My name is Mary Anne Gerzanick-Liebowitz. I’m the assistant coach at Oregon State University and I have the honor today of introducing to you Leigh Robbins-Peterson. She is a Senior Development Gold coach with NOVA of Virginia, where she was a swimmer and team captain for over 10 years. Her coaching experience spans all levels from novice through developing numerous state championships and nationally ranked swimmers. She was honored in May of 2000 with the Age Group Coach of the Year for Virginia Swimming and then again in 2005 as a Senior Coach of the Year for the State of Virginia. So please help me welcome Leigh Robbins-Peterson.
Hi, thanks for getting up this morning anybody get the game last night? Thank you very much that’s impressive. I would have gone except was unsure about if I would make it. So like he said my name is Leigh Peterson some where in between when they asked me to speak and today I got married so there’s a little bit of confusion. What we’re gonna talk about today is how to do an age group program. And it’s really one thinks that I’m compassionate about what I love doing and that in all the talks that I’ve come to and heard in clinics over the years that I would have liked to have heard more about. I truly—here’s a little bit and this is a lot please don’t start to write down we’re gonna go through every piece of this, so you’ll see it over and over again. But here’s basically the outline from the 2 talks and we’ll talk today at 9:15, then talk again at 2:30, it’s the exact same topic we’re just gonna keep going. I truly believe that you can increase your numbers and your percentages by 50% in 3years. We’ll talk a little bit about my background, I’ve coached for 5 years and doing [Indiscernible 0:03.06]. We started with 45 swimmers and good at 120, and for the last 10 years I’ve been at NOVA, when I got there we’re at 250 we’re little above 750 right now.
Then I’m going to talk about what kind of growth you want, try to help you define that kind of growth. That’s what we’ll talk about. We’re going to talk about the game plan. Talk about eight principles that we use at NOVA that I believe can be applied to any size team. I think sometimes when it come to these clinic and you’re thinking you have a wide team of 40 swimmers that what I have to say to you won’t work. But the principles, I believe you can apply them everywhere. You may not need them all. But I absolutely believe that they can work for any size team and for the kind of growth that you specifically want.
So we’ll go through today, hopefully we’re going to get through four today for this morning and then I’ll stop. I have no idea how long that will take me so you may be out of here in 30, [Indiscernible][0:04:10.4], I don’t know. Then I’ll go through the next five or the next four after that. So hopefully, looking at five, six, seven, eight, specifically tension strategies for boys, choosing meets that keeps swimmers and parents coming back, having a feeder program or how to get one, and deputizing people that can influence recruiting. That’s what I’m going to talk about at 2:30. So hopefully, that will bring you back.
And then after that, what we’re going to talk about is some of the traps. [Indiscernible 4:39.2], some of the ways of thinking. [Indiscernible 4:40.2] and I were talking a little bit about it, that can keep you from growing. I think it’s just bad ways of thinking and so we’re going to try to avoid them. We’ll talk a little bit about the consequences of growth which you know, I don’t want to sell growth this bad but it does have consequences and I want to talk a little bit about those. Then we’ll come actually, we’re going to talk about what you can begin to do next week. So that’s the outline.
Growth can be defined really two ways in swimming. Numbers and percentages and that’s it. I truly believe that swimming to me, I don’t know if anybody else sees through it, they’re really organic, moving, breathing entities. You know, that they grow like a child and really, you’re either growing in some way or you’re dying. That’s where you are as a program. I think at any point, it can be resuscitated and I think you can begin to grow again. So that’s the definition we’re going to talk about. Growth really only happens two ways. That’s it. It really happens through retention and recruiting. I mean I believe that 80% of that is retention. Eighty percent is really how you have your strategy for long term retention. Then I think the 20% really comes through recruiting.
Oh, what’s the three years thing I’ve got here? That’s my experience. I’ve been in the same place for long enough to have learned this. It really is a three-year investment. I think it is if you really wanna see true and lasting change and you can think of it in terms of seasons too. I think it really is a year, but you can think of it in terms of seasons. I think it takes a year to kind of assess where you are and decide where you want to go and begin to implement those changes. Nobody likes change. Not your board, maybe not your staff, maybe not the kids, nobody likes change. So I thinks that’s the roughest time really is that first year, is implementing some real changes in the program.
That second year I think, you begin to see. I think you see some immediate growth. I think you see more people or turning with the same accepting of your idea. I think you begin to see something.
Then on the third year, it’s kind of like a miracle. It’s like all of a sudden a crop grows up. You go from seeing the dry ground to these giant stalks of corn, that you actually see the results. You see the results of what you began three years earlier. I think three years is the minimum amount of time.
When I first started coaching, all I want to do is coach. I love coaching. I want to work with the kids. That’s what I’m passionate about. That’s what I’m good at. This growth stuff, this program building stuff, it’s for somebody else. It’s for board. It’s for the parents. They’ve got to get organized. They’ve got to do this. They’ve got to do that. I’m the coach. I just want to coach.
But what I’ve learned in the last 15 years is that it’s your vision. It’s your vision. It’s where you want to go. If you aren’t spearheading it, it’s not going to happen. Boards come and go. Parents come and go. The most excited, enthusiastic parent this year, their kid could be done swimming the next year and then they’re done with helping you grow. So I think if you leave it in the hands of somebody else, it’s not going to happen. So that’s what I’ve learned.
When I really began to get my hands dirty and go, “Okay, I want to coach but I’ll also work on this planning and the strategic building and some of these other stuff.” What I learned is that, it’s what I love doing. I think it’s always frustrating to know you could be better now and you want to see growth and not really waiting for somebody else to help growth happens. I think when I became more proactive, I really began to enjoy coaching more and it’s really one of the things that I love the most. I think I’ve learned through my own experience. I think I’ve learned through the experience and wisdom of others, through continuing education like this, through trial and error, and through a great deal of experimenting.
I started coaching in 1994 at [Indiscernible][0:09:02.8] swim team. I worked for 5 years with Mike Powell. He was an assistant for 13 years to Bill Peak up at Lakeside. One of the premier programs in the country, especially under Bill. [Indiscernible][0:09:12.0], among others. Bill was, as a hall of fame coach and I think so, a lot of my experience came when Mike decided to come out of retirement and take a small program that just kind of lost its first staff and hired me and the two of us began building again. Out of the principles that he learned in 13 years, Bill Peak had learned over the 20 years. That was the beginning of my experience. But most of what we’ll talk about is what I’ve been doing the last 10 years.
NOVA, when I got there, it was about 250 swimmers. Like I said, we’re above 750 now. We’ve been very strategic about growth. It was established in 1987. It built their first training pool, 10-lane, 25-yard training pool in 1996. I got there in 2000. 2004, we built our second training pool under the same roof and that’s really where we are today.
Coach [Indiscernible][0:10:23.0] was there. We’ll talk a little bit more about that. I’ve coached from the novice level up to the Olympic trials of the swimmers. A lot of what I’ll use is my experience at NOVA in the examples but really, it’s the principles that should be applied. Not here’s how NOVA does it, here’s what I will do it. I think it’s the principles that I really want to focus on. All right. So let’s get started.
To get started, you’ve got to know where you’re going. First, identify how many swimmers do you want in the program three years from now. Where are you now? Where do you want to be? I think you can aim for double but what does that mean? Do you want to be — how do you want your program to grow? Do you want to be 200, 400, 600, 800 swimmers? Do you want to be the best small team in the State? I think there’s an easy way to define that. Do you want to see yourself score ahead at what that level every year, year in and year out? What do you want to do? Do you want to improve your ranking? That’s one of the great things about USA swimmers. They’ll rank you a thousand different ways. You can do it if there’s anything you want.
I could say one of the things for us at NOVA, for years when we were at 250, 350, 450, we talked about 600. How to get to 600? What 600 is going to look like? What are you going to need at 600? For years, before we got there. That that was a very specific goal and helped us plan and made for it correctly.
I think you have to look at models. I’m in East Coast. It’s easy to look around and say what do you want to be? One of the best teams on the East Coast is [Indiscernible][0:12:01.0]. We would love to, “Hey, we want to beat them but we don’t want to be them.” They have five, six, I don’t know how many sites they have. They have numerous head coaches going different ways and that really wasn’t a model for us. So that offered some sort of competitive goal for us but it wasn’t really a good way to look at growing. In North Baltimore, there’s a great program but they stay small, they stay a lot smaller. That wasn’t the way that we wanted to grow but they’ve systematically become more and more successful over the year.
There’s a program in our State I think that since I grew up swimming in Virginia at the [Indiscernible][0:12:42.4] YMCA. It has probably been you know, one of the best small teams in the State year in and year out for 30 years. I think they’ve done a great job at producing national talent over the years. So there’s another model. None of those applied to what we were looking for. So, but you have to know, you have to know, you’ve got to find, study some other programs. Figure out what you want, clearly define it, you and your staff. It’s not the parents. It’s how you want to grow. So I think first you’ve got to identify your goals.
I think it starts long term goals, how far in the future can you see. Can you 10 years down the road? Where do you want to be in 10 years? Can you see 20 years down the road? How long in history does your program have? Maybe you can’t see that far yet, but the further down the road you can see, the better off you are.
Short term goals. For me, that tends to be three years. I think it can be four, the quadrennial plan. Where do you want to get between here and 2012? I think there’s a good, good measure in short term goals. They should be defined, clearly defined and gone over every season with your staff, maybe twice a year, evaluate where you are and how you’re doing in that.
Seasonal goals. Within each season, how are you measuring your progress. Not just swimmers, not just individual swimmer’s results but how are you measuring your progress towards your growth goals. You know, that’s got to be a topic, really, every staff meeting for you and your staff. To many people I think only think about their seasonal goals. That’s as far forward as they can think. I think the more you have your staff thinking beyond seasonal goals, the long term [Indiscernible][0:14:23.9] the longer you are going to keep them. From ah — what was it?
I was talking to one of the coaches about having trouble keeping staff members, constantly having to go back and hire. You need to get your younger staff on board as well. You know, sell the three-year plan. Hey, in three years, we’re going to be here, we’re going to be here. You’re going to be an integral part of that. So I think it’s not just, not just you, not just you on board. I think you’ve got to get the staff on term, not just the seasonal goals but the short term and long term goals.
Want to know how you want to grow? Assess where you are right now. What are your programs’ current strengths? What are you doing well? What’s producing for you? Where you’re not producing? Where do you in that case to me, now you think of the hole of the ship and you got you know, you got a smaller leak right now, this season and you go, ahh and you don’t really know how to fix that. I promise you next season, it’s going be a gusher. Flowing out of that hole are swimmers. What are you going to need in that program? That’s retention. So you really have got to have that kind of urgency when you go, that’s really a weak spot on our program. We’ve seen that.
I think we had a year where we made some hiring, poor hiring choice and we watched one of our integral entry level groups go from about 80 swimmers to about 12. We went, “Oh, we can’t do this. We can’t give this another year. We can’t give this another two years. We’ve got to make some changes right now.” It doesn’t take long for a weakness to become something that’s drowning you.
I’ll give you an example at NOVA. When I came in 2000, the way that I would assess, the way that we were assessed at that time [Indiscernible][0:16:22.7] our strengths where we had a head coach and the Founder that had been in the same position for 16 years. I think that’s a great asses. The longer you’re there somewhere, the stronger you become. With the senior team that was producing in the national levels qualifiers every season, strong senior team. They built one and 1/10 went tranquil. They had built the lessons program. It was probably making $20,000, $30,000 a year towards the annual budget. So I would say those were the strengths at the time.
The weaknesses. The age group program was a huge weakness. Had no structure at that time and was not producing consistently. If I had to look at that, I would say it was multiple problems associated with growth. They built the pool in 2000. They put the lessons program and they had this surge of young kids in the program. So all of a sudden, they have this [Indiscernible][0:17:11.7], bigger than what they were used to program and it had no structure. They had not prepared for that kind of growth. So they were floundering a little bit on the results. It also results building and growing. This coaching staff is spread pretty thin. Many of you who coach, probably vacuum the pool, probably teach the lessons, probably do 80 other things that you know, it was definitely very, very thin. We had very poor management of our business and financials at that time.
So that’s an assessment of where we were at 2000, completely different assessment this year, but still we’ll assess and identify. You’ve got to do this. You’ve got be very clear about where do you need to grow quickest and where are you doing changes first. That’s how you’re going to affect your retention.
So once you’ve done that, once your program goals are established, you focus on the following eight principles to hit your target.
Today, we’re going to talk about our allocating experienced staff [Indiscernible][0:18:14.5] entry levels. Growth that requires re-structure in the organization. We’re going to talk about how to do that. We’re going to talk about what you need to organize around. I believe that your team values and goals and have clear standards for every level and enforce them. So there are your four principles that we’re going to talk about in this session.
First. Number one way. This is the number one because it’s the number one way to improve long term retention and improve the level of permanent achievement is to get the most experienced staffs with the most developmental levels. I’ve put up lovely pictures of head coach Jeff Brown. One of our senior, our senior coach was born in St. Pierre with two of our USA national team members, both born in [Indiscernible][0:19:07.5] also everyday coach of 100 of our novice, not 100 at the same time. We have novice program of about 100 [Indiscernible][0:19:17.0] and for two hours a day, both of them coach year in and year out on those level.
Absolutely, this is it. This is the number one way to grow. Go with the coach with the most experience. You’ve got an area that’s weak, you’ve gone entry level to do, go coach them, go coach with an assistant. Do this. In most programs, too many programs do the exact opposite. They really do. They put the newest hire, the lowest level coach with the younger script and leave them out there to flounder. You go, “Ahh, why are our best 10-year olds strokes not work the way we want them to? Why are we losing kids?’ I think that this is it. You want to make some changes, make this adjustment. It helps retention hugely. You’re coming in, you’re getting kids who are getting the best possible coaching, they’re going to stick around. They see the results, they’re going to stick around. If you can get a kid to stick around for more than one year, they’re probably going to stick around for three or four or five. I think it’s that first year that’s key.
So put your salesmen, put your best at those levels. For us, it’s the novice levels, it’s the entry levels of the program. Right now, we have kids that are joining the program at 11 and 12. That’s an entry way to swimming. We’ve got kids that are joining 11 and 12. In two years, you’ve got junior nationals but they started off in a non-level group. They started off in a low level group.
Let me tell you something. This helps recruiting significantly. Really our competitors, their swim coaches I think here in the US, it’s not other teams. It’s soccer, it’s baseball, it’s football, it’s you know, whatever those other sports are in the [Indiscernible][0:21:09.8]. You can look at those parents when they come in your door during the season, you can say there’s probably not one other team where your 8-year old is being coached by the same coach that produces Olympic trial swimmers. That’s a sales job. This is one of the only sports that you can say that. That this is you know, in fact most of those sports for the first four or five years, it’s just parents, it’s just parents teaching, you’re professional. You’re offering 10 no, 5, 10, 15, 20-year old experience. They would bring them to their kid’s initial development in sport and you don’t have a 10-year plan for them. You don’t have a 10-year plan for this kid because we had kids in this program that we coached at eight and now we’re coaching again at 18 in some of the program and they’re going on to college scholarship. That’s recruiting. That’s going to get that family in the door. So this is the number one way. Think about how your staff knock it and [Indiscernible][0:22:10.4] principle to it.
Growth requires re-structure and new organization to meet new goals. I’ll give you the example here. Again, this is not how you should structure your program. So I think the example I want here is when I came here at 2000, it was 250 swimmers. When they all walked in the door to be evaluated at level, there were six different options. The staff at that time divided the novices, hadn’t really name them, two different levels. On this program, with one age group development program which was kind of 8 to 12-year old. Another age group program which was kind of 10 to 13-year old program where the senior development which is kind of a different level [Indiscernible][0:23:00.9].
In the last 10 years, we’ve grown to 15 different groups. We didn’t do that all at once. I could tell you that the first change that we made were to the 12 [Indiscernible][0:23:14.4] the program that I told you that, it was the area that was the weakest. The first thing we did was we structured the novice the 9, 10-year olds and 11, 12-year olds. We identified the kids that were maybe [Indiscernible][0:23:31.9] and above and put them in a group together and we began to put some standards on this groups and began to set some development goals for those.
The integrity of group structure in the program is more important than one swimmer or the convenience of any one family. So many good programs that have solid structure kind of give way to the parent that says, “But I got to bring all four of my kids at this time” and you’re going to have to coach them or they’re going to go to the other team.
New program’s are going to grow when you and I hate to say it, when you say no to that, that’s not, you’re going to throw kids that don’t belong together in the same training program, it’s not going to last that well. It’s going to hurt the development of the whole group of kids that you want to see together for two or three or four years growing together, being coached at the right level at the same time, so in ways program architecture. When you think about a building, you think about how they’re going to grow, you need to draw up some plans. So I think this is one of the ways to begin re-structuring. Be willing and prepared to do that over and over and over again.
I think we’d probably created three new groups in the first year. We probably let that go for another two years before we had enough retention that we realized we needed some sort of, those kids were staying at our program long before they become 13-year olds and 14-year olds and we needed to keep them but they weren’t ready for faster level so we had to create a senior development survey level group that didn’t have that before. So that became out goals of retention. We then had to split the senior development group in half. We began to reform so that’s how you grow. You’d be willing to look and rethink and restructure every single thing.
Principle 3. Always build your new structure around your team values and your team goals. Let me give you some numerous values and priorities when we are re-organizing which we do all the time. We re-organized a little bit this year but not very much. We are really [Indiscernible][0:26:03.4] and there’s a need coming up in the future. I would say within the next year to two years. We’ll do some major re-organization.
Here are some of our values, they don’t also have to be you values but you would know what your values are. That’s going to help define when the parents are confusing you.
We believe we keep kids with their peers 100% at a time. The 9-year olds, some of the 14-year olds are not necessary going to keep either one of those kids in the sport long term. I think the longer you keep kids together, the more they grow together, year in and year out. They’re going to the same meets. They need their friends and you want to develop those friendships. You want to develop those groups so keep them together.
We keep our 10-year olds together and depending on your level, you keep all your 12-year olds together. We keep our 13, 14 year-olds together. What if I got the fastest 12-year old in the country and she doesn’t really have anyone to race with? Well, teach her to be the best within that group. She needs friends, probably more so. She’s probably a little un-social, anti-social. She needs friends. She’s going to be doing this for six more years. She doesn’t need to be friends with the high school. She needs to learn to swim upfront and we bring her the best. That’s our belief.
We keep them with their peer 100% of the time. We keep them with their ability level. We don’t let the mom force her and models up her child in their gold medal group. That doesn’t help the child and it doesn’t help the gold level group. But we do clearly define the steps to get to the next level and promote the kid with everyday taking on a new challenge and move up.
One of our big priorities is staying number one for a lot of the success that we’ve had, it is not going out. For some of the year, you have to go out for many of you, that’s the way that you’re going to grow. But for us, it’s a priority to stay in the building under one roof.
One of the things I didn’t put up here, we don’t train on Sundays. I think it’s one of those recruiting things I think that a lot of families appreciate. Certainly, the staffs appreciate having two days off a month.
I think we stay focused on results and retentions. So [Indiscernible][0:28:32.4] of our priorities when we’re doing it. You should have a 10-year plan for your swimmers. If they continue to enjoy the sport, you should be selling that in every level. That’s what parents want to hear from somebody that trusts in their kids too. I know where your kid could be in eight years. We got a process, we got a plan, this is where they’re gonna be. You’re much more likely to keep them for 8 to 10 years if you know where they’re going and you help the parents understand that.
Gosh! I’m not going to fly through this. Gravity is the essence of genes I think somebody said that. I’m just kidding. I’m just kidding.
Principle 4. Have clear standards for every level and enforce them. Again, this is just an example of what we’re doing and it’s a progressive growth. It’s progressive growth. I mean I could tell you that we don’t let our novice level kids swim for more than 3 times a week. Whether they’re 9 or 10 or 8, they’re coming for one hour, they swim two or three times a week. There are very clear standards on how you get out of novice silver into novice gold. You’ve got to know the far stretch. You’ve got to know your flip turns. You’ve got to know your back to breast turn. You’ve got to have dodge and look ahead how they’ve gone a certain speed in a couple of events to get to novice gold.
Every group has that. The coaches are constantly debating and goals are constantly changing. You’ve got, what you want in your gold level is our best 30 or 40 kids in each age group every year together. That’s what we want. So maybe in the year where you’re very strong, maybe they have to double the times to get into the goal group. But we can begin to asses that fairly early on. We spend a lot of time working at kids’ birthdates. They’re going to be in this age group that year. What group do we want them to be based on [Indiscernible][0:30:51.4]. I think that putting some maximums on how many times they’re in their training, I think that helps long term retention. We have plenty of 10-year olds that would like to get 5 days a week and we say no all the time, all the time.
[audience member]: Do you have a situation where you want, you know some of the group like I mean —
[audience member]: This year you’re not that strong [Indiscernible][0:31:33.8]
[LP]: Yes to both of those questions. I think they have kids, upper levels in the program that will get recommended for gold group and then they’re not keeping their commitment. I think that’s where you have to have very clear standards. I gave you the example of our 11, 12-year old gold group. They have to make practice four times a week to be in that group. They have to have gained a certain speed to get into that group. They have to compete in championship levels. They have to agree to that the whole time. They’re not going to necessarily do it every meet but they need to be at the championship level meets in order to be in that group. Parents understand that from the beginning.
Also, they decide in December they want to join the basketball team. That’s fine with us. But if you can’t make the four practices, you’ve got to go back to the silver level practices. That’s where having the different, having it very clearly defined and being able to say, “Here’s where you got to go within your age group until you can make your commitment.” We do that all the time. I think that keeps again, I think that keeps the percentages up. You know that kid that’s only shown up two times a week in that gold group isn’t practicing very well, they’re getting discouraged, you’re going to lose them if that continues — the process of you’re going lose them and all the other kids that they’re training with are going to get distracted. It doesn’t work as well.
Everybody has the luxury to be able to move them into a different group. What we do, when you’re separating them into levels, we had to do that before. “Hey! You’re going to training group 1 and training group 2. You only get to train at this level or you can only come to Monday, Wednesday, and Friday practices because those were whatever stroke practices. I think there’s some sort of way of enforcing that.
When you’re talking about a kid that she’s having a hard time within their season, they start of the season with a bunch of [Indiscernible][0:33:50.4] times and they didn’t, they’ve, some things changed. I think that’s more of a senior level problem I think, and we have that all the time as well.
I think with the age group program where you keep the kid, most of our kids, our team member of gold group, most of those kids when they turn 11, they don’t go to the next gold level group. They go to this — I mean, if you’re smart, you don’t send them right up to the gold level group, you send them all to the silver level group. Whether they’re in there for one month or two months or six months or a year, up to two years, maybe they never get out as 11, 12-year old become that kid but then maybe, they have that great success really young so we just need models in the silver level and let them earn their way out of the silver levels. So none of our kids really go from gold to gold so that’s how it worked to us.
[indiscernible question from audience]
[LP]: That’s a good question. I think we have times in the year where we move up a big group of them, I think we’ll do that. We do that every year in the middle of the [Indiscernible][0:35:01.4] season in December. The group moves up and then in the spring, after the championship season. What we’ll do in late spring, before the long course season is give them their recommendation for the fall. So let them know what group, if they continue to do the work, if they continue to be with us and if they continue to commit to long course season, then this is the groups that we’ll be recommended for in the fall.
So we do that, we move up new groups three times a year. There are kids that will age up. We try to usually, I think if the kid has an age up issue, we usually keep them with the group that they’ve been training with through the next big move update. I think it’s hard to jump into a new group with three weeks to go till Christmas championship. So we will wait three, four, five weeks until the next Christmas championship.
But then at a certain levels, kids make their development fast. We really want them to grow. I think there’s a lot of — within every clearly marked standard, it has to have the coaches recommendation. So coaches, you are the authority. You do know what you recommend. I’m sure there are parents that try to convince you and have their kids but you know your standards that clearly define, here’s what we still need to see. Sir?
[indiscernible question from audience]
[LP]: Yes. Yes. Absolutely! One of our later principles here will spend some time in the next thing talking about choosing those needs. Because I think that how you choose meets affects your retention very much. You don’t want to do that sport [Indiscernible][0:36:55.4]. Don’t start – don’t join that sport, you’re going to spend all weekend, two weekends a month, eight hours a day [Indiscernible][0:37:04.4] pool. That’s not a sport they want to stay in. I think you’ve got to, you’ve got to change – you’ve got to have the parents perceive the swim meets better. I think you can also get better results. Very few families that are going to stay in the support 10 years but obviously every weekend, two weekends a month, an excessive amount of time to a sport.
[audience]: Do you require meets for all of your groups or [Indiscernible][0:37:35.7]?
[LP]: No. I think that, personally I think it’s useless to join a [Indiscernible][0:37:48.2] program and not compete. I think that you get kids in the door so any of our entry levels whether it’s novice, silver, any of the novice groups, there are no meets. You don’t have to go to meets. You can sign yourself up for meets but we don’t sell them. But in the meantime, we’re going to tell you a hundred reasons why you should. That age group development silver and any of the development in our silver levels, meets are not acquired but encouraged. I think that keeps your numbers up. I think that [Indiscernible][0:38:22.9] through that.
[audience member]: What do you tell those parents that they want to sign up, my kids are not competitive but they just want to swim?
[LP]: I can tell you — absolutely. But what we tell them is that competing is a skill just like butterfly. They have to learn it. So don’t tell me your seven-year old is not good at it and haven’t been thought it. [Indiscernible][0:38:48.4] doesn’t count, that’s like herding cattle. You know that’s not learning how to compete, that what we’re going to do is teach your child to learn how to compete. It’s actually a really good skill for the rest of their life. In other areas, it’s a safe place to learn how to compete. So we have this little meet next month. It’s only going to take two hours of your time. We’re not going to spend you know, eight number meets so that a parent can understand that it’s not that, as an entry level to selling that. So that’s really what we do.
[indiscernible question from audience]
[LP]: Yes it’s published. It’s published and every piece of parent information we give. Every kid knows it, maybe not the eight, nine-year old. But you’d be surprised to how many eight-year old will say, will come up to me, I coached for years, I’ve coached the 9, 10 gold groups so going back to the coaching, my two groups were not as [Indiscernible][0:39:59.4] head coach of the integral development age group and then senior silver groups. So I coached the state in the junior national level, 14, 15-year olds and then I coached 10-year olds. Then I assisted with the age group development silver group. You’d be surprised how many would come up to me and say, “What do I have to do to go to gold group? What do I need to do? I really want to be in that group, what do I need to do?” So I think you create that culture, it’s great. So that’s what we’re trying to do is to make those standards so cool that they’re expected in [Indiscernible][0:40:34.6]. Yes, sir?
[indiscernible question from audience]
[LP]: You know sir, for me we kind of do it all the time. I think you have to read the situation of gone both ways. I think really more for boys, if they were a boy, I would say 10 times out of 10, send the boy up. But with the girls, sometimes I think it can go either way. I think it’s just a matter of, are there other eight-year old girls that she’d still be with, that she could make friends with and that’s really the right level for her? You know, 50% of that time I’d probably move her down there until she’s ready and then tell her, “Here’s what we’re going to do.” Talk to her parents and here’s what you’re going to do. You can absolutely get back up there. I think you’ve got to read the situation and know what and where you’re moving up. We have kids move in to the gold group and it’s the first time that they’ve ever been separated from their friends, just temporary anxiety and everybody does better. Yes, sir?
[audience member]: You said that you require some of the [Indiscernible][0:42:07.5]
[LP]: Probably at 25%. I mean that’s a solid estimate is and we have the benefit of hosting eight meets so I think it’s a little bit easier to sell the non-coming to at least a couple of those. I think that’s a big group but I would say 25%. Yes, ma’am?
[indiscernible question from audience]
[LP]: Three to four, they can swim a minimum of three and a maximum of four times a week. They’re swimming for an hour and a half which is I think again it’s a progressive step from what they were doing at the silver level and it’s not as much as they would do at the age group silver level. Yes, ma’am?
[indiscernible question from audience]
[LP]: Yes. I think that’s the, it’s a big selling point for keeping kids into the long course but I think you’ll lose kids regardless of that. But I think you have kids that you can tell them and their parents in the spring, “Hey, we’re going to recommend them for gold group if you swim long course including the championship meet.” That’s the only way that you can move them into the gold group. If they do it, they’re in the gold group. If they don’t, sometime before, usually early July, we’ll kind of correct the recommendation. I know it seems harsh. I think that what we’ve been able to do is, there’s one in place 10 years ago. They are in place now. What they protect is the 80%, the 80%.
I think USA Swimming and I could be wrong here. A couple of years ago, I think the retention was 67% less the retention rates for swimmers coming back year to year. Our goal is 80, our goal is 80%. Now our goal is above that. If we are leaving 80% of the kids that are committing one step at a time to more and more and more, those are eventually going to be your best kids. They may not be the most talented but they’re going to be your best kids. They’re going to be the kids that commit. The kids that you know are excited. They have great friends. They have life long relationship and they’re going to keep getting better because you keep offering them more. So it’s that 80% that we’re looking for to move up. Yes, sir?
[audience member]: You could put yourself back to the mid-90s where you have 45 kids [Indiscernible] [45:08.0]
[LP]: Yes. We did very — and we’ll talk a little bit more about that, the next one with the boys you know, which is you find your, the best four boys that you got, two of them may be awful. You put them together and you tell them that you’re in the championship relay and you’re in [Indiscernible][0:45:35.4] group, all season long and whether, all you can do is separating out their lanes and give them one more practice to come to, you separate them. I mean I know that when we did that with, we did that with Todd. We basically had to — I think that no matter what size you are, you have to create a gold group for your kid to get into, a gold level. Whatever you want to call it, elite, platinum, whatever you want to call it. We’ll call it gold. You’ve got to create a level for that kid to say, “I want to excel to that level. I want to get in there.” Or, “I am at that level. I’m one of our best.” They may be have [Indiscernible 46:11.6], I’m one of the best. I’m going to be on this relay. I could go to the state championships. Yes! That’s going to motivate a kid. To be [Indiscernible][0:46:22.4], you have no idea how good that kid’s gonna be when they finally start growing at 14 or 15. You just need to keep him in, you got to keep him in. That’s actually how you grow a really good senior team. You keep a lot of kids who look very untalented but willing to hold the standards in the sport for six years. Also, they turn into completely different kids, very often.
So I would say, I know I coached a group of maybe 6, 11, 12-year olds who are not gold group at that time. I think four out of six, I think five out of six scored at the state championship. That’s your goal. You know, is could I have kept [Indiscernible][0:47:08.4]? Yeah. You had that at 11, 12-year old but they needed something — we needed to divide it so that there was a place to build to. So again, it’s a framework. Put the framework in even if it’s a little thin. You build her in and [Indiscernible][0:47:24.8] right now is what I think. So that was the way that we started when I had 45, which is you pick those four to eight kids that were your best and then define the standards around them. Any other questions? Yes, sir?
[indiscernible question from audience]
[LP]: Take more kids. Blow up, put a whole bunch of them in there. That to me is — I know it sounds awful but I’ve never had 10 kids in a lane and have 20 parents going, “Do something”. I think with [Indiscernible][0:48:19.4] levels program, we want this coach but this is a bad situation. They’re not evaluating the program as a bad program, they’re evaluating the situation as a bad situation and then you get, then you begin to deputize those parents that are going down. I need you to go out and, “Hey, help us find some more program, help us. You know what’s it going to take to build a train? What’s it going to [Indiscernible 48:43.0] to go across town. I think to me it’s not wrong. I think the only way you get parents on board with radical change is to swell like that any way. I think as long as they’re comfortable, they don’t really want it to change. Most of the parents don’t want you to get bored unless they’re your treasure, they want things right to stay at the exact same way they are. That’s my experience.
All right, let’s see. That is all we talked about this session. If you have any more questions, I’m happy to ask and then we’ll talk some more stuff at 2:30. Yes, ma’am?
[audience member]: Your experience with the summer camp convention [Indiscernible][0:49:34.4]
[LP]: Absolutely. I think there’s a, if they’ve quit all together, they have to be re-evaluated. I think that we’ll do that, you know make them jump through a little bit of a hoop. We have kids that, especially at the age group program, they walk out all the time and then they walk back in six months later. Some parents sometimes have a hard time and go, “But they were in the gold group?” Yes. But now they need to start back in the silver group now. I think we probably lost one in five coming back because we wouldn’t put them back in the gold group. Again, it’s the 80% you’re aiming for. So, yes sir?
[indiscernible question from audience]
[LP]: To get them in? Recruiting. We’ll talk about that next time. It will take a moment or two. All right. Thank you for coming. If you have any questions afterwards, let me know.
My name is Mary Anne Gerzanick-Liebowitz. I’m the assistant coach at Oregon State University and I have the honor today of introducing to you Leigh Robbins-Peterson. She is a Senior Development Gold coach with NOVA of Virginia where she was a swimmer and team captain for over 10 years. Her coaching experience spans all levels from novice through developing numerous state championships and nationally ranked swimmers. She was honored in May of 2000 with the Age Group Coach of the Year for Virginia Swimming and then again in 2005 as a Senior Coach of the Year for the State of Virginia. So please help me welcome Leigh Robbins-Peterson.
Thank you for coming or thank you for coming back—one or the other. Give me an idea, how many of you were here at 9:15 this morning? All right, all right. Good retention. See, that’s good. If I am going to talk about, I got to be able to do it. Let’s see, where shall we start?
I’m here to talk about, for those of you that weren’t here this morning I’ll give you a brief overview of where we are, and then we’re going to dive right back in to talking about the principles of growth. Let’s see. Here is my outline for the talk. Half of this we’ve already talked about this morning. I truly believe that any program can grow by 50% in a three-year period, three-season period. I think it takes a plan.
My experience with the two teams I’ve been with in 15 years, we’ve grown by more than that number and it’s been pretty strategic. So everything that I’m talking about is really based in my experience and the experience and wisdom of those around me; a lot of trial and error, and a lot of experimentation and thinking outside of the box. We talked about your goals. What kind of program you want to be and then we began talking about principles for growth.
This morning, we talked about allocating experienced staff to younger entry levels. We talked about restructuring and reorganizing. We talked about what you re-organize around, what your values are, and we talked a lot about standards for entry levels and enforcing them. And I think I know that’s where a lot of the questions came and I just want to encourage you that I don’t think they’re easy decisions. I don’t think anytime you hold standards to children and to their families that it’s very easy.
I could tell you from the experience of our staff it helps very much to have the entire staff on board. I think especially as an age group coach, if you’re being asked to enforce the standards, you may occasionally need to have the head coach come in and be a part of enforcing those standards. If you’re the head coach of your program, I think that the weight of your opinion and the weight of your voice helps a lot when you have to enforce standards. And I think with every single time you do it, it gets easier and it makes your program better.
So I think that it’s tough. I think some of you that are in smaller programs where you don’t have a lot of people to kind of stand next to you and you’re struggling with a decision, talk to another coach about it. Get a second opinion from a coach, from somebody that I think can see it from your perspective in terms of how you hold standards that you know and believe are the right thing to do and are just under tremendous pressure to give in possibly.
So we spent some time talking about principle four and now we’re going to talk about five, six, seven, and eight today. We’re going to talk about some of the traps I think that swim coaches and swim programs fall into and to thinking that they can’t grow. And finally, we’ll talk about how to be action oriented. And I just want to mention that a couple of you have asked for copies of this. Don’t feel like you need to write all of this down; or even today. You’re going to be able to download this entire thing on the ASCA website. So you can have a copy of this as you need to.
So let’s see. Like I said, I believe you can grow more than 50% in three years, three seasons. I think it takes time. I think you’ve got to spend some developmental time. You got to do some hard work. I come from a program that right now is about 750 swimmers. In the last 10 years, we’ve grown from 250 and we built a second pool in that time to help sustain our growth. Let’s see. We talked about identifying the goals, your strengths and weaknesses, and here are eight principles.
And let’s start with #5, the easy one: establishing specific retention strategies for boys, and how to identify potential scores. How big is your boys team? How big do you want your boys team to be? Or better yet, do you want a boys team? I think for some people that may be the question. I think you have to address their needs specifically. I think we’re a sport that’s going to struggle continuously to keep boys in. We compete with many other sports or we compete with pressure from stereotypes. I think there are a lot of reasons.
Number one thing: boys need other boys. They absolutely need other boys. I’ll tell you, if you’ve got 5 boys in the pool, and 3 of them are A swimmers and 2 of them are B swimmers and those 2 boys are awful and they’re all friends, put them all together. All my group standards stuff, I think that you’ve got to sometimes take some desperate measures and be willing to coach some lower levels boys just to keep boys with other boys because otherwise you’re going to lose the good ones and you’re going to lose the bad ones. No boy is going to stay in this sport where they get beat-up by girls five-times-a-week—it’s just not going to happen.
13-14 is the first stage that our best boys at NOVA even begin to catch up in training with our best girls. So you’re a boy at eight, you’re doing okay. Nine, ten, now you’ve been around these girls for a couple of years. They know you. They’re verbally running you down. You’re still getting beat up by them. They’re faster than you. Why are you going to stay in this sport? Your next door neighbor’s playing soccer and it’s a whole bunch of boys to run around with. You’re going to lose them.
You’ve got to protect them. You’ve got to keep them together. You’ve got to recognize that that is an issue. They’ll quit the sport no matter how good they are. They’re going to be if that’s the environment that they have to come to practice. I think the other you have to recognize to keep boys in the sport is they don’t listen as well as girls. They don’t listen as well as girls and they don’t train as well girls.
I know I’ve heard some very successful senior coaches talking about that. Girls are really the anchor of your training program. Girls in general are more consistent in training. Boys oftentimes can do better things at the senior level and practice. But nine times out of ten it’s the girls that drive the consistency and it’s the boys that drive the racing. So I think that you’ve got to understand that the 13 and under level, they’re not listening. They don’t care. You’re just going to have to accept that.
Sometimes I think it helps us when you’ve got a large group of boys and 80% of them aren’t listening. We’ll split the group up boys and girls. If you haven’t ever tried that it works amazingly. I think we’d probably do it more often if we had the staffing and everything especially at the age group levels. The boys train better with boys and they enjoy themselves more. It’s just a very different environment. We do boys outings. Just the boys team will go bowling or just the boys team will go out and do some things out so you’ve got to develop the friendship amongst those boys.
Let’s see… boys need other outlets. We’re constantly trying to think of things to do that will keep their interests and their short attention spans. Dry lands, I think that being creative in dry lands is a given. Building dry lands in the practice is a much more athletic thing where they don’t get so beat up by the girls. Water polo, they’re not getting beat up by the girls. Wall ball, I think we’ve got tennis balls all over our place. I don’t really know how it goes but they don’t break anything so. There’s a lot of wall ball going on.
Head to head racing in practice; I don’t know how your practices go but I think boys have much fun when they get to beat somebody or get up and try to race. I think a lot of head to head racing is something that you’re going to get that’s going to get the boys excited. Boys need competition. Every single meet we go to that scored will be real public within team meetings about what the girls’ score is and what the boys’ score is. Boys are getting beat by 200 points by the girls. I think that the boys are going to respond to that. And I think we’ve seen our boys team grow as they’ve risen up to the level of the girls team.
So I think you can be a lot more competitive and point out the competition a lot more amongst boys. But again, I think you have to have a specific retention strategy for them, I think. And I’ll be honest with you. As a female standing up here, my first choice is to have a guy coaching with me as an assistant if I’m coaching boys. That’s just the reality. And I would say vice versa in a lot of these age group programs. Male and female coaches are going to help a lot partnering together with retention. It’s going to make a big difference. And that’s something that we try to focus a lot on when we’re thinking through our staff decisions.
So that’s principle five. Oh, the other thing that I wanted to talk about with this is how to identify your scores. We talked a little bit about this. I think when you’re thinking about putting boys together, what we do, and I think I know what I did when I was at a much smaller program. Trying to figure out who needs to be in a group together, trying to figure out how to keep boys together, is basically look at your group, look at your ages. For championship season, say March championship season, what boys are still going to be 10, what boys are still going to be 12? And then you’ll look down at times. You’ll go, “Okay. These are the best eight boys I’ve got.”
Some of them may be terrible. Find the best eight boys. Keep them together all year even if some of them aren’t so great. Same goes for the girls in every group. Find your A relay. Find your B relay. Even if that A relay and the B relay isn’t going to make the state championships for three years. Find them. Keep them together. Sell them on the idea of success. Sell them on the idea that they’re one of your best swimmers. Sell them the idea of making the state championships for relay.
If all you take the first year that you’re aiming for the state championships is relays, hey, you’ve got to get you out scoring. I mean, you’ve got to get you out scoring. You got a shot at getting this, some of your kids, a medal. I think that you have to aim for that. And you need to sell the idea of being your team’s best all year long. So I think it’s important to, six months ahead, identify who could be that score, who’s the best you’ve got, and develop them together.
All right, let’s talk about meets. Principle number six; choose meets that keeps swimmers and parents in the sport. For disclosure, that is the husband and daughters that I’m trying to keep in the sport. Let’s see. How does your meet schedule help your retention and development? I think every season when you’re putting together a meet schedule you have to ask that question. Not just, “What’s on the state’s meet schedule? What meets are we going to?” But, “Is this the right meet to go to?”
Don’t to a meet that was terrible last year. Take it off your schedule. Identify what the problem was with that meet and maybe you need to get rid of it. Maybe you want to be better prepared for it but a lot of the times, find a different meet. I think choosing meets that keeps swimmers and the parents in the sport involve really thinking outside of the box.
If you come from an area where you’re going to some meet where the kid has to swim a five or six-hour swim meet session. They have to swim Friday night. They’ve got swim early Saturday morning. They’ve got to swim early Sunday morning. They’ve got to get to a meet the next weekend to swim their A events. They’ve got to do this at age 9, or really, age 11 or age 12. I promise you, within three years, the parent is going to try to be talking their kid out of that sport. It’s just tough. Think about that when you’re putting together your meet schedule.
For us, we don’t need our eight and unders to do a whole lot. We’d love to see — we try to put together one meet a month that has an eight and under session to it. Our eight and under sessions lasts a total of an hour and fifteen minutes plus warm-up. They swim three events. You award six-year olds against six-year olds, seven-year olds against seven-year olds, eight-year olds against eight-year olds. You give everybody ribbons and you do a lot teaching and developing.
And the parents feel really good because they haven’t been at a big, sweating at an auditorium all day. They’ve gotten to see their kid and their kid’s won a ribbon. All right, and we don’t have to do this again for a month. So I think that protecting your eight and unders a little bit, or maybe if you’re in a position where you don’t have that kind of meet, maybe you just ask your eight and unders to go to one day. Don’t go Saturday and Sunday. Do the one and think about long-term development when you think about what you’re asking of your eight and unders; even your ten and unders.
For us, team travel is a big deal. And I think if you ask your parents, for us, it’s our parents’ dream. A couple of times a year we try to put together meets where we’re taking the kids. Where we’re putting them on a bus, where we’re traveling to these meets. We do it both at the senior level and the age group level and we try to do it. There are certain points there where you have to. It’s a select meet and there are certain times that we’ll take our BB-BC level kids on a team travel trip. They love it. They look forward to it. They get excited by it. I mean, it’s absolutely more work. You got to do some real planning.
But in terms of retention, it keeps them involve. It’s a weekend away from home. It’s a weekend of fun that’s structured and you’re developing long-term friendships while you’re doing it. So we try to really work in team travel. We probably travel seven or eight times a year as a team. I think actually a smaller team can do more. I mean, we’re in a position where we’ve got a lot kids that we can’t do that with. But we try to do that all the time.
Dual meets. What’s great about college swimming? How many senior swimmers have you had to say, “Just wait until you get to college, you’ll like swimming again,” because the dual meets are fun. Dual meets are great. That’s what keeps college swimmers excited for four years. Its head to head racing that lasts a couple of hours. Find a team that’s about your size and put together an annual dual meet in October. Put together an annual dual meet post-championship season. Something that has a different format that’s fun but that the kids will enjoy and look forward to.
I think open water is a great new avenue for doing something different that I think a lot of kids and a lot of parents enjoy. Look for open water opportunities. We’ve tried to do two or three team events a year and open up all the opportunities. And hey, you’re developing your distance program.
Select meets. This is one of those things that a couple of those meets a year we try to go to meets where you have to qualify, where you have to be selected. This is a coach’s decision. We’re going to take our best 16 ten-year olds or best 16 twelve-year olds or best 16 thirteen or fourteen-year olds, and our best 32 seniors, and we’re going to go head to head. There was a time where we went head to head against [Indiscernible] [00:17:25]. There was a time where we’ll do that in the fall against Curl-Burke and RMSC and some of those other teams where you have to make that meet.
I mean, as tough as it sounds, that’s what’s going to keep kids swimming is. And that’s what’s going to keep kids excited about a meet. It’s a little different. It’s a little bit more fun. And they go, “What do I have to do to make the meet? What do I have to do? Well, this is 11-year old year. Do you think I’m going to make it?” “No. But I think you’re going to make it your 12-year old year, I think. So maybe we’ve got you hooked for another year if that was a big deal meet for you. I think we have a lot of meets where you have to have one A time to qualify. You’ll get on the bus.”
Put a standard on going to meets. That makes it something they really, really want to do, really get excited about doing, and that the parents feel like it’s an honor and not a burden to go to. So I think we try to do that a lot. I think you need to find qualifying meets other than nationals to go to. How many qualifying meets do your kids get to go to a year in your age group program? I mean, I think you’ve got the state championships; or the regional champions, the state championships.
Find some other qualifying meets. I know this has been huge in our retention numbers for our 15 and overs. And I know I’m supposed to be talking about age group but you turn 15 and if you’re not a junior national level somewhere, you’re not even going to make it back at the state championships. So you’re not even swimming trials and finals anymore. I mean, you’ve got at least two to three years before you even possibly in all honestly make it back.
And so you’re actually reducing the number of times they’re competing. You’re making it harder for them to get better. You’ve actually — no. So we’ve actually had to work pretty hard to find meets that a 15 and over can go to that isn’t at the national level yet. They can make it back. One of the things we do is we go out to zones as an option. But I think — and we sell that pretty hard to our older kids. But we also go out to California every year. The kids that aren’t Nationals, we’ll take them out to Far Westerns [the meet].
I’ve got 15, 16, 17 and 18-year olds that’ll never make the Junior National level, that are in this sport because once a year they get to go to California for a week. That’s the power of a meet. You put something big and exciting and fun out there, they’re going to keep going. So don’t just do the same old thing, don’t just go the same old meets. Don’t just have your kids swimming against the same eight kids season in and season out. It’s going to hurt your retention. They’re going to get bored. They’re going to quit.
Principle seven, have or partner with a feeder program has got to be a priority and for growth. Are you growing your number of swimmers? When I showed you earlier in the day NOVA’s profile in 2000, we have about 250 swimmers. We had one 10-lane pool. We’re probably making about $20,000 on lessons. We have two pools now but we’re still primarily a swim team. We still have to work on fitting all of our swimmers in there. We still have a lessons program that runs primarily on the weekends like a Saturday-Sunday lessons.
We have the pre-kindergarten lessons that go on during the day and then we have a summer program. And we probably clear over $100,000 a year now. So we’d like to do better. I think that there’s — but just like anything else, you can grow this as well. I think you can also connect with an existing program. I mean, if you don’t have your own pool water, if you don’t have your own pool time, there’s got to be a swim lessons program in the area even if it’s only in the summer. Put your senior swimmers in those lessons programs. Somehow connect them.
It’s not that you, the coach, are going to go out and teach in these summer league lessons programs or in these summer programs or in these Y programs but put your senior swimmers in them. Put your senior swimmer in them. The more that you have your senior swimmers connecting with these Learn-to-Swim kids, the more kids you’re going to get fed into your program. And that’s a big deal.
Right now, NOVA employs close to 50 of our own 13&Over swimmers in our lessons program. Not only does it better connect the kids learn lessons but it provides summer jobs. It provides weekend jobs. How many of your kids needs to kind of do some part-time work and they go, “Oh, I can’t commit to the practice schedule?” “We’ll work around that. Work for us, work for us.” Or get them a job, that kind of thing.
I know we have one of our swimmers that went on to swim at the Naval Academy, was 16, Kelly Zahalka, and she was teaching in our lessons program. And she had this girl that was — she had mostly these five and six-year old little kids that she was teaching breaststroke and backstroke to. And she had this one eight-year old girl that was just really learning to swim and Kelly came to our head coach, Jeff, and said, “This girl is going to be really good.”
“This girl you’ve got. I know she’s old for lessons but she’s going to be really good. You need to go come in this weekend and watch her swim. Talk to her mom. You got to get her on the team.” And that girl ended up being Blair Carnes who scored at senior nationals this year as a 15-year old girl. I mean, sometimes it’s not just about numbers. It’s about putting people with your kids that can find those next kids. So we believe in that. I think we grow from 250 to 750 one kid at a time. So I think you’ve got to be thinking that way.
Let’s see. And just like growing your program, I think it’s a three-year investment. You’re not going to once you get water all of a sudden have a $20,000 lessons program. You may have to teach 10 kids for the first year, 10 to 15 kids, in a Learn-to-Swim program the first year. Maybe you’re doing it on Sundays. Maybe you’re doing it once a month. Maybe you’re doing it for free to be really honest with you.
If you’ve got nothing, maybe you’re doing it for free on Sundays once a month. Maybe you’re doing an outreach program. Whatever it is, you’ve got to start with something. And then I promise you that that will grow. That if you’re intentional, that if you have a plan, that anytime you start something like that and you have a plan for growth and you begin to think about the ways to do it then it’ll grow. But it doesn’t just start off being successful.
I know with NOVA, the — what is it; Swim America is a great program that you can dial into. That’s not what we do. We’ve got about 200 years of experience on our staff. We teach our own senior swimmers how to teach. We certify them. We have a Red Cross person certify them in water safety and we teach them how to teach. And then they’re NOVA certified and then we give them a job. I think that, again, think about how you can grow. That’s what we do. And it’s one of the ways that is absolutely critical to us growing.
Last principle; deputize people who can influence recruiting. I have found that a coach, myself, one of my co-workers, that me talking to someone that I have never met before and just saw swimming a summer league program rarely gets a kid in the door. Rarely. I mean, I would say 20%-25% at a time. Otherwise, they probably just think it’s weird and I’m weird, whatever that is. 75% of the time, the people that walk in the door to NOVA are there because one of their kid’s friends swims at NOVA, because one of their co-workers has a son that swims at NOVA, or they have a summer league coach that they know and trust and love that has said, “You ought to go try out for NOVA.”
It’s rarely me. So I do think it’s good and I think every coach out there has to go do some serious recruiting and go put your face out there and your name out there. But I think the most important thing is to deputize the people. It’s to find a way incentivize those people, friends, kid’s friends, families, summer league coaches, to help you out in getting kids into the program.
So how do we do that? Well, we pay them to be really honest with you. And I think you can consider that. Any parent that has an existing NOVA family member that brings a family in, they get a discount on their membership for that year. Whatever it is, I’m not sure what it is, whether it’s $100, for every family that you bring-in, off of what you’re going to pay. But, yeah, if they come in. And all of our evaluation sheets will say, “Who recommended you? Who sent you to NOVA?” That person’s going to be incentivized financially.
For summer league coaches, if a summer league coach decides they want to send their kids to us we pay them $50 for every single kid. It’s worth that to us to get those kids into our door. So I think us, we do a lot. I mean, obviously we don’t do that for high school coaches. But I think having a good relationship with high school coaches, good relationship with summer league coaches; in fact we try to put a lot of our senior swimmers in those summer league coaching positions.
A lot of our younger coaches, a lot of our part-time coaches, we encourage them into the high school coaching positions as well. I think we want to have as many people that are connected to NOVA also connected to these feeder programs. So we try to think that way. We do a lot of clinics and we do clinics 100% of the time for recruiting. We do summer league clinics every spring where each team can come in and bring their coach and then we provide a NOVA coach to do that. Not just that they come into our pool but that we provide coaching for their summer leagues as a clinic to get them ready.
We do high school swimming clinics. There’s a group of swimmers out there that swim for high school only. Well, they don’t really want to be a part of our senior team so we do a high school, we do high school clinics. We do a summer league coaches clinic where we will invite summer league coaches into kind of talk about how to coach. Again, get them in the door. They’re going to send them to us.
Name recognition; I mean, you want your name out there in the community. You want people in the community connecting you back to them. We sponsor a kids run. We’re involved with a local triathlon. Other things like that. Get your name out there. These are all ways of getting again, it’s like, “Oh, so much work; championship season, swimmers, coaching.” I coach every morning at 4:30 in the morning five days a week. I understand how you don’t want to spend your weekend on this. “I don’t want to do this.”
But this really, you got to do this. This is how you’re going to grow. And I think if you look at it as a three-season investment, you’re going to build something that you can then hand over that maybe somebody else is doing it. It’s the hard work of growing your swimmers. So that’s the eighth and final principle. I think that all eight are useful and effective to us. I think some of them you absolutely can use and help you be effective. So let’s talk about some of the traps.
You can get trapped in a thinking growth is something that you can’t control or maybe that you don’t want. And I’ll say this, what I said this morning, which is most of your parents don’t want you to grow. Don’t think that you’re allies in this. They want their kids to have more attention and more space. So unless they’re your treasure and maybe if they’re on your board but necessarily will they be interested in helping you grow. I think that what you need to recognize is it’s your idea. It’s your vision. It’s what you want to do. So I think there’s some ways of thinking that keep what could be very good programs from growing.
Number one thing, and I’ve mentioned it a couple of times because I think I’ve kind of been through it, that that attitude of, “I just want to coach. If the kids do well then we’ll get more kids. That’s how we’re going grow. I’m just going to be a good coach. We’re going to have a good coach. This is it. This is what I want to do. All these other stuff, these leadership stuff, these development stuff, it’s not for me. Maybe we’ll get a parent or the president of our board to do that.” I think that you’re pretty limited there. I think you’ll have a little success if you’re producing a lot of really successful kids. But I think you have to have a bigger plan other than that.
Number two, a bad way of thinking is, “We won’t grow until we have more water.” When I showed you that, the growth plan of going from 250 to 750, we fit 750 people into 20 lanes of short course water. So I don’t know if how many of you all thought about how we do that but it’s hard. But one of the ways that — but in order to grow, we’ve had to answer how you do that so 20 lanes, 1 day, 750 kids coming to the program.
One of the ways that we do that is we have three senior levels. We have a senior development gold A, which is basically a regional level group of swimmers up to junior national level swimmers. We have a senior silver group, which is 14 to 18-year olds that want to commit seven practices a week that are state level to Olympic trial level. And then we have our national team, which is our highest level group. All three of those groups, their primary practice every day is 4:30 to 6:30 in the morning so one of the ways we grew is by moving to the mornings.
We have over a hundred swimmers swim every morning at 4:30 to 6:30 before they go to school. And most of them don’t come back again during the day. So now, we’re able in the afternoons, to bring in our 12 and under programs, to have plenty of space to grow that way. Have you thought about that? Have you thought about it? It’s not an easy thing to think about. But to be very honest with you, it works really well.
And in fact, I believe, after doing this for 10 years, getting up at 4am every morning, that it helps our retention, that kids love it, that we probably have 90% retention in our 14 and over groups that swim in the morning. And in fact, if you went and interviewed our senior teams, 50% of them would say — good kids, 50% of them, our junior national level teams, would say, “Yeah. I probably would have quit if I hadn’t moved to the mornings.” That’s what they’ll say. And they say that because they’re involved in their high school. They get to be involved.
[audience member]: Do they get to do doubles?
[LP]: Yes. So the doubles question then becomes, well, one of our morning groups, you don’t have to do doubles. You can swim six mornings a week if that’s your commitment level. That’s our regional level swimmer. Our secondary group, the senior silver level, they’re required to do seven practices a week. They’ve got to make one double. We do some strengths training in there too so they have to come back one after, maybe two, they can do one to two doubles a week.
And our senior team, the average of our senior team is eight to nine practices a week. And so they’re doing three afternoons a week, two to three afternoons a week. But it doesn’t feel quite the same as Monday through Friday all afternoon. And again, that’s the very elite. I mean, I’m talking about a team of 750 and we have 20 kids in that group. I mean, there are 20 at that level. So the majority of our program, our masters team only swims in the morning so they’re the fourth group that squeezes in to our 20 lanes in the morning.
And again, I think it helps with retention and I know it helps with growth. And I think its thinking way outside of the box. And I also think that the kids, when they’re getting up at the same time every day, it’s actually much easier. I think that the hard thing is when their alarm is going off. It’s tough. I’m not sure they ever really get used to it. But we tell our kids when they move to the mornings that it’s going to take three to six weeks.
You’re going to take that slow slide down to about 80% and we’re going to train at 80%. But that’s kind of like real life. How many of you woke up this morning feeling 100%, feeling awesome, ready to go? No. That’s not real life. Real life is getting out feeling 50-80% and then training it that way and then we’ll rest you and you’ll be fine.
[audience member]: Do you have any that support a home school program?
[LP]: We don’t. It’s something that, yeah, it’s one of those things where we have obviously a growing group of home school kids that are fitting well into — we’ve got home school kids that do the 4:30 mornings. Then we have the home school kids in the afternoon. So right now they fit in. It’s not a big enough need for us. It’s something that we thought of before and eventually may need to do to grow. But it’s absolutely a way to think about growing and making more room one kid at a time.
So think the idea that you’re not going to grow until you have more water I think you should be out looking for water all the time but I think you can think about new ways, early morning water, later in the evening water, weekend water, whatever it is, swimming in a pool that — I remember growing up swimming in a “yeaters” pool. A pool that wasn’t yards and it wasn’t meters. It was somewhere in between. That the way I train mostly growing up. I know all my “yeaters” times.
I think that another trap in thinking is that “if we build it they will come” myth. I don’t know how many of you are swim coaches who work seven days a week or churchgoers but there’s this great example of a pastor coming into an area and going, “I think I’m going to start a mega church, one of those big churches that have like a thousand people and fill a basketball stadium, that’s the kind of church I’m going to have. So we need to build a stadium that big and as soon as we build a thousand-person church we’re going to have a thousand people in there.” It’s not going to happen.
Why don’t you just go rent out the little local church-size thing and why don’t you grow until the doors are falling off. That’s actually how you grow something. And I think that there’s definitely a way of — that’s the only way we’ve grown. I mean, we built two pools because we’ve been bursting out at the seams, I mean just absolutely bursting, that until the point where it was so obvious and it was such a need that people became interested enough to help us built what we needed right then. I mean, we built small. But we built successfully and we’ve been able to grow.
I remember talking to a coach, a good coach, that had just built his own pool, a training pool, about 12 years ago and I remember asking how he was going and him thinking, “God, I just must be the best thing ever.” If you have your water that’s the dream, you know how it is. And he said, “I feel like Jonah right after he shot Moby Dick. And all of a sudden, Jonah’s got the harpoon in the Moby Dick and Moby Dick’s swimming off.” And he said that, “I feel like I’ve just attached myself to a whale.”
I think owning your own water has its own problems; big, massive electric bill problems. So I think that that’s one way to grow. But it’s not the only way to grow. And I think if you’re waiting until you get new water to grow you’re waiting for the wrong thing.
The last way of thinking, I think that idea that you need more staff to be better or to grow, and you can afford new staff, it’s the money thing. I can tell you, we have 750 swimmers. We have eight fulltime staff. We probably have five part-time staff. But mostly 90% of our kids are coached by fulltime coaches. Each coach, each fulltime coach, coaches’ two groups that they own and most of us assist with the third group, depending on the day of the week.
I mean, I know every kid that walks in the door. I mean, that’s us. I think that that’s an important thing for us. But that’s the way we do it. And we would love to have more staff but I don’t think you can wait for it. Again, I just think that you’ve got to not for growth I think it’ll happen. Once you’re growing and it becomes an obvious need and there you are.
So I think you just kind of dismiss, hopefully I’m just trying to burst some of the — change the way some of you are thinking. Some of the things you see as obstacles I think can be overcome. Thinking outside of the box, thinking different ways, applying different principles, I think that that’s what some of you need to begin to start growing again.
Let’s talk a little bit about some of the problems that come along with growth. Some of you may be right there right now. I think anytime you’re going from being a small team to a medium-sized team, anytime you get from being a medium-sized team to a large-sized team, all of a sudden nothing is working anymore. And I think staffing is one of those.
The one thing I’ll say about staffing once you’ve grown is don’t just create positions, find the right people. I mean, I would rather work twice as much and not hire the really bad coach as opposed to waiting for the right coach, that coach that’s going to actually help grow your program. So find the right person and that’s what’s really going to help grow your program. Don’t just hire out of a panic. It rarely works.
Space is obviously one. I think you have to look into the future. Every January, we start looking at what our numbers are going to be for next September if we apply 80% retention. Like here’s where we see these kids going. That also means that we’ve got 80 12-year olds that are all of a sudden going to be 13 and now they need two hours of space, and now they need — their going to practice more, they’re bigger bodies. What are we going to do with them?
We begin in January in planning for needing more space. If you try to start planning after the short course season your parents have checked out. Don’t ever start a building program or implement anything new from May to July. Nobody cares, nobody, no parent, no volunteer. They don’t care. At least that’s my experience; that you’ve got to have your plan and put it in place by January for the following year if you actually want to get people on board.
Let’s see, all issues that have come from our problems of growth, changes to our board of directors, changes in how we do our finances. We had to hire a full-time business manager so now we don’t just have full-time coaches we now have a full-time business manager. And that was a huge issue when it was growing. You handle people money’s well they’re much more likely to come back. I mean, if you handle it poorly and they feel like you’re nickel and diming them, that’s helped with our retention tremendously, is getting better hold of our finances.
[indiscernable question from the audience]
[LP]: No. All the recommendations, all the swimming stuff, it’s directed from the coaches to the coaches.
[audience member]: And who signs for all of that?
[LP]: All coaches. The business manager just signs them up, charges the money, I honestly think there was probably a time before we hired a full-time business manager where like 40% of the people were probably not really getting billed. It was awful. I mean, it was just bad. It’s a lot of money that you’re losing.
Communications have had to change dramatically. We’ve had to deal with a tremendous amount of those growth problems. And then answer the question of how do we plan on maintaining the quality when the numbers increase. And our belief is that every meet matters. We look at the percentage of best times for each group after every single meet. You keep that in the book.
And if you go to a meet that you had 25% best times, you need to do some serious reevaluating of that meet or what you’re doing or that group if you have a group that’s not producing at the level of the other groups. Find some way. Find some way to evaluate how you’re going to maintain the quality. For us, we do a lot of percentages. We look at every meet and we look at the results of every meet within every group. And that’s how we do it.
Let’s see. Finally, what can you begin to do next week when we all really go back to work? Some of you may have already been back to work. We’ve been on a break. Strategic growth is like a garden. If you want to see a fruit in two years you’ve got to start tilling the soil right now. I think it’s a tough time right this second to make changes for this year. But I do think that you could spend three months reevaluating and I think by January you could have some clearly defined goals.
You can have some people on board. You can have staff-wide decisions. You can identify your strengths and your weaknesses. I think you absolutely have to attack your weaknesses first, come up with a plan and then a timeline for how you’re going to fix it. I mean, you may begin in January having identified the weak areas, knowing how you want to change them. And it may take you the next six months to find the right coach or to find the water to make the change so you put the change in place by the spring when people register for the fall.
I mean, it’s a year of planning really. So I think you begin that. Shake up your meet schedule. Take a look at it. Maybe you can’t shake up your fall schedule, shake up your spring schedule. Do something different. We tell swimmers all the time there are hundreds of ways to get faster. There really are. There’s not just one way. There’s not just one result. There’s hundreds of ways. I think there’s hundreds of ways for your program to grow and I think it’s just a matter of doing something different.
So that’s all I have. I’m happy to answer any questions that you may have. Yes, dear?
[indiscernable question from the audience]
[LP]: We don’t, to be honest with you. We have a marketing committee and it’s the committee we all hate the most. We don’t think they’re ever doing anything for us. It drives us nuts, the marketing committee. Again, I think that’s something where you’ve got to use the resources of your people. You try to get your name in the news a little bit. You try to get on TV a little bit.
I think some of the most effective marketing that we’ve done, we started hosting a one-mile kids run and we’ve gone into the public school systems and we’ve aimed for the gym teachers in the public school systems. They get kids out running and then we promote the heck out of swimming. And we actually pay the schools. Like whichever school has the most kids participate they win money. So again, I think it’s financially incentivizing our people I think that’s been one of our most effective things recently.
[indiscernable question from the audience]
[LP]: Yes, there are volunteers. We have volunteer hours. I would think its 12 volunteer hours. It’s not a whole lot. We have some other things. We do script where I think they can work off their certain amount of volunteer hours for meets we host that they’re obligated to. There’s other ways. Chaperoning team travel trips, that wipes out you entire — it’s such an awful job that it wipes out all of your volunteer things for the whole year. So we do that a lot. Our senior, our senior parents and our seniors, they don’t have to do any volunteer hours; again, just trying to thank them for sticking around for 10 years.
[indiscernable question from the audience]
[LP]: Yes. We’ve actually been able to, not for very long and I don’t know that most programs can do this, but recently we’ve said you don’t have to your first year. Again, how do you keep a kid? How do you keep them in? You don’t overload that experimental year or that experimental season. So the first season we don’t and then after that we do. Yes, sir?
[indiscernable question from the audience]
[LP]: It’s large. It’s not over — I mean, for us, we have wide lanes. We have a 25-meter pool. We swim yards. It’s a 25-yard by 25-meter pool so we have 10 lanes. We actually have a little bit bigger lanes. I would say, our lowest ratio is in our senior level group and that’s four to five to a lane and it goes up from there. And it probably doesn’t go up to more than, at the novice group level I mean, I would say we’d probably go up to 10.
They’re doing 25s. They’re doing things like that. But we’ll go up to seven or eight to be really honest with you. And the craziest year I’ve ever coached was the September, October, November, and December, before we opened our second pool. We actually had to go at 4:15 in the morning. We had to shorten all of our practices. We had almost 10 kids in the lane for 3 months.
But everybody knew that that’s the exact reason why we’re opening a new pool. So I think it was abundantly clear. I actually think as many kids as we have yet we’re not quite at that point where it’s obvious. So we focus a little bit on the numbers space-wise. We don’t over count heads yet. We don’t have to.
[audience member]: Do you give discounts for families that have multiple members?
[LP]: We do multiple family discounts, yeah.
[indiscernable question from the audience]
[LP]: No, we do a lot of stuff as it is. It’s just a lot of our time for 100% of recruiting effort. But we’ll just do like a one-time clinic for them, something like that.
[audience member]: How often do you host meets?
[LP]: We host 8 or 9 meets a year. A lot really, that’s a lot. That’s one of my jobs. One to two a month in the short course season, we don’t host any long course. We don’t have long course water but what we do in the summer is we host the summer league championships. So we have one of the big summer leagues in the area. We host that. We hosted the McCovey games this year so we’ll host some other things in the summer.
[indiscernable question from the audience]
Leigh: Absolutely. Our elementary schools that are local to us get out at 2:15 so we start at 2:30 and we encourage the parents to pick up their children, to get them there for that. I mean we’re blatant, I mean to be very honest with you. We have to start at 2:30. We couldn’t start at 3:00.
We used to all have our novice groups start at 3:30 and we actually had to go. So we would have these groups of 40 novice kids at 3:30 and then we said, “Now we’re going start a 2:30 group because we think some of you could get there,” so we had like six novice kids at 2:30.
So for a year, we’re putting one of our senior level coaches at the 2:30 practice with six kids but every single week we’re talking to the 3:30 group going, “You know, there’s a lot of kids in your lane but if you just went and picked your kid up from school just so you could get them here at 2:30 and then they’re going to have a one-to-six ratio and you get head coach Jeff all to yourself and the 2:30 group from there.”
I mean, I think we probably had two seasons where the 2:30 time was very small and now it’s as big as the 3:30 time. And we go to until 8:15 at night and we would love to not have to grow by going later but it’s a real possibility that we’ll have to. We don’t on Sundays. We have Saturday. We have practice through Saturdays.
[audience member]: How did it started, for your senior groups to do that [Indiscernible] [00:52:31]?
[LP]: It started so long ago. It probably started ‘96. Maybe a little bit before that. And there wasn’t a lot of resistance.
[audience member]: How did you get the parents to buy into this? [Indiscernible] [00:52:57].
[LP]: Yeah. We’ll, you know what, I think that’s again one of the things that you identify as a, “Here’s the way we are going to grow. You want your kid to get in there eight practices a week they’re going to have to come six mornings.” And maybe you only have eight that first year but those eight kids are going to get better. They’re going get different results.
I mean, there’s a certain thing to getting the minority to commit that creates and drives the change. And within the second year it becomes mentally more palatable. By the third year it’s accepted common practice. And then the reality is that the kids like it, anything the kids — and the parents like it and are not probably are — we have our team vision but probably the imprints to this is, “I’d rather have a tired teenager than a bored teenager.” So most of our kids stay fairly tired and go to bed in between eight and nine every night and its fine. They do it.
[indiscernable question from the audience]
[LP]: That’s a great question. And one of the answers would be having your older kids — like with the kids that will come back for doubles, a lot of times if they have come back from a meet we’ll have them talk to the younger kids before practice. I think you can do things that connect the older kids and the young kids. We’ll have the older kids’ time for something.
We used to have a blue-red meet and we’d have like the older kids be coaches for the younger kids. I think you can ask some of your senior kids to come back in and talk about a big meet that they’d come back to. I think they just need to see them. I think that that’s the most important thing. But that is an important value for us that you keep them connected. We do a banquet. We do some activities.
And that’s where we’ll try to find a meet a couple times a year where we can send our whole team where the younger kids get to see our seniors. They are at the same meet, watching trials and finals. Excuse me. And so that’s what we do. But I think you want to keep that. I mean, I think that’s a great value to want to keep is to keep that continuity.
[audience member]: Is that on regular times or it changes on Christmas break or in the summer?
[LP]: Anytime we can change it, yes. But I mean, this summer we practice 5:30 so it went up an hour because we had everybody exactly — oh, there’s a world of difference between 4am and 5am. One’s actually early morning, one’s the middle of the night. There’s a huge difference.
So there is nothing better than the dead of winter when they’re done with practice and it’s still pitch black outside. You are like, “Oh, this is terrible.” But it’s fine. Yes, how they’re training we’ll make the adjustment. But again, we are still are thinking the large numbers and so we try to run all of our programs, like in the morning, during the summer with, so 5:30 is the latest that we’ll adjust it to; Saturday mornings or 5:30 instead of 4:30. So we give them that extra hour so they can go out to their high school football game.
Yes, sir? Oh, sorry.
[indiscernable question from the audience]
[LP]: We do it the best we can. We try with our entry level groups and our developmental level groups to offer an evening practice. So we’ll do — we have novice practices that are at 3:30 and 4:30 but then we also recognize the working parent by having — we try to have a 5:30 practice. And I mean the husband gets off at work at six but that’s it and then car pools I think work. You try to connect families and kids a little bit.
[indiscernable question from the audience]
[LP]: Many of the working family problems? Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely more and more. I mean I think that’s one of the things we’d like to do better is to be able to offer more later in the evening options for the working families. But I think and I guess we’re fortunate enough that, again, I think deputizing some of the other parents to help out. You know, “Hey, this kids coming from the same school. Can you give him a ride?” Those kinds of things are really what we’ll go and do that. Yes, sir?
[audience member]: [Indiscernible] [00:57:50]. I’ve not coached in South Carolina where it’s football. And that’s all you have when you happen to be in sports. My question is how do you or how would you suggest to reach out to families where football and basketball is king instead of all the other sports?
[LP]: Well, I think that’s definitely a sales job. I think you make the entry end of the sport an easy one. You make it very low commitment. I think you sell the — we have kids, our numbers spike after football season. I mean we have a group of kids that sign up in the fall but we don’t really them until November. And I think at 12 and under, you got to allow that.
You got to create some flexibility that says, “Yeah. You at 12 and under can do other sports. You can do this but come in.” And we actually think when you’re around long enough, and I think PVS has this too, which is every year in the newspaper we can look at the outstanding baseball players in the area, outstanding basketball players, and have of them swam at NOVA as age group kids. You go, “Look, it makes you better at every other sport.”
I mean, in terms of fitness, I mean I think you sell that. And then I think once you get them in you make them better. You get them successful. You develop that. I know that it’s one of the things we talked to parents about a lot too, and you know this as coaches, that kids will eventually end up becoming — all kids tend to either be individual sport-minded or team sport-minded. They just are. And it really is true. And the kids that end up choosing swimming it’s because they want to do it on their own.
They don’t want to be in a team. They don’t want the pressure of a team. They don’t like to be touched. I mean I have a former pro football player who has three sons on the team. One of them is probably a football player. The other two, they don’t want to hit. We don’t want to be touched. They love swimming. They like the mindset of it. They like the mechanics of it. We’re going to have these giant swimmers that should be laying in the NFL. Good. I think that they’re going to meet —
I grew up as a swimmer. My brother and my sister were probably as good as me. My sister went on to play professional soccer. I mean, they just wanted to be on a team. They didn’t care. Brother played college basketball. They just wanted to be on a team. It didn’t matter how good they were.
So I think it’s something to talk to a parent about. “Look, your kid really likes this. They like competing. They’re learning a lot of life lessons.” And really, at 12 or 13, you want to keep them being an athlete. You may need to find them an individual sport. I mean, I think there’s a bit of a sales job. You get them in. You make it a low commitment level to get them in and then you sell.
[indiscernable question from the audience]
[LP]: Yeah. Yeah, the lessons program start from the ground up absolutely. Yes, sir?
[audience member]: Regarding your team travel, A, how easy or hard it is to sell this to a parent, and B, how old enough will they go on a group?
[LP]: The youngest kid we’ll travel with honestly is eight. We’ll take that, but mostly nine. We’ve taken a few eight-year olds but mostly nine. We take our nine, ten-year olds twice a year on team travel. It’s a one-to-three ratio. We have a parent in every room with three kids. But the kids are learning to take care of themselves.
They began to take ownership over the swimming. They hang up their own towels. They clean up after themselves. They feel like a big deal. They learn. A lot of them have never even spent a night out before. But they’re an A swimmer and they’ve made this trip and all of their friends are going, and we’re going to the water park at the end of it.
So I think the parents that are reluctant, we encourage them to be chaperons. We take a ton of chaperons at 12 and under level. And the parents that aren’t worried about it, I think we have a trip manager that — we train the chaperons, every parent that chaperons have to go through a background check. I mean, it’s done professionally. I think it’s more safe than staying in the campus. So we do it right and I think it sells itself to the parents.
And what we have a lot of times is that a 10-year old that’ll go to zones is the only one that knows what they’re doing. So I think again, that’s something you develop. I think the first time we did it we just threw them on a bus and learned from our mistakes the hard way. Yes, ma’am?
[indiscernable question from the audience]
[LP]: On team travel trips we tape the door shut at night. We’re pretty strict. They have a code of conduct that they have to sign. We have to be; I mean, I think you have to be. And we’ve suspended kids. And I think you address it individually but I think that a lot of it starts in how you let them behave in practice and how much you jump on those things at practice. And then travelling, we’ve taken away. Travel trips are a big thing that they can lose, that they lose the opportunity going. The head coach’s son got pulled from a travel trip this year. Oh, that was bad.
[indiscernable question from the audience]
[LP]: For the lessons program. I would say we probably evaluate it by — for us, its growth. It’s something that grown consistently. Our average lessons kid will come in for three sessions but some of them will stay for two years worth of lessons before they’re ready to swim. So I think for us it’s all a matter of filling them up. We’re limited in our space. We’re limited in our time.
There was a time when we tried to do some for like home school kids I think really and it just didn’t work. It wasn’t — I think we probably let it go for a whole season and the numbers really weren’t there and so we cut it. I think we have a philosophy of teaching the strokes that’s simple and we believe in. I think it’s more managing the teachers really. It’s the hard part of the job of while you’re not a very good teacher. So I think that’s much than growing a lessons program, its growing good teachers.
[audience member]: And how do you teach your teachers? Do you also develop them?
[LP]: Yes, we do.
[indiscernable question from the audience]
[LP]: We developed it. Jeff Brown, our head coach, actually developed the swim NOVA lessons. And there’s a class that you take and he developed the curriculum and they have in the water time. They have to take a class and then they have to do in the water time and they have to get water safety, then they’re ready. So that was a developed curriculum. Yeah?
[indiscernable question from the audience]
[LP]: A couple of thousand a year.
[indiscernable question from the audience]
[LP]: Close to fifty, yeah. But that’s grown. Again, the same way the team’s grown, that’s grown. Hey, thank you all for coming. I appreciate it very much. If you have any questions, I’m happy to stick around. And this is going to be on the ASCA website. Have a great rest of the convention.