Aquatics participants at your facility can be divided into two groups: casual swimmers and competitive swimmers. While casual swimming is more relaxed and fun, and competitive swimming seems only fit for serious athletes and experienced swimmers, members of all ages can benefit from some competition.
“Swimming is a safe, healthy and lifelong form of exercise,” said Meredith Griffin, the swimming and diving sports coordinator for the YMCA of the USA. “Participating in competitive swimming as a child or adolescent helps physical, social and psychological development, as well as creating healthy habits that carry into adulthood.”
In addition to healthy habits, inclusion and life lessons are among the many other benefits of competitive swimming. “It is one of the very few sports in which boys and girls practice and compete together,” shared Griffin. “It helps them to develop respect for one another and effective communication practices, as well as teaching goal-setting, delayed gratification, commitment and responsibility.”
Competitive swimming can also serve as a boost to participation in all your aquatics programs. The YMCA of the USA promotes aquatics programs that are available for all ages, including swim teams for children and an adult fitness program: Master Swimming.
“Competitive swimming boosts overall aquatics participation because it is an entrance point, since swimmers and their families tend to be some of the most committed to your aquatics center,” said Griffin. “Once families are engaged through these programs, they are exposed to other aquatics opportunities — swim lessons, water fitness, diving, water polo, synchronized swimming, and lifeguard and instructor training, etc.”
However, if you’re integrating competitive swimming for the first time and all your aquatics programs share the same pool, there will inevitably be some pushback from the members who just want to relax in the water. This makes it very important to stress the value of both casual and competitive swimming.
“It is important to build a cooperative aquatics environment so all aquatics programs are appreciated and supported,” explained Griffin. “There will always be people who are put off that the entire pool is not available to them exactly when they want it, but by building relationships with members and cross-promoting aquatics programs, you can create such an environment.”
Communication with your membership is necessary during the early stages of implementation. “If you do not already have a competitive swimming program, communicating the purpose and benefits to existing members is critical because if you don’t explain why it is important, all they will see is an activity taking their pool space and time,” said Griffin.
In fact, according to Griffin, implementing competitive swimming programs won’t stifle your ability to offer other aquatics programs.
“Having a pool that can accommodate competitive swimmers — in terms of size and dimensions — will also be able to accommodate most other aquatic programs and activities,” said Griffin. “The opposite is not always true.”
Whether you’re trying to add competitive swimming to your offerings or maximizing your existing program, intentionality — in scheduling and promotion, in particular — is the key ingredient to getting members on board.
Intentional planning will make a big difference. “Before starting any program, know your purpose for the program and communicate it regularly,” advised Griffin. “Everything should start with a purpose.”