Most areas have public pools that allow people to swim for recreation and exercise. A growing trend in the fitness industry, especially for children, is a rise in the number of competitive swim clubs. Some recreational leagues are operated through the local government’s parks and recreation department. Teams interested in competing are usually part of USA Swimming (for children under 18) and US Masters Swimming (18+).
How do you start a swim team? In all actuality, you could create a swim team just by getting people together to compete at a local pool. However, most competitions and events are governed by USA Swimming. Therefore, most competitive teams for children are registered with USA Swimming. The process for starting a swim team is thoroughly explained on their website.
Steps to Start a Swimming Team
1. Identify a Need
Recreational swimming is a popular pastime for kids and adults, especially during the hot summer months. However, it has not always been a very popular sport. While swimming’s popularity has been growing recently, there is still less demand than in other sports, like soccer and baseball.
Before deciding to start a swimming club, you should first see if there is interest in the area. Are there other swim clubs nearby? Are there indoor pools or heated outdoor pools that can be used year-round? Are kids in the community interested in learning how to swim competitively?
2. Find a Facility
First, you’ll need to find a facility to host your practices (and possibly competitions). If you are in an area with harsh winters, you’ll need to find an indoor pool if you want the club to run throughout the year. Swim clubs in Florida may be able to use an outdoor pool in the winter, but the rest of the country will most likely need access to an indoor facility.
Some cities have aquatic facilities. These businesses may have multiple pools or indoor and outdoor options. Some pools may be focused on recreational swimming, so make sure the facility is set up for sport swimming. This includes lap lanes and an appropriate length (50 meters, 25 meters, or 25 yards).
Other locations that might have pools available for use are fitness centers and community pools. Not all fitness centers have pools, but those that do are typically set up for lap swimming already. Community pools are usually mixed-use, but they may be willing to rent out the pool to your club at certain times throughout the week.
If you are planning to start a children’s swim club and register with USA Swimming, you are required to have an appropriate pool facility to use. The pool operators must sign a document showing that your club has scheduled practice times at their facility.
3. Create Branding and a Club Name
This is the fun part! You can choose any name and branding that you’d like for your swim team. Maybe use the coach’s name if you want to capitalize on the name recognition of their expertise. Or, find a name that relates to your location (like sharks for a coastal location).
When coming up with your name, colors, logo, and more, there are a few things to keep in mind. Does your club brand stand out and catch people’s eyes? Are there other swim teams nearby with a similar name, logo, or colors? Is it easy to find apparel and swimsuits in your team colors?
4. Apply for USA Swimming Club Membership
If you would like to compete in most amateur competitions, you’ll need to register your club with USA Swimming. Alternatively, clubs geared towards adults can register with US Masters Swimming. The term “masters” commonly means older athletes in sports, but for swimming, it is any over the age of 18.
USA Swimming outlines everything needed to apply for club membership. You will need to complete and submit:
- Requirement Checklist
- Facility use confirmation
- Local Swimming Committee application
- Mission statement
- Club Leadership and Business Management 101 course
- First-year budget
- Safety action plan
USA Swimming has local chapters for each area. Contact the registration chair for your Local Swimming Committee if you have any specific questions about the application process.
5. Set Up the Business Legally
Swim clubs are businesses, even if you are starting one as a hobby. A swimming club can be a nonprofit organization or a for-profit business. You should work with a business attorney and an accountant to get your business legally prepared.
During this process, you will receive your EIN (employer identification number), write out your bylaws, and complete the articles of incorporation. By separating the business from the person starting the club, the individual is protected should the business run into legal or financial issues.
6. Outline Your Budget
Your budget may differ if you are a nonprofit organization versus a for-profit business. An accountant will be able to outline the differences. The main difference has to do with how the business profits are handled. Coach salaries are not affected.
First, run through all your operating costs. Generally, the costs for a swimming team will include pool rental time, coaches’ salaries, administrative costs, uniforms, equipment, and club registration fees. Be realistic when outlining your budget. It is always better to make conservative estimates and come in under budget.
Once you know your operating costs, you can determine the participation cost for athletes. You may charge athletes a monthly fee or a seasonal fee to participate. Additionally, some clubs have their athletes pay for uniform costs and other expenses. Oftentimes, children’s swim teams will host fundraisers to help cover the cost of uniforms or travel expenses.
7. Hire Coaches
Depending on the size of your club, you may need to hire one or multiple coaches. As the owner of the swim club, you may or may not be the head coach. Oftentimes, the person who starts and runs the swimming team is the head coach.
USA Swimming requires all coaches to have safety and education requirements. They must also be a registered member of USA Swimming and their local committee. Coaches must also be 18 years of age. Sometimes, high school athletes will help out with younger children, but they are not allowed to be USA Swimming coaches.
The head coach of a USA Swimming register swim club has multiple requirements to meet. They must have four consecutive years of USA Swimming coaching experience or five years of experience with another swim organization with at least two years as a head coach or equivalent. In addition, USA Swimming head coaches must complete the following items:
- Foundations of Coach 101/201
- Rules and Regulations for Coaches
- CPR/Safety Training for Swim Coaches (or Lifeguard certification)
- USA Swimming background check
- Athlete protection training
8. Create a Club Handbook
When it comes to communication between coaches and the athletes/parents, a club handbook is the best way to keep everything in one place. Nowadays, the handbook can be a digital document sent to athletes.
Inside the handbook, you want to enclose all the necessary information for club members. This includes practice and swim meet schedules, athlete requirements, fee schedules, team policies, and more. You can also outline the club operations and team levels for everyone. This is going to be the main source of information for your athletes.
9. Register Athletes
Once you have the business side of things settled, it is time for the fun part: registering athletes! The whole point of starting a swim team is to bring athletes together for the sport of swimming. Enjoy the process as much as possible.
If your swimming team is more recreational than competitive, you are going to probably host open sign-ups for everyone interested. Depending on if your area has a “swim season” or year-round meets, you may register athletes seasonally or on a rolling basis.
Competitive teams may host tryouts for children interested in joining the team. Even if no one is “cut” during tryouts, the process allows you to see the skill level of each athlete. This can help you organize your practices to best serve each athlete.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you have to register a swimming team with USA Swimming?
USA Swimming is the governing body for all amateur swimming in the United States (including the Olympics). Typically, USA Swimming programs are geared toward athletes under 18. To participate in USA Swimming events, a swim club must be registered.
Non-competitive swim clubs often operate locally and are not registered with USA Swimming. Swim clubs that are geared towards adults may register with US Masters Swimming.
How do you get swimmers to join your swim team?
Just like any business, marketing is the key to bringing athletes to your swim team. Start by getting the word out to as many people as possible, especially if you are already in the swimming community. Ask local pools, schools, and fitness centers if you can post a flyer with information. Finally, use social media to share your swim team with as many people as possible.