now, we embrace our adults because we want EVERYONE to learn to swim, stay safe and enjoy the water.

A couple of other things that have changed since the beginning; One is that I’m actually treating teaching swimming as a business rather than just a hobby. I’m hoping to get my own facility soon and stop teaching in my own backyard. After attending numerous conferences I’ve been convinced that having my main office in my master bedroom, is not the most beneficial for myself, my family nor my employees. Although my husband doesn’t mind walking into a bathroom covered with Nemo pictures, I think he is ready for his own space!

Attending any of the conferences is always so incredible. I’m always amazed at how much we can learn about what others, not in the industry, think is so simple. But there is so much to what we do, really. I always come back from the conferences just so in awe of how many people are doing what I am doing. I love having an actual business of something you truly love and you know you are helping and touching so many. 

.  .  .

 

Peter & Katherine Schrock
Family Swim School
Eagan & Lakeville, Minnesota, Florida   America

Website is:   http://www.FamilySwim.com

Email is:        fss1990@frontiernet.net

Business Angle:
Going into our 20th year of business I've seen our business evolve 
from a 1 hotel location into a 2 site operation. One location is our 
own facility and another one is leased in a building housing a scuba 
diving operation. From an operational viewpoint we began offering 
lessons on a monthly basis scheduling students two times a week on Monday / 
Wednesday or Tuesday / Thursday scenario. As our business grew we 
added Fridays to our offerings. This scenario worked for about 8 years 
with a shift to once a week scheduling taking place in 1998. The 
change in format enabled us to keep our students in the program longer 
for it wasn't such a time commitment each week enabling parents to 
work swimming in easier to their schedules. We were also able to offer 
more lessons in a session thus generating more cash flow for the 
business.

As our business grew in a managed fashion, I realized the addition of 
quality teachers became essential, in maintaining the desired volume 
of business. After going through the learning curve of making errors 
in hiring, I came to understand the best formula in hiring instructors 
were ones who wanted to work part time, and did not necessarily need 
the money as a lifeline. Ideal candidates are mothers or fathers who 
can bring the maternal and paternal instincts with them. They 
understand when it comes to teaching " It's not about you ( The 
Instructor ) it's about them ( The Students ) Early on I realized, 
once I was adding on instructors a proper instructor training program, 
needed to be instilled. I still can remember the complaints and 
requests of " We want Peter to teach our child " when it was important for Peter 
to " Work on the Business " instead of in it.

Begin with a basic training manual of your own writing and methods. 
Initially this approach can help ease the apprehension of customers 
not having the owner as an instructor yet still receiving your 
instructional approach On a regular basis updating the manual, 
augmenting this with regular In-Service training sessions, can keep 
the conformity of instruction intact.  One never wants to have or 
discover a " Rogue Teacher " in your operation diverting from your 
mode of instruction. I learned never to inhibit the personality of 
instructors yet require following your set standards of instruction. 
A simple way to control this is to keep your operation at a manageable 
level. From the beginning I came to believe Swim Schools should 
represent a unique delivery of instruction with a very crafted style 
to it.

For Kathy and me having two sites is plenty because this occupation 
is very " Hands On " . Some of the larger operations in America cannot 
really claim the uniqueness to them anymore because of the corporate / 
cookie cutter atmosphere about them. Knowing your customers for more 
than their tuition is essential if you are to survive and thrive in 
this business. It's my understanding in these slim economic times some 
of the larger operations in America are
feeling a major financial strain.

Promotion of the business has gone from going door to door handing out 
fliers, advertising in print publications, working kid activity shows, 
to having a presence on the web and Facebook. I'm still sitting on the 
fence with this Facebook phenomenon, fortunately one of our employees 
takes care of this. What we have found to be very beneficial is our 
referral program. We have signs posted around our schools stating " 
The Greatest compliment you can give us is a referral” . We offer a 
$10 discount for each new customer brought in this way. Of course your 
service has to warrant this for the results expected.

Lately we have worked our company into more of the " Fabric " of the 
community. Having our own facility in Lakeville has provided the 
opportunity to program it in various ways besides instruction. 
Especially in these leaner times having different streams of revenue 
is beneficial. We are able to offer Lap Swimming, Water Aerobics, 
Family Swim, and Synchronized Swimming. We've been able to take a page 
out of Robert Strauss's book and over the last few years our Summer 
Aquatic Camp has taken off. Here we have been able to bring in some of 
our current and former students  Ages 7-13 and expose them to 
different aquatic activities associated with the outdoors (Kayaking, 
Wind Surfing, Fly Fishing, Trout Fishing, Scuba Diving etc. ) This 
past summer we added a component at the infamous " Mall of America " 
where they have a major league aquarium called " Underwater 
Adventures ". The campers were able to snorkel in an aquarium tank 
with sharks and rays. (Something pretty common in Florida I suspect 
but not ....... in the Upper Midwest. The theme underlying all this is 
now that your able to swim look what else you can do. It also is great 
for getting kids outdoors which ...... in the long run helps them to 
solve problems ..... really.

We have formed a partnership with the Park and Recreation department 
in Lakeville, we are in charge of the Aquatics Program at the local 
Country Club in the summertime, we are starting the first Swim Team 
for the Catholic Grade School in Lakeville, and we work with the 
Lakeville Police Department in conjunction with their safety camps in 
the summer. Being involved in community affairs from this angle has 
provided us with exposure which cannot be bought  ...... I believe it 
has to be earned over time.

Instructional Angle:
This component of our business has evolved from a more repetitive 
approach of skills to a more kinesthetic awareness and perception 
style. We focus on a hierarchically integrated order of skills built 
upon previously learned ones. When we first began the uniqueness of 
warm water, small class size, instruction availability all day, and an 
older former swim coach teaching pre schoolers had customers " Waiting 
in line " to get in the door. As our business grew and other swim 
schools or established agencies ( YMCA's ) began promoting themselves, 
we found we had to differentiate ourselves, to rise above the fray.

We researched and gathered information from every available outlet. 
While Steve Graves was in charge of the NSSA the focus of this 
organization still kept the quality and innovation of teaching at the 
forefront which helped develop our techniques and philosophy over 
time. We learned that playful settings in the water lead to discovery 
of skills. We went from being very structured with pre-schoolers 
expecting them to understand the basis of flutter kicking and prone 
floating to letting them discover the characteristics of aquatic 
awareness and how water affects the body. We learned over time letting 
children understand depth perception is a great teaching tool in the 
beginning stages of learning. With this style of introduction to water 
this progressive acquiring and acclimation of skills gave the student 
a measured degree of competence as they moved along in our program.

We took advantage of the steps in each of our schools and turned them 
into teaching platforms. Having them lie down on their backs and 
stomachs is a great precursor to having them understand the how water 
has an effect on the body when we're teaching them to float. With our 
babies teaching them to enter water in different ways ( Sliding, 
jumping, with Mom or Dad ) demonstrated to us the understanding of 
breaking down the skills to the most primary level in order to 
facilitate the aquatic readiness needed for further learning. We 
approached instruction in the sense of " We crawled before we walked " 
and we became more adjusted to wearing the " Shoes of the Learner " in 
instruction.

Over time in our program and in our levels of instruction we implied 
less and less use of " Learn to Swim Aids '" ( Bar bells and Back 
Packs ). There is a time and place for these tools with the value of 
the aid dependent on how it is used. We found the more we made our 
students independent kickers, before we introduced full strokes, the 
more confident they became. Back Packs are good in the beginning of 
learning based on the belief little children paddling around in the 
water are learning the kinesthetic feel for it and helps with the 
cardiovascular benefit. It also is " Fun " as Commodore Longfellow is 
quoted as saying " Swimming is a joyful sport, not all seriousness ... 
Swimming is Fun.

Lately we've taken on the objective of introducing the core muscles 
proponent to our primary grade students. Getting them to rotate hips 
and shoulders in freestyle and backstroke, using more of the core in 
dolphin kicking ( Simply by putting a kickboard under the chest while 
kicking ) are some of the ways of introduction. In the past 5 years or 
so we have introduced the concept of " Swim -Float-Swim " to our pre-
schoolers. This is a skill I picked up at a baby conference in Denver 
a while back. ( I'll send you a video of this with Kathy working with 
a 3 year old ) This skill is a great precursor to introducing the 
concept of freestyle roll and eventually rhythmic breathing.

Well this is what I can come up with and it's about 2 hours worth. If 
you find items of substance please use them.

I'll send a video of Kathy today as well. I'll try and film a class 
going on Friday to send to you.

.  .  .

 

 

 

 

 

Jim Reiser
Swim Lessons Company
Columbia, South Carolina   America

Website are: http://www.SwimLessonsCompany.com   http://www.SwimLessonsUniversity.com
Email is:          
JReiser@swimprofessor.com

 

Teaching

1.          We changed from a “task-oriented approach” to an “activity-oriented approach” when teaching preschoolers (ages 3 – 5).  When teaching young children, instead of just teaching them skills we are making learning like play!

2.         We launched a Parent & Me curriculum for infants and toddlers under the age of three.  Our enrollment increased 15-20% overnight. 

3.         We improve our training programs every year.   We stopped using textbook type courses and went to video courses instead.   MUCH MORE EFFECTIVE way to train swim teachers.    By coupling video training with a mentoring program, the quality of teaching has dramatically improved. For see samples of the training videos we use, visit www.swimlessonsuniversity.com

4.         We changed from using various floatation devices to the SwimWays Power Swimmer that is progressive as you can gradually remove buoyancy as the child’s skills improve, which increases practice time, allows you to safely teach more students, promotes better kicking mechanics because it helps the child get in a horizontal position, because the device is progressive—we have found there is no dependency issue and the children learn to swim faster.

5.         We learned how to teach children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.  For so many years we just didn’t know how to do it.   I sought out an Autism Specialist and she and I together created a training DVD on how to work with these special young children.   This was another big improvement we made.

6.         We joined WABC!  The more networking we do and the more we share among our colleagues the better we become!

 

Business

7.         We quit trying to just satisfy our customers and now we strive to “make them loyal” by giving them extraordinary customer service.   If a child misses class because they are sick, we automatically give them a credit for the cost of the class to use during another session.   This also encourages them to sign up again!
 

8.         We quit old fashioned “sign-ups” and now give our customers VERY USER FRIENDLY online registration option and as well as phone registration.  Our online registration program is VERY COST EFFECTIVE.  We can either pay a flat rate of $300 per month OR $2.50 per transaction.  You can email me for details about the company at jreiser@swimprofessor.com

9.         We expanded to 8 locations so most customers don’t have to drive more than 10 minutes for lessons.

10.    We stopped using COLD swimming pools.   In pools that we lease, we have been able to negotiate long-term contracts (5-10 years) simply by paying for the heater.  Great way to create long-term security AND it gives us yet another “competitive edge” in the spring to capture new customers. 

 

.  .  .

Robert Strauss
SwimGym

Miami, Florida   America

Website is:     http://www.SwimGym.net

Email is:          coachrs@swimgym.net

              Most Beneficial Changes And Improvements Since 1990 at SwimGym in Miami

1.      NSSA (National Swim School Association) was only two years old and the best ideas came to the area where I had problems, the day was not long enough; I was a do-it-all-by-my-self: the lessons, the booking, the pool, the plumbing. Someone at NSSA explained the E-Myth and how to systemize; I wrote a description of everything that needed to get done and I put each little job into folders, making sure all labor was divided accordingly and that the number of hours for each person working were correct for the number of tasks to perform. I was a swim teacher/coach with a dream, a Master’s degree in education, and no business background, and it showed!

2.      In 1995 swim gym was invited to run a camp at the City of Miami Rowing Club, in took a lot of hours and dedication to get this new venture of the ground, but swim gym swim school was running well at the time, so we built a new little business that was tremendously labor intense but proved to be good after year 3.  

3.      After 14 years of operation, in1997 we closed the original Swim Gym Swim School (1984) a pool in a warehouse in an industrial/commercial park.  A new luxury shopping center was going to be erected at the site within the next three years; while we were trying to make a decision, at that time a Jewish Community Center was looking for someone with our expertise to operate their pool year round; HOW timely!

4.      The JCC experience has proven very good until this date. There are many clubs or community centers that boast pools, that for the most part the membership does not use, and not enough aquatics experts to program and fill them; it seemed the best for us.  No more: rent, insurance, alarm company calls at 3 in the morning, and all the rest of incidents that go on when you are the “owner” of the swim school. Now we were partners on percentage of the gross and everything was spelled out from the beginning.

5.      Opened and closed a second school in another community center.

6.      In 2003 we were invited to the Village of Key Biscayne, and while we tried to duplicate the program that was so successful at the “J”, it turned out the center favored the triathlete over the non-swimmer, the lap swimmer over the children ages 4 to 8 and even though our contract specified that water would be kept above 85oF, it seldom got over 82oF. Before the second winter started we submitted our 30 day notice.

7.      Other JCC’s are paying attention to the wonderful program of the center where we are starting our 14th year, the time has come to expand and spread the system to two centers in neighboring cities. Will someone dedicate their life’s work with the passion and dedication as we have, cover for teachers when absent, for whatever reason, and continue with the spirit and enthusiasm that our program has characterized itself by?

8.      The answers to these questions will be forthcoming very quickly and perhaps, sooner than the next 5 years we can spread the news.

9.      In the area of instruction, the creation of the non-threatening environment, as perceived by the student, was probably the key of our success all along, a “play” educational environment was always part of my style of teaching. However, it took 5 years, finally in 1989 the ‘play to learn’ oriented program really took off, considering that at the time in South Florida the “famous” programs offered a ‘5 to 10 lesson guarantee’ and we were maybe the only ones concerned with ‘readiness’ in the event of young babies and children with no experience, as well as adults that carried a lot of baggage at times from early childhood ‘bad experiences’. 

In 1996 we changed the term to the ‘Friendly Environment’ and in 2004 the best instructional change in our program in the last 20 years was to respect the American Academy of Pediatrics statement on swimming for children under age 4; to this effect our baby classes are larger than ever, and the children are staying for lessons much longer, and most importantly, when you don’t teach babies, when you have no expectations, when you focus on protecting them from themselves and allowing them to show you what they are discovering and ‘re-inventing’ while you sing the games and play the songs, the children are participating and swimming much more comfortably than ever before.  The difference was the Focus, our “Mommy and Me” classes became “Water Safety Instructor Classes for Parents” and the beauty of this class was that each parent brought their own ‘mannequin’ to practice; the pressure of learning was placed on the adult, not on the child.

 

10.         A pdf file has been placed in the WABC members archive for you to understand better our decision - this comes from my presentation given at the WABC2008 Japan in Nagoya.

 

 

this information was solicited by WABC for WABC members benefit
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