and Cons of Owning
Your Own Swim Program
By John Leonard, Editor American Swimming Magazine
At the recent short course championships in Buffalo, I
spent some time talking with coach/owners of their own clubs about the
pros and the cons of owning their own. The coaches, upon the condition
of anonymous representation, were very forthcoming. Their comments, printed
here with changes in geography but not sociology (where noted) are an interesting
study for anyone contemplating ownership of their own team.
I am my own boss. This was heard in every single conversation
with our coaches. It was often listed under both a Pro and a Con in
this series of discussions. The good points of being your own boss are
many and obvious. Less obvious are the negatives.
When I get into trouble in some way, with finances, or
otherwise, I have to really go looking for help…there are no built-in
safeguards. No one is looking over my shoulder at all to keep me out of
trouble, and its easy to screw up, especially if you get a little bad business
Another coach from the South in a rural town. Being my
own boss in my town means that I am considered a businessperson, not something
else. That means that when bills are due, I don’t get any slack at all.
I have to really watch myself in that area because in small towns, your
business and you are one entity….there isn’t that separation you find
with corporate America….if you are a deadbeat on bills, it gets around
town fast, and you’ll have trouble getting services and supplies.
I’ve found that I am less self-disciplined than I thought.
I tend to do what I want to do first, rather than what I have to do first.
I put off those tasks I don’t enjoy…like collecting unpaid dues. Put
it off long enough and you’ve got a cash flow problem. Not having a boss
enforcing things, its easy to slide along until it’s very late…sometimes
too late. I’ve learned that being self-disciplined is critical to success
as an owner, and I’m not there yet. I’m trying to get better.
On the plus side: When I need time off, to recharge my
batteries, I don’t have to ask anyone, I can just make sure the workout
is covered, and relax. If I did that with a parent owned club, I’d be looking
for work soon…which is short sighted on their part, but understandable.
Now, I can’t do it too often either, or my clients get very restless…they
come here for me…if I’m not here, maybe they won’t be either….but I
do have the occasional option to do so without worrying about it.
The decision making process is very easy. Think about
it. Do it. No having to sell it to a lot of people who know less about
swimming than you do. You live and die with your good decisions and your
mistakes. That suits me. I’ve got plenty of confidence in my own judgement,
and results bear me out.(And they do, too.)
Being my own boss gives me two chances to feel good about
my accomplishments…as a coach, and as a businessman. Even if one side
is not on top, I can work on the other. Sometimes they are both up, rarely
are they both down.
I can pay myself what I want. The ability to take good
care of my family is important to me.
Other Pros of ownership?
Well, long term, this is putting my energy into something I
can later take something out of…I own a business. It has clients. I am
building equity in it…later on, I can take that out when and if I sell
it. That’s very satisfying, and a good thing for my family.
Stability. As long as I’m doing the job, I’m not going
anywhere. No parent can fire me because darling Susie didn’t swim on the
We used to be a parent owned club. The parents were fussing
and feuding all the time. Then I talked them into becoming a Coach-Directed
club. They calmed down some, and enjoyed life more. They didn’t have the
stresses of making decisions about something they knew nothing about, and
then having to defend those same decisions to equally ignorant people.
They could just point to me. After a few years of that, I asked them in
lieu of a new contract, if they’d sell me the club. They did it in a heartbeat.
Now we have Zero unhappy parents. Anyone who is unhappy knows they are
completely free to go where they are happy. Coach owned is the way to go.
Happy coaches, happy swimmers, happy parents.
I’m not getting rich, but I have a degree of control
I’d never imagined before. I can trade money for piece of mind anytime.
I don’t recommend it to anyone who can’t handle some pressure though. On
the 20th of the month, you’re starting to wonder, gee, will we have enough
cash to pay everyone?
I make decisions now based on the best interests of the
athlete and my best interests, not on what will be internally acceptable
within the social context of the club. That makes me happy.
More cons came out as well
I am very careful with money. Far more than if I worked for parents
or a school district. It’s my money. I find I am cheap with it…tight
fisted. Sometimes that’s bad.
There is no safety net. If you fail, you really fail.
Getting parental help is not as easy. Some parents are
not interested in helping you run your business, though they might have
volunteered in a parent-owned and run club. I have heard though, that other
owners don’t have this problem…I’d like to understand their secret.
I get parent help by telling them that they can’t pay
me enough to do some of these tasks, like writing entry cards and forms,
and if they don’t do it, it won’t get done.
The parents pay me for coaching. We still need secretarial
help. If I have to hire people to do those things, they will wind up paying
for it with increased dues…which is less painful? a little time, or some
money? Parents have different answers for that.
The bodies that own pools look at you a little differently.
If you are the XYZ Swim Club, run by parents, and go in to rent a high
school pool, versus Coach Joe Jones who owns his own program, you are going
to get a different reception. In some places and cases, it may be better.
In other places and cases it will be worse. But once I rent a pool, I’m
their best client user, and pay everything up front and easy. They love
me. And my reputation spreads as someone you want to do business with.
Of the coaches spoken to, though all acknowledged challenges
and problems, not one expressed an interest in going back to work for a
parent owned club.
Owning your own club takes a certain personality, and
a certain amount of confidence, some would say ego. Maybe it is ego. Anyway,
for that personality, no other solution to coaching would be as good. Own
your own. If you want to badly enough, you can do it and succeed.