The Indy Swimfit Program: Growing A Team To 400+ Swimmers by Mel Goldstein (2002)


I am going to talk about the Indy Swimfit program. While we are one of the larger clubs and programs in the country, we started from meager beginnings with six or seven swimmers and now we are somewhere in the vicinity of 350 swimmers of all types.


We are an “adult aquatic fitness program” for those people that have chosen aquatics as their means of exercise for a healthier lifestyle.  By naming our program this way, we have become a fitness program.  We have are made up of three components: the fitness swimmer, the triathlete and the competitive master swimmer.


First, we are going to talk about our program so that you have a broad scope of what we do and who we are.  This is our national team that went to Ft. Lauderdale and that is our jet.  People have read Swim magazine and seen that we have been traveling about the country.  We have taken that plane to now Sarasota, Ft. Lauderdale and we are off to Arizona.  It took 168 people to Ft. Lauderdale. 120 of those people were swimmers and the rest were families, significant others, and children.


YMCA Indy Swimfit does not discriminate between levels of ability or their individual goals of its members.  This is what we believe and this is our program mission.



Goals of the program


We try to be inclusive of everybody, from old to young, and we try to make them feel comfortable. When they set goals, take risks, and accept new challenges, we encourage them and monitor their progress.


We are a YMCA-based program. The YMCA pays a small percentage of only the Director’s salary, but everything that we do is self-contained within our program.  Program fees and events that we host take care of our operating budget.  The YMCA Program has over 350 members.  We have two full-time coaches, 10 part-time coaches, and we use seven facilities, from YMCA’s and high schools to universities and state institutions (the state institution we use is Indiana School for the Blind).  Our budget is in excess of $130,000 and 98% comes from program fees alone.


What do the members get from our program?  We provide them on deck coaching, a structured workout regimen, motivation, camaraderie and fun.  I put the emphasis on fun because that is what we try to do at every practice. There are people that will show up in your practices from time to time – maybe they only show up on Monday.  If they don’t have a good experience they won’t come back. We try to make sure that they have an enjoyable experience every time that they participate.  We evaluate stroke technique, learn the latest swimming skills, and have a lot of family social activities.


For our July 4th workout, we had 78 people in a six-lane long course pool. You have to work a little bit in order to work a practice like that – dividing them up in half a lane in either end of the pool, but it works and we have a lot of fun doing that.


We generally have stroke clinics on a Sunday.  We have family and fun activities. At the picnic, we had a watermelon-eating contest to be inclusive of kids and just not just swimming. We want to make everybody feel part of the program.


What we have been able to develop is a relationship with the community as well as the YMCA. What do they get?


Human resources as volunteers.


Monetary contributions as we help them raise money for various things.


We do a lot of community service and we get citywide exposure and national recognition.


We have been involved with the YMCA splash program, which is a learn-to-swim program, and have provided instructors for the YMCA on a volunteer basis.


Our program has made contributions to breakfast with Santa –an ongoing event that happens in Indianapolis.


We do a lot of work with the YMCA’s Indianapolis Youth program program.


After 9/11, we raised some money for the fireman’s fund in New York City.


We have adult stroke clinics in the community.


We volunteer for the boys and girls state high school state championships at the IU Natatorium and we provide security so that the parents don’t come in the stands and get out on the deck. For that, they give us a discounted rate.


We sponsor and support the Mid-East Regional team and that part of the community.  We provided 70-80% of the volunteers for the US Olympic trials that were held in Indianapolis.


We hosted the NCAA Division I USA Conference Championship at Indy Swimfit.  Conference USA does not have a pool and therefore they came to the Natatorium and we provided timers.  We provided all of the facilities and everything for them and we have provided over $14,000 in other community programs.


That is what we are all about.  One of the things that I think that are really important is that we started with just a handful of people and we just continued to build.  We bartered and we tried to get whatever we could in the very beginning, and this is a checklist that we put out that I feel will be very good for you in developing a program.   For athletic directors, park superintendents, aquatic directors, principals of schools, superintendents of institutions, facility managers at Universities, the last thing they want to hear is you have a swim team for their facility.  They don’t want to hear swim team, but if you approach them and say what you are going to provide is a community service, and with that community service you are going to provide a fitness program.  Even though we do have competitive master swimmers, fitness swimmers, and triathletes, a large number of people are in it for fitness and your staff – whoever they may be- are welcome to come into the program and participate.  Right away their whole attitude changes.


We feel that in that every institution has its button to push.  It may be different in other cities, but for us Invest In Youth is the biggest thing.  They are looking to do something with Invest In Youth and so we say that we can help them raise money and get to their goals.  The Invest In Youth program in Indianapolis provides money and funds for those people – young people that cannot afford to go to camps during the summer months.


How many of you walked in the YMCAs and heard  “we don’t want another swim team”, “we can’t give you the time”?  I say OK, but listen: if we provide you with this volunteering, can we have a little bit of time at 5:30 in the morning? They give us the time, and they see the results of what they have been able to do because of our involvement in Invest In Youth.  The first complaint that comes up to the Executive Director is “those master swimmers have taken over the whole pool.”  What the Executive Director can say now is that “the name on the donor board over there is Indy Swimfit.  I don’t see your name over there”


The Indiana school for the blind has a swim-a-thon that raises money for their foundation to operate their facility.  We are very active with them, their swim team, and their PE classes. We provide instructors to them through the YMCA.


The university puts on the boys and girls high school championships.  We provide security and now the community comes to us to ask us to help.  We are now a viable entity in the community because that is what they are looking for.  Here is a check list of ideas and good people that you should try to contact to build your team.


First of all, you want to create an interest.  You look for anyone that is 18 years or older.


If you have an age group program in your area, parents that are there might be interested in swimming.


The local triathletes.


Post-college, post- high school, and post-age group swimmers in the area.


We go to the triathlons an awful lot. Tomorrow, we have somebody at one of the larger triathlons in Indianapolis handing out brochures and representing our club.


This booth is free from United States Master Swimming. It is available for you to buy, and we will pay for the shipping on the booth. If people won’t come to you – you go to the people.  It is a great booth –an eye-catcher that looks very professional, was done professionally, and I think you can use it to your advantage.


You saw my brochure that in the handout. We hand those out all of the time.


Determine practice times.  We have somewhere in the vicinity of about 42 different practice times, but as you grow you will want to find out when the majority of the people want to participate.  Most of the master swimmers like 5:30-7a.m.  We have a group down at the IU natatorium. Because of the professors and people that work in the downtown area, we have a practice from 11:30 to 1.  Everybody told me that this would not work, people will not take off lunch to come and swim in your pool.  Now we have between 22-23 master swimmers come in every day, Monday through Friday – 11:30 to 1.  6:00-7:30 is a great time for evening practice.


We try to get local swim shop support.  Go into one of the local swim shops and if you build a team and say listen, if all my team members buy from you, we advertise your shop in our newsletter, and we do various other things, can you give us a discount?  You are getting support there, so try to include them in your brochures and in all your activities.


Team fees –I am responsible to the YMCA for the budget.  It is a self-supported program, and we base our fees on the pool rentals, lifeguard fees, coaches’ wages and any other expenses that we incur.  When we determine fees we barter services for pool rentals.  I will trade anything back and forth.


<photo> This picture is kind of unique.  I bring this out to show that we have a housewife, a doctor, a school teacher, a salesman, a public relations person, a pharmacist, a marketing analyst and a banker on our club. We take care of the banker.  He takes care of everything. He is one of the executive vice-presidents, and he set up my entire credit card charge program.  Swimmers must call us first to get off of that program.  Once it has been charged, they have already paid for the month, and they come to practice.  He says we get at least 20% of our revenue this way. This is the best thing I have ever happened to us.  I think it is a higher percentage than that but our banker takes care of us.




Word of mouth.  We talk about having fun, and word of mouth is probably our greatest asset.


Flyers at the pool Get a free week – “tired of roller-blading, tired of running – tired of bicycling?  Come to Indy Swimfit” – give me a call and we can give you a week’s worth.”


Community sections of local newspapers are free.  You can contact the health editor.  Just let him know that you are around.


The yellow pages – if you are not in the yellow pages, it is an absolute must that you get in them.


Website – people surf the internet all the time


I talked to you about setting up a both at marathons, triatholons, health fairs – do a lot of health fairs.


Sell t-shirts/caps with your logo.  I talked about team things – everybody likes a uniform and like to be a part of something and we do that.  This is a jacket that is not a very good picture – the young lady has an Indy Swimfit jacket on.  Here are some t-shirts that a couple of girls are wearing.  Everybody likes team gear and we have everything from t-shirts to sweatshirts to jackets that we sell and our coach, Chris, puts out a brochure about 3-4 times a year to order that logo and they like that logo merchandise.  Here is our Indy Swimfit team.  We got all these people running around all over the city and they are wearing what?  They are advertising – they are all pieces of advertising.  When we bought those they originally cost something like about 3 or 4 bucks; that is great advertising.


<Audience question about bartering>


Well, for instance, at the IUPUI which is a world class facility – they host for the ISSAA the boys and girls state high school championship.  If you have ever been at the IU Natatorium, it has seating for 4700 people on both sides of the facility and the athletes are generally on the deck.  What happens at this high school meet?  All the parents want to be next to their little kids that are swimming, so they have hired us. They said if you bring in security (there about eight or nine different spots at the pool that they try to come down), we will give you two months free. We do this with the high schools or anybody else that we can get into their facility.  We bring the program in, we provide the coaches – we provide everything that they need.  In the case of the blind school for instance,  we even have lifeguards. They have a ready-made program for them and everybody can participate.


This is our identification card. Everybody who pays on a regular basis or annually has to show this card to get into the facility.  That is one of the things that I have been able to accomplish and it kind of comes back to bartering.  Anybody, even if they are not a YMCA member- can participate at the YMCA during the specified practice times.  Conversely, the blind member can go to the IU Natatorium at any of the specified practice times without having to pay.  It is providing a community service.  The Y looks at us as a member service and the community facilities look at what we are doing for the community because they are tax-supported institutions. We work it both ways.  The non-Y member pays a little bit more because the YMCA wants to encourage membership, but that works to our advantage.  Same rate at all of the locations.  We have a program fee for non-Y members and Y members, no matter what location.  We have that with the YMCA and it is the same price across the board.


Credibility is very important.  We tailor our workouts for master swimmers.  We feel that we, as professionals, must be on time for practice and look professional.  You will not see our coaches walking around with t-shirts that say Joe’s bar and grill.  They will be dressed appropriately and dressed professionally because that in itself brings credibility to your program.  This is summertime dress with a polo shirt. It says Indy Swimfit, and we provide it for the coaches.


Take an interest.  Develop a newsletter and a website.  I use that newsletter also as a handout at various triathlons.


Establish an image – logo and mission statement and I have talked about that.


Team parties – what can I say about that?  That is great.  We have a Christmas party and we have a summer picnic.  We even had a golf outing.  I don’t know what golf has to do with swimming but they wanted it and we did it.  And of course anybody who has been associated with our team knows that in each national championship we celebrate George’s birthday whether it is his birthday or it isn’t his birthday, but that is the reason for the party.


Fund raising –We did a pampered Saturday where we have taken and had a raffle and in essence it was raffling off a pampered Saturday.  The winner would get picked up at the swimmer’s home and then brought to the pool.  We got them their kickboard and their pullbuoy and they would give us a workout. The entire team would do their favorite workout. After practice, the coaching staff took that swimmer and his or her three best friends to breakfast. Then we took them back home and over the last couple of years I have been able to add prizes.  People have donated watches and massages, so it has become a big thing.  I know several teams that have tried to the same thing and it has been really great-we have a lot of fun with it.


<photo>This is a picnic.  This is how we start every picnic – parade around the pool with the kids and we play God Bless America and have a good old family picnic.  <photo>This summer, we had a moon walk out there.  <photo> This is one of our coaches just before he was going in the dunk tank.  That was a lot of fun and what we did is we let the kids throw for free and then the swimmers, because they wanted to take out their aggression on the coaches –had to pay.


We like to try to provide recognition to our swimmers through the newsletter and website.  We put things up on bulletin boards in the pool areas and of course whenever I can get something in Indianapolis in the local newspaper it is a miracle.  If it doesn’t bounce and it doesn’t kick and it doesn’t have a motor, it doesn’t get into the Indianapolis Star.  I can tell you that right now.  But we try and we keep sending them all kinds of information.


We pick out meets in our area the program will support and of course we have stroke clinics. We go to the national championships.  Being a Y-based program, we do go to the YMCA national championships.  This year we are going to Arizona with our chartered plane.


Those of you that know me know that I attended Indiana University.  James “Doc” Councilman was my mentor.  I lived by these three principles and I believe very much in them: my whole life is build around it.  An innovative and successful program is not the result of good breaks, as many would have us believe. It is the result of hard and consistent efforts to learn and then carry out what you have learned.  Part of the job of the swimming coach is to set goals that are compatible with abilities of the individual, in order that they achieve a feeling of accomplishment.


Of course one of the things that I do and Doc used to: the most beautiful sound to a person is the sound of his or her own name.  I make physical contact or my coaches make physical contact with each swimmer each day that they are there, by name.  It may be on one particular swim – it may be because Mary has a beautiful suit on, but we know that they are there and they know we are there so we believe in providing that.


QUESTION: Where do you get the plane?


RESPONSE: We happen to be very fortunate in Indiana. ATA is based in Indianapolis, and as part of their service they have membership charter type planes that go on various trips.  It is like a travel club and what I try to do is say “how many free seats will you give me if I fill the plane?”  I get one free seat for every 25 seats I fill and I pass those on to people that need it, or I will break it up so we are able to fill that plane.  If I don’t fill the plane I have to by a certain date give them those seats back and I am not charged. They will fill them up for me and what I try to arrange is when I need the plane to go and when I need it to come back.  Sometimes it works very well to our advantage, sometimes it does not – for instance in Arizona – when we go to Arizona – we are going to have to leave a little bit earlier in the day to get the swimmers home so they don’t have to take a red eye for Monday’s work and miss another day’s work.  That is a little bit of pressure on them.


In the very beginning I was by myself. I did not have the staff that we have today to learn and teach somebody to swim.  Most of the beginning swimmers – if they can make 50 yards or up and back and have the basic motions of swimming- are involved in the program because we now have the staff.


QUESTION: Are you going to continue to grow?


RESPONSE: That is a very good question.  We can definitely grow; in fact we just opened up another high school pool on the west side of Indianapolis that we didn’t have. A new high school just built a brand new 50 meter pool and that is an area of growth.  Twenty or so years ago, I went to the YMCA with six swimmers and said “the Y does not open until 6:30.  if I pay a lifeguard and I get fees, can we come in here at 5:15 – can we come into the pool and swim for an hour?” That is how we started.  At that particular time I was kind of a part-time coach, and as the word got around that we had this program the numbers started to grow. Soon we had 25 or 30.  Finally, when I got time when I got to a point where I was getting ready to retire, 1996 or 1997, we had the IU Natatorium. People were swimming down there, at the one Jordan YMCA, and we had about 50 or 60 people.  Before that, it was part time, and we do feel that there is room for growth. Sometimes you have to be very, very careful because you want to make sure that you don’t dilute. Because of the number of sites you provide, the people will just go to those sites just because they want a lane to themselves.  We want to make sure if we are going to pay a coach we want to make sure that there are going to be people there.


QUESTION: <Do you pay pool rental fees?>


RESPONSE: No we do not.  The only pool rental fee that we have at the present time is the IU Natatorium and I will say this to you and I have worked very, very hard.  Thomas Jefferson once said that when he was president, somebody came up to him and said how lucky he was because he had everything you could possibly want. He thought for a moment and he said “you know, I am lucky.  The harder I work the luckier I am and that is the way that I look at it.”  All of this didn’t come because I just decided to have a program.  We do work at it.  The staff works at it.  We all work together in order to accomplish what we want for the community.  It does take a little bit of time to go down and talk to individual superintendents at pools.  It does take a little bit of time to gather people together to volunteer for certain activities. The end result is gross and you can become a viable resource for whatever institution at which you are swimming.


I try to put things into a first name basis with whoever I am talking with.  I try to find out something about that particular person.  I will walk into a superintendent’s office that I am going to try to put the program into their particular facility. If I don’t know anything about them the first thing I do is look around to see what he is interested in.  If he is interested in Nascar – I see pictures of Dale Jarrett and right away, I talk – all I want to do is talk about Nascar.  I don’t talk about the program I talk about what he is interested in so right now he and I have a good relationship.




RESPONSE: One of the things of course is that booth.  I think it is an underutilized tool. I think that you have to go to where the people are, so I think that the Executive Committee is moving in the direction where there is going to be more help from coaches to LSMC’s and clubs that do need help.  I know as national sponsor liaison I am working with various sponsors to provide certain things for membership.  I know that for instance if you can collect 50 hang tags – Nike swimwear – not their gear but their swim tags –and send them to me – Nike will make you up a team banner.  Again, identification – they will do that.  Nike is also providing a criteria of a $1500 grant – a one time grant to go to clubs that are struggling that need money to maybe pay a pool rental or pay a coach to go somewhere.  Another national sponsor- Adolph Kiefer- is providing a grant for next year for one coach, and we have TYR who we are working on for providing something for the coaching staff


QUESTION: How much do you charge?


RESPONSE: We have, as I said, we have a two tiered program. I am going to give you the rates that they will be because our rates will increase as of January. $22 if you are a Y member a month, and $41 if you are a non-member.  Unlimited practices- if they can make all those practices, the can make them all.  They can come 8 times a day if they can make it – I don’t care and we do use the credit card.  We will give a discount to people that pay annually.  We give them a month free.  We give a half a month for somebody who will pay seasonal – six months.  We get that money up front.  Quarterly and monthly do not get any kind of a break, and we try to put people that are on the monthly charge – we have to put them on the credit card. That is just a plus and we do all kind of incentive things within the program.


Here is another thing that some of you may not have available or have available in your city – we have three major super markets in Indianapolis and one is Myers Food – I don’t know if you have a Myers in your area or not – we have a Kroger and we have a Marsh.  They sell scripts and we sell that script to our people in any increments of ten or twenty. If they accumulate $1,000, we make 5%. We make $50 on every thousand. If they would go out and for every $1,000 that they buy, they will get $23 back – credit – towards their membership.  A small family that eats a hundred dollars a week gets roughly $115 off of a swim bill, so that is a pretty decent return if they eat.  Last year George told me that we sold 125,000 dollars worth of script. This grosses out six thousand, but we get that money coming in all the.


QUESTION: How do you set up the credit card charge?


RESPONSE: We pay a service fee to Visa. That is the only thing that we are charged: 5%.  The Y accepts those credit cards and I don’t know what arrangement they have with the institutions, but it is somewhere in the vicinity of about 2-3% I think of their total fee and the way that that generally works – it has to do with the total number of dollars.  I think if you sign up the first time on the credit card it is X amount of dollars for X amount of business.  As your total amount gets larger, the percentage goes down.


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