Swim Clubs

STEP 2: PLANNING

Now that you have spent time in preparation and developed a vision, done some research and presented your basic script to supporters, it’s time to get into the real planning for your venture. You may notice that actually coaching swimmers is not even on this list!

The things you need before you open the doors:

  • Know the demographics and culture of the area you are considering
  • Have a long term renewable contract for use of a pool(s)
  • Set prices for success
  • Organize your plans
  • Develop a business plan
  • Avoid common pitfalls in business planning
  • Form a professional team of advisors including an attorney, accountant and  business advisor
  • Determine your corporate structure
  • Complete the USA Swimming new club application process

Demographics and Culture

  • If you have the means to do a demographic study, do it. USA Swimming has some resources available – contact  Mick Nelson
  • Visit everyone in area who offers a similar service to see what they do. For example, you might visit a Gymnastics School/Club a YMCA or a Youth Hockey Organization. 
  • You can also draw upon the knowledge of successful clubs in other areas. Find some other coach owned clubs and investigate their demographics to compare them to your own.
  • Know your potential clients. 
    • Are you offering more than competitive swimming?
    • Do you want to service children and adults (i.e Masters or Triathlon)? 
    • Do you want to service special needs populations? 
    • Are outreach and diversity programs a consideration?
    • Do you want to offer Learn to Swim?
    • Are you offering community aquatics, adult exercise or lap swimming?   

Obviously some of the above questions can be answered based on facility availability. If you have just enough pool time to run competitive swimming workouts, your clients will be very different from those you might attract if you own or manage your own facility.

Know a lot about your potential clients. You cannot just hope that you have enough swimmers to sustain your business, you have to know!  Use the 20 minute drive rule of thumb. For a swim club to have a good chance for financial and community service success, the following is a place to start.

  • 50,000 population draw within a 20 minute drive =  At least a 6 lane 25 yard pool with access 60 minutes in the early morning and 3 hours access after school hours plus some weekend hours.
  • 75,000 population draw within a 20 minute drive = At least an 8 lane 25 yard pool with access 90 minutes in the early morning and 3 hours access after school hours plus some weekend hours.
  • 100,000 population draw within a 20 minute drive = At least a 10 lane 25 yard pool with access 90 minutes in the early morning and 4 hours access after school hours plus some weekend hours.
  • 150,000 or more population draw within a 20 minute drive = A 23 lane 25 yard pool (50 meters long = 23 short course lanes wide) with access 90 minutes in the early morning and 4 hours access after school hours plus some weekend hours. 

If the lanes don’t match up with you needs you may be able to use fewer lanes and more hours.   Many facilities have programming needs and it is first-come first served when renting water.  Pay a fair price for water time. You may be able to negotiate a “sweetheart deal” for lane rental only to find that someone else has offered the pool owner more and your contract will not be renewed.  In densely populated areas consider using more than one pool. This may reduce driving time for your clients. 

It is common for a team to start off with less than 100 swimmers, but the goal should be to reach or exceed 100 swimmers as soon as possible. The number 100 seems to be a point of “critical mass” for success and longevity. In a rural area or small town, this number may be unrealistic. In that case consider how you can be both competitively and financially successful with a smaller number.

Secure a contract for pool use

You may have the greatest plans and vision in the world, but if you do not have access to water, you cannot start a swim team. You need a long term secure contract for facility usage unless you own your own facility. (For more see Contracts, Pricing, Business Plans and Structures.)

  • What are the limitations of the facility you plan to use? 
  • Is it indoors or outdoors? 
  • What are the water depths? 
  • Can the water temperature be adjusted to service different populations? 
  • What are the available hours for facility use? 
  • Who is responsible for air quality and water quality? 
  • What type and duration of contract do you have for the pool?

Evaluate the Cost of Doing Business and Set Prices for Success

You cannot lead if you do not understand every aspect of what it takes to operate the business. Set prices for success. The service must be priced to entice clients and cover your overhead, operational, labor and marketing costs. And most important, you need to make a profit. When establishing a price for a specific program you must consider all aspects of your program. Your pricing has to cover your hourly cost for the facility, plus staffing, plus overhead and expenses, plus assure you the profit you need to operate a sustainable business. (For more see Contracts, Pricing, Business Plans and Structures.)

  • Define your personal financial goals. Your goals impact your pricing strategy. Do you want to have a lot of money in reserve or do you want to fund club development activities?
  • Investigate market trends. Pricing is subject to market forces and client demands. Obtain information to help you predict your market in terms of growth prospects and trends.
  • Obtain competitive information. Clients price shop. Make sure you provide special features for which clients are willing to pay more, but keep your price reasonably competitive.
  • Cover the cost of doing business. At first, you may be using your "best guess" cost estimates. As the business grows, track your real costs of doing business, and reflect them in the pricing structure.

Organize Your Plans

Planning sheets define the action steps and resources associated with key day-to-day business activities. They enable you to identify, develop and test your business planning which saves you time and energy. They will be the start of your operations manual: the policies and procedures for running the business. Writing everything down shows people how you will conduct business, which makes it easier for them to have confidence in you. Develop your own planning sheets using these steps:

  • Name the plan and put it at the top of each page, for example, "Marketing the New Team.”
  • Create a three-column table beneath the name of the plan. The first column lists the objective of the plan, the second shows the strategy for accomplishing the objective, while the third outlines the tactics.
  • Create planning sheets for every area of your business as appropriate.
  • In addition, improve your planning sheets by periodically reviewing them with staff and supporters. 
  • Keep everything in a notebook with sections on operations and administration, legal issues, marketing, pricing, finance and internal controls. Keep an ongoing list of objectives, strategy and tactics as well as action steps in each category.  

Write a Business Plan

Writing a good business plan for your business requires time, commitment, and understanding of the planning process, as well as a good business plan template. Focus on completing one business plan section at a time, and you’ll eventually complete the seven pieces needed for your “blueprint for success.”  

The business plan is yours. Gather enough information from outside sources to make sure it is both professional and accurate, but don’t be afraid to be creative with the presentation.  Customize it to reflect your vision. (For more see Contracts, Pricing, Business Plans and Structures.)

 Be sure to include the following seven sections in your business plan. 

  1. Executive summary
  2. Mission statement
  3. Company history (or plans) and description 
  4. Market analysis
  5. Marketing plan  
  6. Management summary and personnel plan
  7. Financial statements

Avoid common pitfalls

  • Personal Credit Score. Your personal credit score reflects your ability to manage money.  If it is not at an acceptable level, work at cleaning it up. 
  • Creating a Budget. A budget isn't the same thing as a plan. You can't create a solid business plan without a budget and a financial forecast. But a budget should be the product of all the other elements in your plan. If you don't have a clear picture of your industry, customers, competitors, and market conditions before you develop a budget, your numbers aren't likely to reflect reality.
  • Don't ignore your customers. This may sound obvious, but too many entrepreneurs assume they know exactly what their customers need without bothering to ask. Take the time to learn about your customers, and build your business plan around their needs and desires as well as your personal philosophy for your team.
  • Create positive relationships with your competitors. Your competitors can be a great source of information about what works and what doesn't.
  • Be prepared to take risks. Creating a business plan isn't about avoiding risk; it's about understanding and managing risk. That's why a good business plan anticipates possible challenges and includes a variety of scenarios for meeting those challenges. There's a difference between a calculated risk and recklessness, and your plan can help you make that distinction.
  • Get a second (or third) opinion. The most experienced entrepreneur can still benefit from a different point of view. Even if you're the only person involved in your business, find someone who can study your plan objectively and point out possible weaknesses you might have missed.
  • Expect the unexpected. Every business plan needs some wiggle room to allow for unexpected changes. Part of this involves creating budgets and marketing plans with some built-in flexibility; but adapting to change also requires you to accept that you might have to modify or even abandon business practices that worked well in the past.
  • Don't forget what makes you unique. A cookie-cutter business plan might help you get started, but it won't help you succeed. And while it helps to look at your competitors, don't model your business after them.  After all, you're in business to beat the competition. Learn from your competitors' strengths, but also learn how to spot their weaknesses and use them to improve your own business plan.
  • What's the point? Building a business involves hard work and struggle. But it should also include a clear set of rewards, both for you and your staff. When you set goals in your business plan, include some concrete motivation that goes beyond the satisfaction of a job well done.
  • Don't skip the plan! Of course, the biggest mistake of all is failing to create a business plan in the first place. Planning is hard work, and there's no guarantee it will make your business succeed.  But a good plan is still the best way to turn your vision into a realistic, coherent business. 
Your personal credit score reflects your ability to manage money.  If it is not at an acceptable level, work at cleaning it up. 

Form a professional team of advisors including an attorney, accountant and  business advisor

  • Use the free on-line resources at www.sba.gov to find out what is involved in forming both state and federally recognized businesses. 
  • Contact a lawyer, if possible one who will not charge you office rates for advice. The lawyer needs to be in your area and know the incorporation rules for your state.  Certain attorneys specialize in corporate tax law - all the better. Find out how to form your business, how long it will take, and how much it will cost you in application and attorney fees. Don't start filling out any of the packet/application until you are sure you are going to follow through with the project. Contact a second and third lawyer if you don't get complete information or if you detect a pessimistic attitude from your first choice. 
  • Contact an accountant and explain your plans to him or her. Get an overall picture of your personal vs. business responsibilities, commitments, and finances. The same selection process should be used for the accountant that you used for the attorney.  Find one who is helpful and knowledgeable about starting a business. Your accountant will be the one to actually do a Pro-forma to take to a bank if you are applying for a loan. (A Pro-forma is a 5-year plan as to the amount and sources of all of your income and expenses.)
  • Visit an existing successful program that has been operating for at least 5 years.  Ask to see their corporate structure papers, by-laws, contracts, tax forms, account ledgers, and anything else they can share with you.  Contact USA Swimming and the American Swim Coaches Association (ASCA) office to find where these programs are located and who to talk to in the program. Visit as many programs as possible, but ONLY those similar to the one you are planning.
  • Contact a banker who you know and brainstorm with him as to what is required for a business loan if a loan is necessary.
  • Contact an insurance agent who can answer questions about liability with renting or liability and full coverage if owning a facility.  Get some cost estimates from more than one source then get the same for similar areas throughout the country.  Contact USA Swimming to get details about what coverage comes with USA Swimming membership so your agent can get you the best pricing.

Determine your corporate structure

You have several options in deciding on your corporate structure. There are advantages and disadvantages to each one and you should pick what works best for your situation. Make sure to get legal and financial advice before making your final decision. Different people will expound the virtues and advantages of one form of business and the pitfalls of another. Opinions are personal, but "facts" are "facts".  You need to seek out coaches who have done it one way and those who have done it the other. Get all of the case history you can, not in a deck-side conversation, but in detail. (For more see Contracts, Pricing, Business Plans and Structures.)

Comply with the USA Swimming new club requirements

In order to register your new club with USA Swimming you must complete the new club registration process and submit the application to USA Swimming. The requirements are outlined in the Swim Club section of the USA Swimming website under the heading “Starting a New Club.”  Check out the requirements and be sure to complete every step before submitting your application. The requirements include:

  • Certified coach member of USA Swimming. (Current safety certifications, background screening and educational requirements all met.)
  • Head coach with USA Swimming Foundations of Coaching, ASCA Level 2 and ASCA Level 3 or equivalent coaching experience
  • Federal tax ID number
  • Facility usage contract
  • Team Mission statement
  • First year budget
  • Safety Action Plan
  • Demographic questionnaire
  • Attendance at Club Leadership and Business Management School during first year of operation


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